Asheville, NC: Black Balsam Knob via Graveyard Fields

This ridge-country classic swings from the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Graveyard Fields en route to Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain. Tackle the 9.8-mile lollipop loop in a day or stretch it into a leisurely overnight with one of the many prime campsites around Ivestor Gap.
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This ridge-country classic swings from the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Graveyard Fields en route to Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain. Tackle the 9.8-mile lollipop loop in a day or stretch it into a leisurely overnight with one of the many prime campsites around Ivestor Gap.

Pull into the parking lot at mile 419 of the Blue Ridge Parkway and head north on the paved walkway. Cross the Yellowstone Prong and turn left onto the blue-blazed trail: your 9.8-miler begins with a jaunt through the sweeping Graveyard Fields, named after the rows of moss-covered, grave-like stumps that once peppered the meadows’ grassy confines. A rare low-elevation bald surrounded by higher, vegetation-covered ridges, Graveyard Fields is home to a multitude of blackberry and blueberry shrubs that attract throngs of visitors in the late summer and fall. Hike gently uphill before turning left and into a tunnel of trees swinging west along Graveyard Ridge.
Trace the contour of the Ridge until hitting a junction with the Mountains-To-Sea Trail, which you’ll follow west for a steep climb to the top of Balsam Knob. Break free from the trees and traverse Balsam’s exposed spine on the Art Loeb Trail to gain expansive panoramas of the surrounding ridge country: Sam Knob, Little Sam Knob and Fork Ridge backdropped by the Smokies to the west; Tennent Mountain to the north; Ivestor Ridge and Graveyard Ridge sliding into the Pigsah National Forest to the east.

After cresting Balsam’s peak (6,124 feet), head north for more endless panoramas from Tennent Mountain before dropping into the idyllic Ivestor Gap. Primo campsites are available around the gap, but water sources are only reliable here after heavy rain (the next constant water source is Yellowstone’s Dark Prong, 0.8 mile further). Push into the Shining Rock Wilderness and savor spectacular down-valley views of the wooded slopes between Ivestor Ridge and Grassy Cove Ridge. After crossing the Dark Prong, return to the junction just below Black Balsam Knob. Close the hike’s loop section by picking up the stretch of Graveyard Ridge Trail you hiked in on. Conclude your hike with a quick splash in the Yellowstone Prong’s Lower Falls before returning to the trailhead. 

-Mapped by John Thomas

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 15.8

Waypoints

BBK001

Location: 35.320439, -82.846919

Park at the Graveyard Fields Overlook and head north on the paved walkway.

BBK002

Location: 35.321866, -82.847353

Cross the Yellowstone Prong and turn left onto the blue-blazed Graveyard Fields Loop.

BBK003

Location: 35.32201, -82.850685

Turn right onto the yellow-blazed Graveyard Ridge Connector Trail to climb away from Graveyard Fields.

BBK004

Location: 35.324019, -82.851259

At junction, look for yellow blazes to continue hiking toward Graveyard Ridge.

BBK005

Location: 35.32598, -82.853018

Turn left at the orange-blazed Graveyard Ridge Trail.

BBK006

Location: 35.329149, -82.866515

Turn left on the Mountains-To-Sea Trail to begin climbing toward Black Balsam Knob. The trail here is steep and overgrown with low-lying vegetation.

BBK007

Location: 35.325472, -82.871042

Catch your breath while enjoying views of the countryside below.

BBK008

Location: 35.324194, -82.873875

Cross the Yellowstone Prong for a second time.

BBK009

Location: 35.320763, -82.876171

The Mountains-To-Sea Trail connects with Fire Road 816 here. Bear right to pick up the Art Loeb Trail and continue heading north toward Black Balsam Knob. Turning left brings you to a parking lot and alternate trailhead on Black Balsam Knob Road, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

BBK010

Location: 35.322216, -82.875763

Break through the trees to hit the exposed Black Balsam Knob.

BBK011

Location: 35.327906, -82.874454

Hit the peak of Black Balsam Knob (6,124 feet).

BBK012

Location: 35.336974, -82.869176

Roll over the peak of Tennent Mountain (6,040 feet) while heading east on the Art Loeb Trail.

