Hike the Art Loeb Trail to the stunning, brilliant white, quartz-crusted Shining Rock Mountain, catching stunning vistas from Black Balsam Knob and exploring wildflower-covered, view-packed mountain balds.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 780 Trails Illustrated Map
Spanning more than 18,000 acres, the Shining Rock Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in North Carolina. Located near the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, the literal shining spot in the wilderness is its namesake peak, Shining Rock, a summit covered with enormous boulders of white quartz that catch sunlight with a gleaming brilliance.
The peak is easily visible for miles: the mountain’s white-crusted summit is an anomaly in the surrounding green-covered mountains and rolling, golden, grassy balds. The mountain is nothing short of surreal: from its white, angular, boulder-crusted outcrops, the views from the 6,000-foot summit are stunning on a clear day.
Weather in this wilderness can be fleeting: sunny and cold one hour, socked in with dense fog the next, and suddenly balmy before sunset. We’ve hiked the mountain in fog, below freezing, and we’ve hiked it the warm, sun-drenched days of summer. It’s one incredible adventure, and easily one of our favorites in the South. It’s exceptionally remote, though, so if you go, be sure to pack carefully, including emergency and wayfinding gear.
Thanks to an extensive trail network in this expansive wilderness, there’s more than one way to the iconic summit (see our trail review of Shining Rock via the Ivestor Gap Trail for a more direct, though less view-worthy, route). This hike follows our favorite route, rolling elevation over a series of grass and wildflower-covered mountain balds on the Art Loeb Trail from Black Balsam Knob.
Shining Rock Mountain: the hike
The hike departs from the Black Balsam Knob trailhead (view maps and driving directions), hiking northbound on the Art Loeb Trail from Black Balsam Road (MP 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway). The hike climbs through a stand of balsam fir trees, evergreen fragrance filling the air, before beginning a rocky ascent to the summit of Black Balsam Knob. The trail passes an intersection with the Art Loeb Spur at .45 miles, rolling elevation through a saddle before making the final ascent to the Black Balsam summit. Wildflowers, golden grasses and wild blueberries cover the landscape, and the views are nothing short of phenomenal, stretching far and wide in 360-degree panoramas.
The trail reaches the summit of Black Balsam Knob at .75 mile, passing a plaque that commemorates Art Loeb, the trail’s namesake. The hike descends from the mountain, passing several Art Loeb Trail signs. Wild blueberries thrive in this sun-drenched saddle.
The hike rolls elevation, climbing Tennent Mountain and reaching the mountain’s summit at 1.9 miles. The gleaming, white Shining Rock summit is visible on the far horizon on the trail’s left, a white beacon in the mountainous wilderness. Descending Tennent Mountain, the hike carves through a sharp switchback, veering eastbound before switching back to the northwest.
The hike reaches the Ivestor Gap Trail at 2.5 miles, turning right at the trail intersection and, in less than a tenth of a mile, veering right to continue following the Art Loeb Trail. (Given the number of trail intersections in this wilderness, we highly recommend hiking with an official trail map, like our favorite, the Trails Illustrated #780. Also pack a compass, and GPS: wayfinding through the maze of trails in this wilderness can be tricky.)
The hike rolls elevation over a small knob, passing several campsites in groves of dense rhododendron, wind-swept pine, and fern. The trail passes through a grassy clearing and a wooden gate at 2.9 miles, briefly intersecting with the Ivestor Gap Trail once again. The Art Loeb Trail veers right once again, rounding the east side of Grassy Cove Top and diving through a forest of balsam fir and fern before descending to Flower Gap.
The trail passes several campsites in the large, open, grassy expanses of Flower Gap. The hike climbs through a young birch forest, ascending Flower Knob and ducking through a tunnel of mountain laurel, passing a spring at 4.5 miles and Shining Creek soon after. The Art Loeb Trail reaches a grassy, wildflower-filled clearing at 4.75 miles. The hike continues due north from the gap, beginning a final climb through an evergreen forest to the gleaming white summit.
Several side trails meander to the mountain’s summit, all requiring a steep scramble over large boulders and angular outcrops. It’s not an easy climb, but a rewarding one, as the hike ascends above the tree line and climbs the brilliant, white quartz outcrops that give the mountain its name. (Drop-offs from the summit are steep and sudden, so if you go, tread carefully.) Views extend far and wide, on a clear day, to the surrounding grassy balds and the angular peaks of the Pisgah National Forest.
The hike departs the summit and retraces its outbound steps on the Art Loeb Trail, rolling elevation over Flower Knob, Grassy Cove Top, Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam Knob to return to the trailhead, a total hike of 9.9 miles. (Or, for an alternate route on the return hike, follow the Ivestor Gap Trail from Shining Rock, reaching the Ivestor Gap Trail / Sam Knob Trailhead at 9.5 miles. From there, follow the Art Loeb Spur Trail to Black Balsam Knob and the Art Loeb Trail to this hike’s trailhead.)
What is Wilderness, and why is it important? Read more in our guide to Wilderness areas in the South.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
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This trail is maintained thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers and donations from supporters of the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards. Please support them by making a donation or joining a volunteer day. Let's work together to keep these fantastic trails maintained and open for use!
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Free parking is available at the trailhead, located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 420.
35.320617, -82.876106 // N35 19.237 W82 52.567