Posted on 9/12/2023 by Mark Roberts

Hiking Black Balsam Knob Near Asheville

Person petting a dog on top of the mountains

BLACK BALSAM IN ASHEVILLE, NC

Black Balsam Knob is a must-do hike near Asheville, NC. As a local, I have hiked the knob and surrounding areas several times due to the natural beauty and several stunning panoramic views in the Black Balsam Mountains. Not to mention, it’s great for all levels of experience. The hike to just the Black Balsam Knob is only 0.7 miles. For those who long for further adventure, there are plenty of longer hikes around to take in the breathtaking scenery! There are several paths along the top of the Black Balsam knob that boast beautiful views everywhere you look. To make the experience even better, there are many trails nearby including Tennent Mountain, Sam’s knob, and Ivester Gap Trail.

Picture of mountain horizons and blue skies

Black Balsam is the second-highest mountain in the Black Balsam Mountains. The actual elevation of the knob is 6,214 ft. The top of the mountain is a grassy bald with a panoramic view. The origin of grassy balds in southern Haywood County is a result of extensive clear-cut logging and locomotive fires in 1925 and 1942. These fires burned deep down into the mineral-rich topsoil which slowed reforestation and seems to have stopped it all together. In this blog post, we will delve into the beauty of the Black Balsam

hiking trails, provide directions and the adventure to reach them, suggest some excellent places to stay nearby, and share a secret insider tip to enhance your adventure.

WHAT SHOULD I BRING WITH ME ON THE BLACK BALSAM HIKE?

  1. Water - It’s important to bring plenty of water with you on this hike, especially on a hot summer day. There are no places on the parkway to purchase or get water, so make sure you bring plenty!
  2. Snacks - Because Black Balsam is remote, restaurants and food options are farther away. I always bring some tasty trail snacks with me. Jerky, fruit, and granola bars are some of my favorite trail snacks!
  3. Rain Gear - Did you know that this area of the Appalachian Mountains is considered a temperate rainforest? The mountains of Western NC have some of the most wildly varying weather in the southeast. Especially during the summer, don’t be surprised for quick rain storms to roll in. Even if the weather forecast calls for mostly sunny, there’s always a chance of rain. Bring some rain gear with you just in case.
  4. First Aid Kit - Not everyone will carry one, but I always do. You never know when something could happen while hiking on rocky terrain, so I always come prepared.
  5. Bug Spray - This is optional, but if you are one that absolutely can’t stand bugs, I would bring some just in case. I have never had a big issue with bugs there, but it’s always possible, especially after some rain.

The drive to black balsam

Whether you are looking for an all-day adventure or just a few hours, both are doable at Black Balsam. The drive from Asheville proper can take about 45 minutes to an hour, but don’t let that hinder you. To reach Black Balsam from Asheville is a beautiful drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I find myself enjoying the drive more and more even after several times heading out for this hike. If you’re heading up during the spring, you can enjoy several wildflowers and fresh blooms along the way. The fall time is my favorite time to make this drive. The colors are much more vibrant along the Blue Ridge Parkway than anywhere else.

BALSAM40 banner with mountains

As you enter the parkway from several different options near Asheville, the gradual climb offers one of the best scenic drives in America. You can look up Black Balsam knob on your phone and the GPS should take you right there as well. As you start your journey and climb higher on the parkway, you will find several pull-offs with views that will make your jaw drop! It’s hard to pick a favorite but one of my favorites is called the Cradle of Forestry Overlook at Milepost 411.0. This overlook is especially spectacular during the fall, featuring long-range views and beautiful scenery.

By now you also have traveled through several tunnels that are cut through the mountains to add to the excitement. Make sure you turn on your lights! When you get closer to the Black Balsam parking area, you will first pass the Graveyard fields. If you want to stop and see the waterfall, but don’t have time for that hike, you can often see it from the drive or several pull-offs near the trailhead. I will do this sometimes just to see the magnificent waterfall from a great viewpoint. This may be harder during the summer when the trees are thick with their green leaves, so it may be worth taking the time to walk down to the waterfall. It’s a quick walk down the path at the Graveyard Fields parking lot.