BBK013

Location: 35.340895, -82.868081

After heavy rain, you can filter water from this shallow source.

BBK014

Location: 35.34506, -82.867159

Prime campsites are available in the picturesque Ivestor Gap.

BBK015

Location: 35.345375, -82.867373

At the sign marking the border of the Shining Rock Wilderness, turn right onto the wide Graveyard Ridge Trail.

BBK016

Location: 35.344885, -82.862213

At the Y-junction, make a sharp right to stay on the Graveyard Ridge Trail.

BBK017

Location: 35.332387, -82.868961

Fill up your water bottles for the hike's home stretch at the tranquil Dark Prong.

BBK018

Location: 35.329245, -82.866531

At four-way junction, continue on the Graveyard Ridge Trail by taking the middle fork. The right fork leads back up to Black Balsam Knob and the left fork follows the Mountains-To-Sea Trail to Graveyard Ridge.

BBK018

Location: 35.322181, -82.847648

At Y-junction, turn left to take a quick side-trip to the Yellowstone Prong's Lower Falls. Turning right leads to parking lot.

Trailhead

Location: 35.320316, -82.847153

Pick up the trail from the north side of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Yellowstone Prong

Location: 35.321866, -82.8473

Cross the Yellowstone Prong at mile 0.1

Graveyard Fields

Location: 35.321625, -82.849295

Heading west through the Graveyard Fields.

Climbing Toward Graveyard Ridge

Location: 35.324745, -82.851631

Graveyard Ridge Trail

Location: 35.32394, -82.857597

Walk through a tunnel of trees on the Graveyard Ridge Trail.

Mountains-To-Sea Trail Junction

Location: 35.329044, -82.86629

Turn left on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail to begin climbing toward Black Balsam Knob.

Nearing The Top

Location: 35.32626, -82.870667

Climbing toward Black Balsam Knob.

Ridge Views

Location: 35.325683, -82.870839

Gain revealing vistas of the lush countryside below as you climb toward Black Balsam Knob.

Approaching Black Balsam Knob

Location: 35.324772, -82.871268

Gain increasingly revealing panoramas of the tree-topped countryside as you climb toward Black Balsam Knob.

Black Balsam Knob

Location: 35.323584, -82.876954

Rolling meadows bordered by a wall of pines comprises the inviting Black Balsam Knob.

Looking West

Location: 35.324089, -82.877083

Looking west toward Sam Knob and Little Sam Knob backdropped by the Fork Ridge.

Black Balsam Knob

Location: 35.32359, -82.876976

Strips of rock sneak through the grassy meadows atop Black Balsam Knob.

Looking Northwest From Black Balsam Knob

Location: 35.326908, -82.876312

Looking North

Location: 35.327451, -82.874637

Looking north along Black Balsam Knob.

Vista From Peak Of Black Balsam Knob

Location: 35.327976, -82.874336

Art Loeb Trail

Location: 35.330777, -82.875323

Black Balsam Knob

Location: 35.336098, -82.872791

Panoramas of the surrounding ridges are numerous from the knob.

Ridge Country Panoramas

Location: 35.337674, -82.865367

Notch more panoramas of the surrounding ridge country while descending from Tennents Peak.

Thick Foliage

Location: 35.337534, -82.864637

Brush through thick foliage while descending from the peak of Tennent Mountain.

Campsite

Location: 35.343341, -82.867759

Since this route lies entirely within National Forest land, camping is available everywhere except within 500 feet of a road or in areas marked close with signs.

Tennent Mountain

Location: 35.345196, -82.867169

Looking south toward Tennent Mountain from Ivestor Gap.

Ivestor Gap

Location: 35.344955, -82.867126

Notch spectacular views from Ivestor Gap. Prime campsites are available here.

East Of Ivestor Gap

Location: 35.345235, -82.86438

Valley View

Location: 35.340947, -82.865903

Look east for spectacular views of the valley nestled between Ivestor Ridge and Grassy Cove Ridge.

Dark Prong

Location: 35.332317, -82.868671

Fill up water bottles at this tranquil creek before hitting the home stretch.

Lower Falls

Location: 35.322374, -82.846377

Take a quick side-trip to the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone Prong before returning to the car.