This is absolutely one of my favorite hikes. Each year, I count the days until this area is open again after winter snows. We usually are there before now, but I have been doing the cancer chase thing again. So, we were later getting to the top of this beautiful bald.
Romantic Asheville calls it a “must-hike.” It’s located along the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 420.2, and offers some of the most spectacular mountain balds in the Southern Appalachians, which includes Black Balsam Knob (or Black Balsam Bald), Sam Knob and Tennent Mountain. It was on Tennent where I first met a crazy hiking Boykin named LuLu. She had hiked five miles on that day with her owner and was not even winded! In fact, they headed off to hike another three miles! I decided then and there that I “have to have one of those!” About two years later, I had little Wessy! Three years later, she was climbing to the top of Black Balsam walking up rock ledges like they were easy carved out steps.
These treeless mountaintops like Black Balsam in the Pisgah National Forest draw people from all over the world. The sweeping views have an alpine-like feel, and they are almost entirely devoid of trees above 6,000 ft. elevation, the summits are more like New England than North Carolina. If you hike there, make sure you hike the ones over 6k. You’ll see the difference.
Pat and Anne are ready to hike. We usually stop beside the “bear warning” sign but we have never seen any bears on these balds. You can easily walk almost three miles on the balds without dropping back into the trees! That’s the fun part. It’s definitely unique and fun. At 6,214 ft., Black Balsam Knob is the 23rd highest of the 40 mountains in North Carolina over 6,000 ft. We have hiked many of these in a challenge a few years ago.
Wessy was off on a challenge of her own. My challenge was to see if I could work with her off lead. The trail is so well-defined and she has learned to “stay on trail,” so all went well. But I did hold my breath a little as I dropped her lead and watched her trot off in front of me. A few feet out, she turned and came back to me. I knew we were doing good. Few things are better in life than having your Little Brown Dog return to your side.
These guys were camping overnight on a lower level, but Wes just trotted on by them. She was going to the top! So she shouted, “Hi and Bye!” as she moved on. Later, on the way back down, she did stop to see what they were having for dinner!
This first place we always stop just to take in the view of the surrounding mountains. This sun drenched area is a favorite place for picnics.
Wessy has become such a good dog. Still, my eye is always on her and her e-collar is always in place, but I also found that when I stop, she stops and waits. Perfect for now!
Here she is just looking like a Boykin. Nose down and moving forward!
I call this the “cancer” rock because when I had cancer in 2017 and came to this point after chemo in 2018, I stopped here —not believing I could make it to the top. But I did! The top is the next ridgeline. In fact, the small thing that look like trees are not. Those are people at the top of Black Balsam.
Here’s the iconic view looking back over the ridge. It’s probably one of the most photographed place on Black Balsam. I remember the first time I reached the top and looked I was amazed by the view. Lots of sun on this day and being up this high always adds contrast to the photos. It was only 68 degree at the top. A far cry from 98 degrees in northeast Georgia.
Once we get to the top, everyone—even Wessy—went their separate ways. I didn’t take photos, but the Bald is very large and the trail goes on from here to Tennet Mountain. We did not hike to Tennet on this day. Black Balsam was enough after fussing around with radiation for the last couple of weeks.
Me and Wessy at the top. She was running around and then decided to come “see” me for a couple of minutes before resuming her search for new “friends.” Black Balsam is also a part of the Shining Rock Wilderness. One goal I have is to hike back to Tennent and then on a little further to Shining Rock.
It has long been a dream to see Wessy on the top of Black Balsam running free. Grateful to be at this place, and honestly, I think she is, too!
I did keep a hold of her lead at this ledge. It’s a rocky drop off just below the summit. The plaque to the right talks about Art Loeb, who originally bushwacked the trail over 50 years ago. The 30.1 mile Art Loeb Trail is one of the longer and more difficult trails in the state, and it’s also one of the more popular. It’s basically a memorial to Art Loeb, an activist from the Carolina Mountain Club, and a man who “deeply loved these mountains.” It’s a designated National Recreation Trail (NRT), and promoted as one of the highest-caliber trails for recreation access to this section of the Pisgah National Forest.
Mother calls Wessy “Booger Bear,” and she certainly does look like a booger bear going ahead of me but looking back to see if I’m coming. It was so much safer to have her hike like this.
We always meet new friends on top of Black Balsam. People just seem happier; I know I am.
Until next time—Happy Hiking in Western North Carolina!