Continuing on, You are now close to the Black Balsam Hike! You will reach Black Balsam knob road and journey to the parking area. If you’re there on a weekend, parking may stretch farther down the road. However, there is ample parking, and this is where most people access the trail to get to Black Balsam Knob.


Picture of the dog standing on top of a rock with mountainous surroundings

THE BLACK BALSAM HIKE

You have arrived! The trailhead is located on the right side of the road and is easy to find. If you
brought your dog along with you, be sure to put them on a leash immediately as you may have
to walk along the road before getting to the trailhead. The trail starts off on gravel but quickly
switches to a dirt trail that will enter the forest. I love this part of the trail because the anticipation
sets in as I know I’m about to enter the jaw-dropping panoramic view that is about to come. Not far from the start of the trail, you will enter the grassy and rocky bald that will simply be
memorizing! The rest of the journey to the top of the Bald is complete with mostly 360-degree
breath-taking views of the black balsam mountains. I like to venture on many of the rocks and soak it all in. There are several little paths to take right off the trail that are great picture spots! Don’t worry, the main trail is clear and well-traveled.

The trail is relatively easy for most hikers just until the last climb, and even then it’s easily manageable. Right before the last climb is a great time for a water break. Staying hydrated on a trail is important to keep your momentum going. Now, the victorious walk to the top of the bald!

Once you have reached the top, perhaps a victory chant is in order! Views View Views! The wonder and all set in as the complete 360-degree views are just captivating. There is a great place right at the top to sit on the rocks and just take it all in. Sometimes this is where I enjoy a snack while I take in the views. If it’s too crowded, there are two paths that keep going and find some more private spots to enjoy the views. There are also great spots to bring a blanket and sit down and enjoy a delicious, packed lunch. Food tastes better with a view in my opinion!

INSIDER TIPS:

Want to know a local’s secret and avoid crowds? Continue past where the majority of people pull off the side of the road for the hike. Drive to the end of the road and you’ll reach the parking area for the Sam’s Knob hike. Instead of taking Sam’s knob trail, walk back towards the entrance to the parking area and you’ll see a small path that enters into the pine trees. Take that path, that will then bring you to an enchanting pine forest. At this point, the trail tapers off, however, continue up the mountain through the pine forest and stick to your left. Eventually, you will hit a trail that will take you up to Black Balsam Knob. Don’t worry about getting lost, because even if you can’t find the trail right away, you will inevitably hit a trail on Black 

Picture of Art Loeb Trail sign

The trail is relatively easy for most hikers just until the last climb, and even then it’s easily manageable. Right before the last climb is a great time for a water break. Staying hydrated on a trail is important to keep your momentum going. Now, the victorious walk to the top of the bald!

Once you have reached the top, perhaps a victory chant is in order! Views View Views! The wonder and all set-in as the complete 360-degree views are just captivating. There is a great place right at the top to sit on the rocks and just take it all in. Sometimes this is where I enjoy a snack while I take in the views. If it’s too crowded, there are two paths that keep going and find some more private spots to enjoy the views. There are also great spots to bring a blanket and sit down and enjoy a delicious, packed lunch. Food tastes better with a view in my opinion!

WANT A LONGER ADVENTURE AROUND BLACK BALSAM?

Tennent Mountain Trail: Connecting to the Art Loeb Trail, the Tennent Mountain Trail allows you to venture deeper into the beautiful Appalachian ecosystem. Accessible from the Black Balsam Knob parking area, this moderate trail promises extraordinary views of the surrounding mountains and idyllic landscapes.

Investor Gap Trail:  An ideal option for those seeking a longer and more serene hike, the Ivestor Gap Trail circles the Black Balsam area, connecting to other trails like The Art Loeb and Shining Rock. To locate the Ivestor Gap Trailhead, follow the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville and turn right onto the gravel road immediately after the Graveyard Fields overlook.

