|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Want to see Asheville’s laid-back local hikers get riled up? Ask them to name the area’s finest hike. Then make peace by suggesting this two-day trek, an easy high-country ramble--with breezy unobstructed views--to Cold Mountain (yes, that one) and back.
From the parking lot at the end of Black Balsam Road, take the Ivestor Gap Trail northeast. This old logging road tracks along a 5,800-foot contour with hardly any elevation change. You’ll pass a springs within half a mile, perfect if you forgot to fill up. In 2.4 miles, you’ll reach Ivestor Gap, the 18,500-acre Shining Rock Wilderness boundary, and a three-way junction with the Ivestor Gap, Art Loeb, and Big East Trails. Veer left onto an unsigned singletrack curving through knee-high grasses into the poplar and dogwoods.
The trail rises gradually for the next .6 mile through berry thickets. At mile four you’ll reach an unmarked junction. Make a right and head to Shining Rock Gap at mile 4.4. Link to the Art Loeb Trail (a quartz cairn marks the way) heading north. You’ll gain elevation, eventually breaking a sweat on aptly named 5,869-foot Stairs Mountain. From here, tip-toe along the spine of a ridge called The Narrows before dropping 900 feet into Deep Gap, a popular camping area at mile 7.1.
Press on to secluded sites on the west ridge of 6,030-foot Cold Mountain, a steep .9 mile north. Catch sunrise on the summit, then backtrack due south on the Art Loeb to the trip’s highlight, a five-mile ridgewalk across grassy balds laced with rhododendron-choked hollows. Cross Flower Knob at mile 13, Tennent Mountain at mile 15.7, and 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob at mile 17.
It’s .6 mile back to the car, or 1.2 if you can’t resist one last night out.
Gear Up: Diamond Brand Outdoors, 172 Charlotte St., Asheville, NC; (828) 251-4668; diamondbrand.com
Season: Hit the first week of May for spring blooms. Rhododendrons are on fire through July. Crowds (thick in summer months) drizzle out by late September.
-Mapped by Shannon Davis