Listed as one of National Geographic Adventure’s 30 best hikes in North America, the 30.1-mile Art Loeb Trail is an iconic trek that anyone with access to Pisgah National Forest should add to their bucket list. The trail is named after Arthur Loeb, a conservationist and avid hiker who deeply loved the mountains of North Carolina. The features that uniquely differentiate the trail include open balds of the Black Balsam region, which are a product of heavy logging and locomotive fires in the early 20th century, and the Shining Rock wilderness of exposed Quartz that can glint sunlight from miles away.
Typically hiked south to north and logistically difficult as a point-to-point hike, this trail can take some planning. While there are private shuttle and taxi companies that can help facilitate this hike, one can greatly keep costs down by going with someone who can help drive and leave another car at the end.
Beginning at the Davidson River Campground, the trail immediately climbs up and down forested ridges with frequent access to water and the occasional campsite. Before crossing the highway to begin the climb to Pilot Mountain there will be few overlooks as breaks from the canopy aside from skirting the outside of Cedar Rock Mountain.
After climbing and descending the exceedingly steep but rewarding Pilot Mountain, you then make a slow ascent to the base of the main ridge along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The climb above the parkway will be the toughest of the trip, and it will put you at just under 6,000 feet, ready to tackle the four 6,000-foot peaks of North Carolina that will be summited on the hike.
More forested hiking along the crest of the ridge will continue until the route breaks left to tackle the Black Balsam Knob (6,214 feet), followed closely by Tennent Mountain (6,040 feet), Grassy Cove Top (6,030 feet), and Shining Rock (6,040 feet). Many of the trail intersections in the Shining Rock Wilderness will not be signed, so a good GPS and navigation skills are recommended. Water is also more difficult to find after passing Flower Knob.
Once past Shining Rock, the trail traverses a rough ridge as it approaches the base of Cold Mountain before turning left for a very long a painful descent to the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp. Make sure to bring a full memory card, as the sunrise photo from Black Balsam Knob is not something to be missed.