The Sam Knob hike kicks off at the Black Balsam parking lot along Black Balsam Knob Road off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Another trail beginning here climbs eastward to the Black Balsam Knob summit. This is also the trailhead for the Irester Gap Trail, one option for reaching the marvelous Shining Rock Mountain to the northeast.
The Sam Knob Summit Trail follows a former roadbed westward through spruce stands and hardwood forest. A section of boardwalk and stairways constructed to help you traverse washed-out tread (and protect the trail from additional erosion) leads you down to an expansive meadow. This broad glade, with two-peaked Sam Knob looming over, is just gorgeous: a definite scenic highlight of the trail, even though you’re still a few hundred feet below the summit crest.
On the other side of the meadow, you hit a fork in the trail. The Flat Laurel Creek Trail runs to the left, while the Sam Knob Trail strikes right to climb up the mountain. Follow that through switchbacks and another stairway leg to reach the outcrops and bald of Sam Knob’s crest, which angles northwest-southeast.
The lower south summit of Sam Knob offers a wonderful grassy vantage out toward the Blue Ridge Parkway divide, landmarks of which include Silvermine Bald and the rocky height of the Devils Courthouse. Little Sam Knob, a 5,862-foot peak, is prominent directly south across Flat Laurel Creek, while Black Balsam Knob to the east reaches 6,214 feet.
Hike from there to the higher north summit of Sam Knob for sightlines northward deep into the Shining Rock Wilderness. At some 18,500 acres, this is the biggest federal wilderness area in North Carolina, home to multiple 6,000-plus-foot peaks and wonderfully remote drainages. Sam Knob’s crown is a fine place to contemplate this enticing Southern Appalachian high country.
The climb up Sam Knob is a quite doable couple of hours for the average hiker and delivers fabulous panoramas from one of western North Carolina’s many six-thousand footers. Not as well known as many Blue Ridge Parkway hikes, it’s a definite treasure!
-Rather than completely retrace your steps from the Sam Knob summit to the Black Balsam trailhead, you can alternatively make your hike a very pleasant 5.3-mile loop by taking the Flat Laurel Creek Trail back.
-The Sam Knob hike is perhaps most stunning in the spring when area rhododendrons are in bloom, and in the fall when autumn colors and the red berries of the mountain-ash are doing their thing. Keep that camera primed and ready…