Bald is beautiful. Especially when referring to the grassy bald known as Black Balsam. A short ramble through a fragrant forest of Balsam Fir trees leads you to panoramic views atop the Great Balsam Mountains on this high country adventure. A picturesque drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway climbs from the fertile French Broad River Valley up into the highlands of the Pisgah National Forest for stunning 360 degree views. Ease of access, endless views and a short summit hike of less than a mile make this a mountain worth visiting.
What Makes It Great
Heading north along the Art Loeb,the trail meanders through a short stretch of evergreen forest before a dramatic panoramic vista and view of the summit suddenly appears. The beauty of the area and the high mountain experience will drench your senses from here on, as every step offers uninterrupted Appalachian views.
Follow the well-defined trail the rest of the way to the summit. Drink in the views and take your time on top; make sure to never rush a summit experience!
A camera is a must have for this hike! Black Balsam rises high above its surroundings and offers clear lines of sight for spectacular sunrise and sunset views. Consistent morning fog in the river valleys below creates the feeling of being on an island in the sky and blankets the foreground for spectacular photo-ops in the mornings.
The National Forest service requests visitors follow Leave No Trace principles to protect the fragile ecosystem atop Black Balsam. A wide variety of established campsites lie on the slopes and summit plateau of Black Balsam. Bring plenty of water since none will be available on the top and leave the place cleaner than it was when you arrived!
- Show up early, stay late and head out on a weekday to beat the crowds which can grow quite large on weekends.
- The Alpine summit of Black Balsam is one of the premier areas in the southeast for a moonlight ramble. Gather your headlamps, a group of friends and a light up Frisbee for some real fun in the dark.
- Early fall is peak season for wild blueberries atop the Great Balsams. You won’t find any on the summit itself but venture out to nearby areas where you can pick handfuls in stride.
- Get there early and pick a campsite sheltered from the wind; face your vestibule eastward and enjoy a gloriously warm sunrise and warm beverage from your sleeping bag.
Who is Going to Love It
Bring the family and friends along for this adventure. This trail is suitable for all ages and ability levels, and the bonds we make on a mountain live with us forever so bring your crew to share the experience.
Make your day even more memorable by bringing some quality food along to enjoy a scenic picnic on the summit. Don’t skimp on your menu items for this picnic; with the proximity of the trailhead, it’s easy to carry all the goods to the top.
Expect temperatures to be 10-15 degrees cooler than in Asheville. Weather conditions can change rapidly on top of a mountain; come prepared for cooler temperatures and varying weather conditions.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Asheville, catch the Blue Ridge Parkway near the North Carolina Arboretum and head south for 25 miles.
The drive will wind up a beautiful mountain grade until the Parkway begins to parallel a towering ridgeline with expansive views of the Pisgah National Forest below. Just after mile marker 420 there will be a sign on your right for the Black Balsam area. Take a right on this road (816) and follow it upwards for nearly 1 mile until the road levels out amongst a stately grove of Evergreens. Park your vehicle here and look for the white blaze of the Art Loeb Trail (right hand side of road).Spring, summer, and fall are all wonderful times to visit the Great Balsams. Spring and summer provide the opportunity to see the blooms of native wildflowers and Mountain Laurel. Fall brings wild blueberries and even wilder color schemes to the surrounding landscape. Black Balsam is also beautiful in the winter but access can be difficult with the Blue Ridge Parkway closing frequently for snow and ice. Access in winter is possible via the Flat Laurel Creek trail off of road 215. Check road conditions on the parkway before you go.
Featured image provided by Abby Crahan