Richland Balsam is the highest peak of the Great Balsam Range, the highest in the Pisgah Ranger District, and the 10th highest in the eastern US. The peak is accessed by way of a 0.7 mile access trail from the Haywood-Jackson Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The overlook area and the nearby Richland Balsam Overlook, the highest point on the Parkway) are often quite busy places during the summer. However, I have found that very few people climb the 500 vertical feet to the summit. The summit is typical of high peaks in this area in that it supports a northern-type spruce-fir forest. Also typical for this area, unfortunately, is the fact that this forest is being slowly devestated by the Balsam Wooly Aphid.
The Richland Balsam Trail begins and ends at the Haywood-Jackson Overlook about a halfmile south of Parkway Milepost 431.
This section of the Blue Ridge Parkway can be accessed from the south where it is crossed at Balsam Gap by US-23/74 or from NC-215 to the north. The trailhead is 12 miles from US-23/74 and 8 miles from NC-215.
Because Richland Balsam is located its highest point, the Blue Ridge Parkway is frequently closed during the winter, making the peak inaccessable unless you don't mind a 16-mile round-trip.
Blue Ridge Parkway Info: 828-298-0398
When To Climb
The peak is equally enjoyable anytime of the year. Because of the high elevation it is comfortable at the summit even on the hottest days in the valleys. Because the vegetation at the summit consists of a thick spruce-fir forest winter doesn't offer any better views than the summer. Views from the parkway are much better in the winter, however, when haze is not as frequent.
There are no organized or wilderness camping areas in the immediate vicinity of Richland Balsam. You can however pitch a tent anywhere along one of the many trails in the surrounding National Forest as long as it is not within 500 feet of a roadway or otherwise designated off-limits areas. Keep in mind that the forest to the east is part of the Middle Prong and Shining Rock Wilderness Areas and cmpfires are prohibited.
Temps at the summit are likely to average 10 degrees cooler than at nearby locations like Sylva or Waynesville. Richland Balsam is located in one of the wettest regions in eastern america. The Great Balsams do an excellent job of squeezing moisture out of air arriving from the south. When checking conditions in the area I would therefore pay more attention to locations to the south like Brevard, Rosman, or Cashiers.