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Climbing 2,000 feet to a watchtower overlook of Blue Ridge, Pisgah, and Black Mountain peaks, this 5.6-mile out-and-back to Green Knob offers dayhikers all the views of its mammoth northwest neighbor, Mount Mitchell, without the crowds. Beginning from a forest service road trailhead off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the signed trail to Green Knob begins with a stiff ascent to the spine of Lost Cove Ridge. Tracing the ridge, the trail continues on an undulating climb through a diverse forest mix of hemlock, chestnut oak peppered with mountain laurel, rhododendron, and magnolia.
Roughly 2 miles in, the approach to the Green Knob summit becomes more exposed, revealing intermittent views of the Black Mountain Range and Pisgah National Forest. The hike’s highlight, though, is the Green Knob observation tower. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1932 (restored in 1996), the tower offers uninterrupted views of the Black Mountain range and Mount Mitchell State Park to the northwest, views of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the northeast, and views across the surrounding Pisgah National Forest. Soak it all in before backtracking to the trailhead.
-Mapped by Tim Johnson
- Distance: 9.0
- Miles from city center: 37
Location: 35.7511368, -82.2200089
The hike begins behind trailhead information board and ascends through cool, open Hemlock forest. Look for the smooth bark of American beech trees mixed in among the hemlocks.
Location: 35.7491188, -82.2191544
At an intersection marked with double yellow blazes, turn right and continue uphill. The unique bark of young striped maples can be found next to the path.
Location: 35.7480278, -82.2205963
Stay left at Y-intersection with River Loop Trail. Continue southwest among rhododendron. Just ahead, the trail makes a sharp left turn and continues south along the spine of the ridge. Views open up to the west among scattered mountain laurel and chestnut oak.
Location: 35.7470131, -82.221138
Follow the level winding trail through tunnels of mountain laurel. The pungent-smelling, evergreen leaves of galax dot the ground.
Location: 35.7437606, -82.2214651
Begin a steep ascent up a well-worn path. Chestnut oak seedlings litter the ground with their wavy-edged leaves. Sourwood trunks lean over the trail reaching for sunlight. The interesting yellow flowers of witch hazel bring some color to the forest in the winter when views of Pisgah National Forest can be seen to the east.
Location: 35.7391739, -82.2236633
Catch your breath at a clearing near the top of the ascent. The evergreen leaves of early blooming trailing arbutus can be found here. Descend steeply on the trail to a short, level ridge passing a large boulder and trees.
Location: 35.7368622, -82.2248764
The trail begins an ascent of Lost Cove Ridge. Walk by a large chestnut oak located beside the trail. These slow growing trees are found on dry ridges in the southern Appalachians. For this reason, trees this large would easily be over a hundred years old. Shiny flecks of mica dot the ground.
Location: 35.7358017, -82.2259827
Take a break as the trail reaches the top of the ridge and levels out once more. Continue descent through open hemlock woods along Lost Cove Ridge.
Location: 35.7315865, -82.2271652
Two large chestnut oaks guard the trail on either side. Pass through and continue a ridgeline ascent among northern red oak.
Location: 35.7302246, -82.2282715
Again the trail levels out at the top of an ascent. The high-pitched calls of kinglets can be heard above as they flit about. The sharp pointy needles of red spruce trees are more common at this higher elevation.
Location: 35.7273254, -82.2289505
Ascent steepens as the trail moves to the west side of the ridge. The whorled leaves of Indian cucumber identify it among other small plants on the forest floor. The smooth gray bark and earlobed leaves of Fraser magnolia can also be seen here.
Location: 35.7257157, -82.2290182
Continue steep ascent and look for views of the knob before the forest closes in again. As you reach the top, views open up, and exposed rocks and stunted plant growth serve as a reminder of how harsh the weather can get up here.
Location: 35.719832, -82.2238737
The Green Knob Fire Tower adorns the summit of this 5,080-foot peak. The 32-foot tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1932 and restored in 1996. The tower affords awesome views of the Black Mountains, Mt. Mitchell State Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Snap some pictures and enjoy the solitude from the catwalk before backtracking down the ridge to the trailhead.
Location: 35.7206459, -82.2240753
USFS Trailside Marker
Location: 35.7508316, -82.2200012
A USFS marker noting the trail to Green Knob.
Open Hemlock Forest
Location: 35.7500076, -82.2207413
Location: 35.7491379, -82.2191772
Go right at this Y-junction marked by double yellow blazes
Location: 35.7480392, -82.2206039
Head left at this Y-junction
Mountain Laurel Tunnel
Location: 35.7448692, -82.2205353
Location: 35.7430725, -82.2220459
Location: 35.7406921, -82.2236328
Location: 35.7399406, -82.2242355
Location: 35.7369118, -82.2245865
Giant Chestnut Oak
Location: 35.7363434, -82.2255554
Location: 35.7350082, -82.2257919
Location: 35.731472, -82.2273102
Northwest view of Black Mountain Range
Location: 35.7244415, -82.2275162
Green Knob Fire Tower
Location: 35.7198058, -82.2239166
Green Knob Fire Tower
Location: 35.7198276, -82.2238255
Fire Tower View
Location: 35.7197275, -82.2239006
Fire Tower View
Location: 35.7197536, -82.2237718