I can’t get enough of the Blue Ridge Parkway that runs through North Carolina and over to Eastern Tennessee. We climbed Black Balsam Knob again on this last trip and I think it is still my favorite hike simply because it is beautiful. It is the one mountain over 6K that we keep returning to on every trip to this area. It is well-loved by hikers of all ages and skill levels for its wide-open, stunning panoramic views, its sweet-scented groves of shady balsam fir, and its rolling mountaintops filled with meadow grasses, wildflowers, and scores of blackberries and blueberries in the summer.

According to Romantic Asheville, it is the most popular hike on the Art Loeb Trail. And at 1.5 miles, it’s an easy reach that catches some stunning views. When I reach the top now, I want to keep hiking toward Tennent Mountain, which we did, but not do on this trip. We had  hiked Mt. Collins via the AT the day before so the decision was made to hike to the top of Black Balsam and enjoy the views and the people we would meet along the way.

The climb up is beautiful this time of the year. Summer’s wild flowers have turned to fall’s foliage. The trail “up” begins with an exit from a balsam tree canopy and quickly changes over to a rocky climb. Along the way, the views become increasingly more breathtaking as you gain elevation.

It’s always hard for me to take in all the beauty of this trail. This time I noticed nearby Sam Knob in the background of almost every shot I took. It’s the mountain behind Anne in this photo, and the one we hiked earlier this year on July 4.

As you hike to the top of Black Balsam, the sky “seems” to grow closer, the light changes, and the air is so clear.

Last year, I stood in this same spot and wondered if I would make it to the top, which is behind me in this photo. I had been off Chemo only four months, and I was still weak. If you look close, the tiny spots on the top of the mountain (in the distance) are people. I made it to the top last year, and of course, this year was easy, easy.

This photo is looking back at the trail as it climbs up the Bald. Every year and every season on this mountain is different. I look back at my photos and find that none are the same!

Here’s another look at Sam Knob. It was a fun hike and totally different from Black Balsam. In fact, none of the mountains are the same. Nearby Tennent is much wilder than Black Balsam and Sam Knob reminded me of Yellow Face but there were rock outcroppings. Richland Balsam was beautiful with no summit and Waterrock Knob was tough, rocky, with a narrow overlook.

We always meet people while hiking these mountains and we’ve had people join us and hike along with us. This time we met Carl, a CPA from Hendersonville, North Carolina. He was interested in our hikes over 6k and especially interested in how we started “peak bagging” after Chemo. He was full of humor and insisted on telling us about the trails that cross or follow along the rim of Black Balsam.

You can’t see them in this photo because his hat was turned inside out but he had lots of pins from places he had hiked or visited around the world. He was explaining to Beth how he collects them.

We hiked on and then stopped at the top to take in the views and enjoy water and a protein bar!

So, Carl took this photo of us. You can see the Art Loeb Trail marker that has been replaced. People do the weirdest things and someone took it a year or so ago. It’s also an attitude marker for Black Balsam (6,214 feet).

The other really weird thing that people do is to move the summit marker around. No joke. This time we found it near a campfire area at the top. It’s not far from where it was originally located; but still, it is just plain weird.

Looking out to Tennent Mountain. If you hike these summits get ready for the fact that once you leave Black Balsam, you have to go down, down, down. The trail looks like it just follows the ridge line but it doesn’t. You travel down through short bushes of Mountain Laurel and then across the Art Loeb Loop before climbing back up to Tennent’s summit.

On the way down, we noticed our shadows were long, the sun was setting, and more than likely, it would be the last time we would be in this area until sometime next spring. Rangers close the Blue Ridge Parkway at the drop of a hat and there’s always a strong chance for snow and rime ice on the top of these mountains . . . but if not, I’ll look for a way to return again.

Hiking back down and out for now.