Picture of the mountains with ray of light
NOTABLE SUGGESTIONS BEFORE HEADING TO THE BLACK BALSAM HIKE
  1. The parkway often closes in the Winter due to weather. Always make sure that you check to make sure the parkway is open up to Black Balsam before making the drive. Sometimes certain sections will be closed, so it’s always best to check. See here for parkway closings: Road and Facility Closures.
  2. Another thing to note is that the Black Balsam Hike is mostly open with little shade. If it's a bright and sunny day, I would suggest bringing sunscreen or proper clothes to protect yourself from the sun! I usually bring along some sunscreen just in case.
  3. At the Black Balsam Knob trailhead parking, there are no restrooms. However, if you drive past the parking area for Black Balsam to the Sam Knob Trailhead at the end of Black Balsam Knob Road, there are some restroom facilities there.
  4. Is Black Balsam Safe for Kids? The answer is Yes! The Black Balsam hike is safer than most hikes in the area, however, it’s still important to keep an eye on your children because there are several rocky parts of the trail. I have done this trail with friends who have young kids and they managed it fine and loved it! If your child is younger than 7, you may need to help them on the last climb to the summit of Black Balsam Knob. I would not suggest bringing a stroller on this hike as there are many rocky parts of the trail. you may need to help them on the last climb to the summit of Black Balsam Knob. I would not suggest bringing a stroller on this hike as there are many rocky parts of the trail.
  5. Is there Cell Service? Yes and No. There are certain spots where you will have little service depending on your carrier. I have Verizon, and I was able to send a text at different spots of the trail, but be prepared to have spotty service.
  6. Are there bears to be worried about? Most likely no, however, it is possible. Since Black
    Balsam is a relatively popular hike, it is unlikely that you would encounter a bear on this trail. Even if you do, most black bears will be scared of you and stay away. If you do encounter one on the trail, it’s important that you do not walk up to the bear, instead, give the bear some space and walk slowly away.
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BALSAM40 banner with two outdoor seats facing mountain views

REFUELING AFTER A DAY ON THE TRAILS: EXCEPTIONAL LUNCH SPOTS:

After a rewarding day of hiking, indulge in a delicious meal and relax at one of the local lunch spots after Black Balsam. Here are three highly recommended options:

Boojum Brewing in Waynesville: Located in downtown Waynesville, not only can you grab a post-hike of delicious beer, Boojum offers an array of yummy lunch options. Enjoy seasonal pub fare including tasty burgers, sandwiches, seafood & steak. The taproom features 16 taps of fresh, delicious & ever-rotating Boojum Beer plus wine & craft cocktails. Cozy up inside or take in the mountain air on the back deck.

The Square Root at Brevard:  For a more casual yet equally satisfying meal, head to The Square Root in Brevard. Just a short drive from the trails, this eclectic eatery offers a diverse menu featuring farm-fresh ingredients. Be sure to try their famous burgers or opt for a vegetarian delight.

Sunny Point Cafe at West Asheville: Located in downtown Waynesville, not only can you grab a post-hike of delicious beer, Boojum offers an array of yummy lunch options. Enjoy seasonal pub fare including tasty burgers, sandwiches, seafood & steak. The taproom features 16 taps of fresh, delicious & ever-rotating Boojum Beer plus wine & craft cocktails. Cozy up inside or take in the mountain air on the back deck.


CONCLUSION:

With its awe-inspiring mountain vistas, scenic trails, and natural serenity, the Black Balsam area in Asheville promises an unforgettable hiking experience. From the iconic Black Balsam Knob to the hidden tranquility of Sam Knob, each trail offers unique delights awaiting your exploration. After a day of adventure, treat yourself to a mouthwatering meal at one of the local lunch spots, a drive back to your comfortable vacation rental, and the feeling of wonder from the surreal experience of the Asheville area.

Picture of different plants with mountains in the background


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