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
- Distance: 29.3
Location: 35.325669, -82.882003
From lot, take Ivestor Gap Trail northeast.
Location: 35.326165, -82.881047
Art Loeb Spur Trail on right. Go straight along old fire road for Ivestor Gap Trail.
Location: 35.326498, -82.87985
Location: 35.336949, -82.877064
Sheltered campsite: There's room for 1 tent
Location: 35.340341, -82.867954
Junction with Art Loeb Trail; swing left, and head north.
Location: 35.34087, -82.867971
Art Loeb Trail branches to the right. Head north-northeast up Ivestor Gap.
Location: 35.345357, -82.867178
Enter Shining Rock Wilderness. Veer left to continue on the unsigned Ivestor Gap Trail which becomes singletrack.
Location: 35.357569, -82.865609
Potential campsite: There's room for 1 tent on left.
Location: 35.364889, -82.870703
Go right at the unmarked junction.
Location: 35.364325, -82.863437
Secluded campsite near junction.
Location: 35.364183, -82.863995
Junction with Art Loeb Trail. Take Art Loeb north.
Location: 35.369825, -82.86521
Excellent campsite on right.
Location: 35.376212, -82.868969
Stairs Mountain (5,689 ft.)
Location: 35.377863, -82.868974
Campsite on right, just north of Stairs Mountain.
Location: 35.385271, -82.868961
Flat campsite under pines on right.
Location: 35.388096, -82.869849
Killer campsite with views into Deep Gap; room for 3 or 4 tents.
Location: 35.394718, -82.865757
Sweet viewpoint along the spine of The Narrows.
Location: 35.409547, -82.862318
Decent water source after a long dry stretch.
Location: 35.410802, -82.863544
Good campsite near summit. Secluded, good views. Go east to the true summit of Cold Mountain.
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.
Location: 35.363997, -82.863874
Cross grassy area at this junction and bear right to continue south on the Art Loeb Trail.
Location: 35.363329, -82.86391
Stay straight at the junction with North Prong Shining Creek Trail.
Location: 35.359131, -82.86335
The highpoint of Flower Knob rises to the west.
Location: 35.357031, -82.864509
Flower Gap. Continue south.
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.
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.
Location: 35.336977, -82.869197
6,040-foot Tennent Mountain. Named after Dr. Gallard Stoney Tennent who "established organized hiking in North Carolina."
Location: 35.336076, -82.87333
Veer left at fork to climb Black Balsam Knob.
Location: 35.330426, -82.875229
Confusing Intersection: Go straight to the summit of Black Balsam Knob.
Location: 35.327819, -82.874455
Location: 35.32744, -82.874386
Summit of 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob.
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.
Location: 35.323091, -82.876189
Perfect campsite near large pine.