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
- 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.