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Asheville Trails

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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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.