Asheville, NC: Plott Balsam

En route to four 6,000-foot summits, this 7.8-mile bushwhack travels the crest of wooded ridgeline above the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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En route to four 6,000-foot summits, this 7.8-mile bushwhack travels the crest of wooded ridgeline above the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Head north from the parking area for a gradual ridgeline climb to Waterrock Knob—the first summit of the day. From the top of Waterrock, the main challenge is keeping track of the overgrown trail as it veers east and traverses the ridge to Browning Knob. At mile 1.3, pass several boulders and navigate through dense vegetation that crowds the path. The trail leaves the woods after 2.2 miles and turns onto a grassy road, traveling across the summit of Mount Lyn Lowery. Take in the 360-degree views of surrounding mountains before tackling the remaining 1.8 miles to the summit of Plott Balsam. Return to the trailhead following the same route. (Pay attention to the unmarked junctions along the fire road between Mount Lyn Lowery and Plott Balsam—they’re easy to miss.)
Mapped by Scott Sanders

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 6.4

Waypoints

PLO001

Location: 35.4599571228027, -83.1406402587891

From the parking lot, begin gradual climb up to the Watterock Summit on a paved trail that leaves the east side of the lot. Ahead, the paved trail turns to a mix of rock and gravel.

PLO002

Location: 35.4640579223633, -83.1376724243164

Trail crests Waterrock Knob (6,289 ft.). From the clearing at the top of Watterock, continue east along the ridgeline as the hike descends and ascends steep terrain. From here, the trail is not well maintained; bushwhack through evergreen forest and head-high vegetation; climb over, under, or around fallen trees. Despite the slower pace, the views of the surrounding mountains are impressive all along the trail. Ignore the ribbons left by other hikers to mark the trail and continue along the ridgeline; pass side trails to the north and south.

PLO003

Location: 35.4631843566894, -83.1319198608398

Browning Knob (6,254 ft.): Look north from the ridge for views of the surrounding mountains and the town of Maggie Valley.

PLO004

Location: 35.4650192260742, -83.1231994628906

The trail snakes between two large boulders. The trail is not well maintained along this stretch; navigate through vegetation and tree limbs on overgrown path.

PLO005

Location: 35.4655456542969, -83.1220932006836

Bear right on the ridge as it curves to the southeast. Don't follow Fork Ridge to the north (left).

PLO006

Location: 35.4643402099609, -83.1161346435547

Continue east past a false summit on the ridgeline.

PLO007

Location: 35.4641456604004, -83.1094512939453

Pay close attention to this intersection: The narrow trail leaves the woods and turns left onto a grassy road, heading north. This junction is not marked, so don't miss the turn back into the woods on the return trip.

PLO008

Location: 35.4642333984375, -83.1091690063476

Mount Lyn Lowery (6,216 ft.). A huge metal cross marks the summit in memory of Lyn Lowery who died of leukemia in 1964. Check out the panoramic views of surrounding mountains (arguably the best photo-op of the hike). Next, continue northeast. The trail makes a very long, steep descent through heavy vegetation on unmaintained dirt tread.

PLO009

Location: 35.4706954956055, -83.1034927368164

Turn right (northeast); continue on dirt road heading northeast. Note: This is another potentially confusing junction on the return trip. On the way back, the trail enters the woods at this bend in the road (unmarked).

PLO010

Location: 35.4735260009766, -83.0956039428711

Continue on the dirt road as it travels northeast across a gap.

PLO011

Location: 35.4776458740234, -83.091796875

Leave the road and turn left on an un-blazed trail that leads uphill into the trees. (This is another turn that is easy to miss.) From here, it's a steep bushwhack to Plott Balsam.

PLO012

Location: 35.480037689209, -83.088493347168

Plott Balsam (6,088 ft.): Views are scarce on this wooded summit; retrace your steps back to the trailhead (use the waypoints as a guide for the tricky trail junctions).

Watterock Knob

Location: 35.4641227722168, -83.1375503540039

View from Browning Knob

Location: 35.4631462097168, -83.1318588256836

Trailside Boulders

Location: 35.4644317626953, -83.1136016845703

Views from Mount Lyn Lowery

Location: 35.4641609191894, -83.1093063354492

Trail to Plott Balsam

Location: 35.4663467407227, -83.1079788208008