Pisgah National Forest: Black Balsam Knob to Cold Mountain

Trek 18.2 miles from the South's best view to its most famous mountain.
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Trek 18.2 miles from the South's best view to its most famous mountain.

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

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 29.3

Waypoints

WPT001

Location: 35.325669, -82.882003

From lot, take Ivestor Gap Trail northeast.

WPT002

Location: 35.326165, -82.881047

Art Loeb Spur Trail on right. Go straight along old fire road for Ivestor Gap Trail.

WPT003

Location: 35.326498, -82.87985

Springs

WPT004

Location: 35.336949, -82.877064

Sheltered campsite: There's room for 1 tent

WPT005

Location: 35.340341, -82.867954

Junction with Art Loeb Trail; swing left, and head north.

WPT006

Location: 35.34087, -82.867971

Art Loeb Trail branches to the right. Head north-northeast up Ivestor Gap.

WPT007

Location: 35.345357, -82.867178

Enter Shining Rock Wilderness. Veer left to continue on the unsigned Ivestor Gap Trail which becomes singletrack.

WPT008

Location: 35.357569, -82.865609

Potential campsite: There's room for 1 tent on left.

WPT009

Location: 35.364889, -82.870703

Go right at the unmarked junction.

WPT010

Location: 35.364325, -82.863437

Secluded campsite near junction.

WPT011

Location: 35.364183, -82.863995

Junction with Art Loeb Trail. Take Art Loeb north.

WPT012

Location: 35.369825, -82.86521

Excellent campsite on right.

WPT013

Location: 35.376212, -82.868969

Stairs Mountain (5,689 ft.)

WPT014

Location: 35.377863, -82.868974

Campsite on right, just north of Stairs Mountain.

WPT015

Location: 35.385271, -82.868961

Flat campsite under pines on right.

WPT016

Location: 35.388096, -82.869849

Killer campsite with views into Deep Gap; room for 3 or 4 tents.

WPT017

Location: 35.394718, -82.865757

Sweet viewpoint along the spine of The Narrows.

WPT018

Location: 35.409547, -82.862318

Decent water source after a long dry stretch.

WPT019

Location: 35.410802, -82.863544

Good campsite near summit. Secluded, good views. Go east to the true summit of Cold Mountain.

WPT020

Location: 35.409879, -82.856769

Cold Mountain (6,030 ft.) From here, backtrack on the Art Loeb to Shining Rock Gap then continue south to Flower Knob.

WPT021

Location: 35.363997, -82.863874

Cross grassy area at this junction and bear right to continue south on the Art Loeb Trail.

WPT022

Location: 35.363329, -82.86391

Stay straight at the junction with North Prong Shining Creek Trail.

WPT023

Location: 35.359131, -82.86335

The highpoint of Flower Knob rises to the west.

WPT024

Location: 35.357031, -82.864509

Flower Gap. Continue south.

WPT025

Location: 35.350003, -82.864294

Unmarked junction. Go left to stay on the Art Loeb. Or summit Grassy Cove Top via an out and back trail straight ahead.

WPT026

Location: 35.345449, -82.866953

Junction. Make right, then quick left to stay on Art Loeb. Also, do a weather check here. If it looks like thunderstorms are a possibility, head east on the Graveyard Ridge Trail (another old fire road) to bypass the exposed highcountry balds.

WPT027

Location: 35.336977, -82.869197

6,040-foot Tennent Mountain. Named after Dr. Gallard Stoney Tennent who "established organized hiking in North Carolina."

WPT028

Location: 35.336076, -82.87333

Veer left at fork to climb Black Balsam Knob.

WPT029

Location: 35.330426, -82.875229

Confusing Intersection: Go straight to the summit of Black Balsam Knob.

WPT030

Location: 35.327819, -82.874455

Silvermine Benchmark

WPT031

Location: 35.32744, -82.874386

Summit of 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob.

WPT032

Location: 35.325558, -82.877192

Take the Art Loeb Spur Trail for a .6 mile hike back to the trailhead, or continue straight for one more night of camping.

WPT033

Location: 35.323091, -82.876189

Perfect campsite near large pine.