Black Balsam Knob Area
The Black Balsam area includes some of the most spectacular mountain balds in the Southern Appalachians, including Black Balsam Knob, Sam Knob, and Tennent Mountain. These treeless mountaintops draw people from afar due to their sweeping views and alpine appearance.
In addition to these balds, trails in the Black Balsam area lead into dark forests, through streamside meadows, and to cascading waterfalls along Flat Laurel Creek. And although many of this area's points of interest are outside the Shining Rock Wilderness boundary, Black Balsam is also a popular gateway to the Shining Rock Wilderness Area to the north. Many people choose to start their journey into the wilderness from here.
This trailhead area is accessed via Black Balsam Road (FS 816), off of the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 420.2. There are two main parking areas along Black Balsam Road: one halfway to the end, at the gap where the Art Loeb and Mountains to Sea trails cross. The other is at the end of FS 816 about 0.5 mile past the gap, where about half a dozen more trails start.
The quickest way to the summit of 6214' Black Balsam Knob itself is via the Art Loeb trail at the gap. This is a walk of about 1/2 mile which gains about 400' in elevation. It passes through open, grassy and rocky mountain meadows and this short walk is highly recommended! Here are some more pictures of the Art Loeb trail to Black Balsam Knob.
The quickest way to Sam Knob is from the parking area at the end of the road, and this trail is one of the Best Hikes on this site - obviously, it is highly recommended as well! Here are more pictures of the trail to Sam Knob.
From the parking area at the end of the road, the Ivestor Gap trail skirts Black Balsam Knob and represents the fastest way to reach the Shining Rock Wilderness boundary and Shining Rock itself.
The trail network makes for a good variety of loop options that go to the various points of interest, almost any of which could be Best Hikes themselves. Here are some additional suggestions:
- Art Loeb Parking → Art Loeb Tr. over Black Balsam & Tennent Mtn. → Ivestor Gap Tr. → Black Balsam Rd.
- Art Loeb Parking → Mountains to Sea Trail → Graveyard Ridge Tr. to Ivestor Gap → Return via Art Loeb Tr. and Black Balsam Mtn. (more difficult) or Ivestor Gap Tr. (easier)
- Ivestor Gap Parking → Sam Knob Summit Tr. → Sam Knob Tr. → Flat Laurel Creek Tr.
- Ivestor Gap Parking → Flat Laurel Creek Tr. → Little Sam Tr. → Mountains to Sea Tr. → Black Balsam Rd. (or Art Loeb Tr. over Black Balsam's summit)
This is just an overview of trails available in this Trailhead area. For all the trail details, visit the trails page. You can also see what we consider to be the best hikes in the area, or look at the interactive map to see how everything fits together.
Places to Stay
Camping is allowed anywhere on National Forest property accessible from the Black Balsam area, except within 500' of a road or in a designated closed area. There are no developed campgrounds in this area. The closest would be the Mount Pisgah Campground which is located South on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Davidson River Campground which is located South on the Blue Ridge Parkway and then East on US 276, or the small Sunburst campground which is located North on the Blue Ridge Prakway and then West on NC 215.
Excellent campsites can be found (not made!) on top of the balds (but beware of harsh weather), along the Art Loeb/Mountains to Sea Trail South of Black Balsam Road, along the Flat Laurel Creek trail (where you will generally have access to water), and toward Sam Knob on the various trails (but not in the mowed wildlife meadow). Please avoid any and all trampling of the vegetation, leaving of trash, enlargement of campfire rings, or cutting of standing wood in this area! Remember, campfires are not allowed within the Shining Rock Wilderness boundaries - bring a camp stove.
Lodging is available in the nearby towns of Brevard, Waynesville, or Asheville, all within about one hour's drive to the Black Balsam area.
Take the Blue Ridge Parkway South past Mount Pisgah, US Hwy. 276, and Graveyard Fields. Just past milepost 420, look for the road to Black Balsam (FS 816) on the right. It's about 0.8 miles on this (semi) paved road to the first parking area at the gap (Art Loeb/Mountains to Sea Trail crossing), and another 1/2 mile to the parking area at the end of the road (the Ivestor Gap trailhead).