Wind-swept bushes, nestled between rocks and wild grasses. A spattering of flowers in yellows and purples with deep, blue mountains, layered as far as the eye can see. Soft air is filled with the scent of dirt and rain. Get lost, in a good way.
Get ready: Like most of our hikes, this Black Balsam Knob Loop was spur of the moment, about two-and-a-half hours by car from Columbia, S.C. We took the Long Shoals Road exit off I-26 and hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway at the North Carolina Arboretum, heading about 26 miles south (to milepost 420). The road leading to the parking area for this hike is just past popular Graveyard Fields (look for a sign marked “Black Balsam”).
Get set: Park about three-quarters down the road, along the side. The trail begins at the marker for the Art Loeb Trail. Bathrooms and more parking are further down the road about a quarter of a mile.
Go: Walk about a half mile through the trees. You’ll emerge onto a vast, grassy meadow. Continue on to Black Balsam Knob. Turn left to stay on the main trail to cross Tennent Mountain (in another half mile). At the top, you’ll be 1.5 miles from the start. Continue on for another half mile to the intersection of Art Loeb with Ivestor Gap Trail. Turn left on the former road that takes you back to the larger parking.
Effort: With the walk back to the car, it’s a total of 4.5 miles.
It’s not a super strenuous hike, but is a good little workout, and would be great accompanied by a picnic. If you feel like going a longer trek, or even planning an overnight, stay on the Art Loeb trail.
Takeaway: This is an amazing hike. Atop the balds, you feel free and at peace. The views are stunning. The flora and fauna is incredible (I ate wild blackberries and blueberries as we strolled along). The dog loved it. We lucked out; as we were driving closer, it started raining and felt pretty cold out the car’s window. Though, after we parked, the sky cleared, leaving behind some pretty saturated colors.
As for the trail itself, the second half was very wet and overgrown, but it made for more of an adventure. We could have taken a different turn, I believe, and avoided the mess, but that’s the beauty of next time (we’ve returned to this trail four times).