Black Balsam Knob is, in my opinion, one of the most uniquely beautiful mountains in the Southern Appalachians. It lies on the southern edge of the Shining Rock Wilderness, in the Pisgah National Forest, and is only a mile or so off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Black Balsam Knob is the easternmost peak of the Great Balsam Range, and at 6214 feet, it is the 23rd highest peak in the Southern Appalachians. It lies about halfway between the Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains to the northeast and the Great Smoky Mounains to the west.
What sets this peak apart from others in this region is expansive grassy summit. Almost entirely devoid of trees above 6000' the summit is more reminicent of New England than North Carolina. In fact, starting from the Black Balsam Parking Area you can hike almost 3 miles without dropping back into the trees. This is almost unheard of in this region. Even so, Black Balsam Knob remains largely undiscovered. I imagine this is due to the more popular peaks that can be found to the east and west.
The peak is most commonly reached by following the Art Loeb Trail north about a mile from where it crosses the Black Balsam Knob Access Road. The first quarter mile passes through a thick Balsam Grove (hence, Black Balsam Knob) after which the trail abruptly breaks out onto the wide grassy ridge. It follows this ridge for the next 3/4 miles and there are a grand total of about three trees to impede the views along the way.
A better way to hike Black Balsam Knob, if you want to feel more like you actually "climbed" the peak, is by way of the Flat Laurel Creek Trail. This trail leaves NC-215 about a mile north of where it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway. Its about a 5 mile hike one-way from here and you gain around 1200 feet of elevation. The first two miles of trail follow the contours of the ridge high above the West Fork Pigeon River. The views are spectacular. The trail then cuts east between the steep slopes of Little Sam and Sam Knob. The trail follows its namesake creek for the mile and a half or so passing numerous cascades and waterfalls. The views up to Sam Knob are impressive also. Just before the trail ends you cross a large field which is mowed (why I don't know) each summer by the Park Service. At the parking area (where there are pit toilets, fyi) turn left head down the gated service road that you can see following the side of the ridge. After about a quarter mile turn right onto the Art Loeb Spur Trail which takes you to the Art Loeb Trail (described above) after about a half-mile.
Also, I highly recommend purchasing the Pisgah Ranger District Map Topo Map by National Geographic Trails Illustrated.
The Black Balsam Knob Access Road is located just west of Milepost 420 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is 30 miles west along the Parkway from Asheville and 49 miles from the Parkway's Terminus at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The nearest access points to the Parkway are US-276 which crosses the Parkway at Milepost 412 on its way from Waynesville to Brevard. The other is by way of NC-215 which crosses at Milepost 423 on its way from Canton to Rosman.
None whatsoever as long as the parkway is open. The peak lies entirely within Pisgah National Forest which is free to access and enjoy.
Blue Ridge Parkway Info: 828-298-0398
You can enjoy this peak anytime of the year. In the summer it is a great place to catch a cool mountain breeze when you need to et away from the valley heat. Keep in mind though, you won't be the only one with this idea.
My favorite time to visit is during the off-season (Oct-Apr). During this time of year the you'll rarely have to share the peak with more than a handful of people and the summer haze is gone extending the views out to 70 miles or more.
Camping is permitted anywhere within National Forest boundaries except within 500' of a roadway or otherwise designated area.
One of the most unique camping experiences to be had would be to pitch a tent at any place you deem perfect along the ridge.
If you are looking for more modern facilities the Parkway operates one during the summer 11 miles to the east at Mt. Pisgah.
I've included a number of mountain webcams in the "LINKS" section so you can get an idea of trail conditions in the area.
For more specific info I would recommend contacting:
USDA Forest Service
1001 Pisgah Highway
Pisgah Forest, NC 28768
DWhike's Adventures - Shameless self promotion...come visit my website for more pics of Black Balsam Knob and other places that I have wandered off to in recent years...