Distance – 2.0 Miles (out and back)
Elevation Change – 300 feet
Highest Point – 6214 feet
Hike Rating – Moderate
GPS – 35.327884 -82.874298
Black Balsam Knob is another of the high altitude balds in this part of western North Carolina. Unlike other mountains, balds have treeless tops, giving them the look of a knob. Whether a result of clear-cut logging or forest fires in the early and mid-1900s, once these high elevation summits were cleared, the forests were slow to return. Black Balsam Knob and it’s nearby partner, Sam Knob are two of the most popular hikes in the area. Located off Black Balsam Road, they are very close to Graveyard Fields. The hike is just under 2.0 miles round trip. The initial ascent to the top of the ridge is along a spur trail that starts near the Ivestor Gap Trail. Once it reaches the top of the ridge it joins the Art Loeb Trail for the trek to the summit. The summit of Black Balsam is an immense grassy plain with a look down view on Graveyard Fields. At 6214 feet, you are almost 200 feet higher than on the top of neighboring Sam Knob.
Our hike begins in the parking area at the end of Black Balsam Road. To get there, follow the Blue Ridge Parkway to milepost 420, where Black Balsam Road meets the parkway. If you’re coming from Asheville or US276 in Pisgah, the right turn is just over a mile from the main parking area at Graveyard Fields. If you’re coming from NC215 the left turn is almost 2.5 miles from Devil’s Courthouse. Black Balsam Road was recently paved and there are several turnouts on the right side that give great views of Graveyard Fields. Halfway to the Sam Knob Parking area the Art Loeb Trail (ALT) crosses Black Balsam Road. You can park here and take the ALT the entire way but I didn’t make the hike from here. I understand it to be the easier route but I have no first hand experience with this segment of the ALT. In 2016, we are planning a hike to Shining Rock via Black Balsam and Tennent Mountain and for that trek we will be parking on Black Balsam Road and taking the ALT.
The road ends at a parking area that will likely be full if you don’t arrive early. There is more parking along the side of Black Balsam Road and in dart overflow area near the entrance to the Ivestor Gap Trail. If you park here, do not block the gate. To get to the trail you want, start toward the gate barring Ivestor Gap Trail to vehicle traffic. Just beyond the gate there is a narrow trail in the woods. It heads up the ridge, through a series of switchbacks. The trail was not in the best of shape and there are some rocky patches and a lot of roots so use caution. The trail gets a little confusing on the way up and it isn’t well marked. By the time the trail levels out, it will intersect the Art Loeb Trail, which follows the gently rolling summits.
The ALT is easy to follow and the only tricky part is the final ascent to the top of Black Balsam Knob and this only only because the trail is eroded and the easiest way up is to walk in the erosion channels. The summit is a wide open grassy field that offers a panoramic view of the area.