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