Explore a beautiful, mossy, high-elevation spruce-fir forest on this short hike on the Richland Balsam Trail, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville.
LOCATION:on the Blue Ridge Parkway southwest of Asheville, NC
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 780 Trails Illustrated Map
Soaring to 6,053 feet, the Richland Balsam Overlook is the highest spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway, offering wide, panoramic views over a stand of fragrant balsam fir. Nearby, the mountain’s true summit rises nearly 400 feet higher, covered in a mossy, sun-dappled spruce-fir forest filled with ferns. And while the views from the mountain’s true summit don’t rival those at the Parkway overlook below, the mountaintop offers a beautiful hike through a high elevation forest that’s most definitely worth the miles.
Access to the mountain’s summit is from an overlook southeast of the Richland Balsam Overlook, following a moderately challenging trail in a 1.3-mile lollipop-shaped loop. The route departs from the Haywood-Jackson Overlook, an open, sunny, grassy stop on the Parkway with picnic tables for a great pre- or post-hike snack. Printed trail guides at the trailhead offer a deeper look into the wonders of the spruce-fir forest and explain its ever-changing ecosystems, a conflict between the forest’s fir and the balsam woolly adelgid, a foreign insect that attacks the mountain’s stands of Fraser fir. It’s a hike filled with ample fresh air, fragrant forest scents of sweet fir and spruce, and beautiful (though narrow) views from two overlooks along the way.
Richland Balsam Trail: the hike
The adventure begins at the Haywood-Jackson Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (view maps and driving directions), departing from a trailhead on the parking area’s northern side. The trail is paved on a short initial stretch, climbing from the trailhead as the onion-like, pungent scent of galax fills the air. Reaching the end of the pavement, the trail dives into a shady, mossy forest, reaching the loop portion of the trail at .15 mile.
The route veers right at the loop. The trail winds through switchbacks, ascending steadily and rising through dense stands of balsam fir. The forest’s red-hued soil contrasts with the verdant green of the trees, mosses, and ferns.
Yellow birch trees speckle the forest as the hike continues the climb. The trail levels briefly for a tenth of a mile before making a final climb to the summit, reaching the mountain’s signed peak at .6 mile. Departing the Richland Balsam summit, the hike continues following the loop, veering southbound and descending rustic stone stairs. The trail passes through a rocky, fern-filled stretch of forest before reaching the first of two overlooks, catching narrow, through-the-trees views at .7 miles.
The trail continues its descent, passing through a sun-dappled stretch of forest filled with tall wildflower and fern at 1 mile. The trail levels briefly and then begins a short climb, reaching the hike’s second view over a small, grassy clearing.
After taking a moment to soak up the view (and some fresh, sweetly fragrant air), the route resumes its descent, hiking southbound. The trail completes the loop at 1.15 miles and continues south, reaching the trailhead at 1.3 miles and finishing the adventure.
More view-packed Blue Ridge Parkway hikes near Asheville
Up for some more classic mountain beauty on the Parkway? Hike our ten favorite trails to the Blue Ridge Parkway’s best summit views near Asheville, scoring stunning vistas from rocky peaks, grass-covered mountain balds, and rolling ridges covered in blooming rhododendron and wildflowers.
Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.
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Free parking is available at the Haywood-Jackson Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville. (Before you go, check for trail updates and parkway closures on the official Blue Ridge Parkway website.)
35.359967, -82.986900 // N35 21.598 W82 59.214