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
- Distance: 6.4
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Location: 35.4643402099609, -83.1161346435547
Continue east past a false summit on the ridgeline.
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.
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.
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).
Location: 35.4735260009766, -83.0956039428711
Continue on the dirt road as it travels northeast across a gap.
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.
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).
Location: 35.4641227722168, -83.1375503540039
View from Browning Knob
Location: 35.4631462097168, -83.1318588256836
Location: 35.4644317626953, -83.1136016845703
Views from Mount Lyn Lowery
Location: 35.4641609191894, -83.1093063354492
Trail to Plott Balsam
Location: 35.4663467407227, -83.1079788208008