Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain, and Ivestor Gap Loop

  • Highlights: mountain views, bald summit, wild flowers in spring
  • Distance:  4.6 mile loop
  • Elevation change:  700 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Trailhead Parking: Blue Ridge Parkway mile 420, turn right on Black Balsam Road/Forest Road 816 and drive 1.2 miles to the trailhead
  • Website: US Forest Service
  • Beer Pairings: Green Man Brewery-Green Man IPA & Green Man ESB

The Hike:

This is another very popular hike and the parking area fills up quickly on weekends. This is the same parking area for the Sam Knob Trail. Many people will park along FR 816 and just hike to Black Balsam Knob, but the entire loop is a bucket list hike so just do it. It’s well worth getting an early start as the views are stunning—especially when the wild azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom in the spring. The trail is fairly well marked; however, there are lots of options and it can become confusing at certain places.

This is a loop hike and we like to start at the east end of the parking area by the gate. The first part of the Ivestor Gap Trail is a reclaimed railroad bed which runs along a small stream. After 2.2 miles take a right on the Art Loeb Trail with signs to Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam Knob. The Art Loeb Trail slowly climbs to the top of the ridge and ahead you can see the summit of Tennent Mountain.

This section of the trail is very popular and many feet have significantly eroded the trail. In some places we were 12-18” below the surface and the path is very narrow only 12” or so wide. We were up to our knees in certain spots. Given the popularity of this hike, passing other hikers coming from the opposite direction results in a bit of a scramble to get by. The views from the summit are well worth it (and that’s why this hike is so popular). Tennent Mountain at 6,040 feet is a bald mountain with a rocky summit. The 360° panoramic views are spectacular any time of year. There is a marker here for Gaillard Tennent who established organized hiking in North Carolina.

After soaking in the views from Tennent Mountain, continue on the Art Loeb Trail to the summit of the second bald on this hike, Black Balsam Knob. At 6,214 the summit is a little more wind-blown than Tennent Mountain, but the views are just as amazing. Grass, rhododendron, and mountain laurel make up the summit of this bald mountain, the tree line is ends several hundred feet below. Find the plaque for Art Loeb who help layout many of the hiking trails in this part of North Carolina.

The summit of Black Balsam Knob is more crowded than Tennent Maintain as the parking lot is less than 1.5 miles away. Descend from the summit on the Art Loeb Trail passing through more open vistas on the bald before the tree line takes over. On the right will be the Black Balsam Spur trail which returns to the parking lot. If you miss the spur trail, continue on Art Loeb Trail to a trailhead for Black Balsam Knob on Forest Road 816. Turn right and follow FR 816 to the end and your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing:

Green Man Brewery in Asheville NC has been making great beer since 1997. A great hike deserves a great beer. Thanks to the mysterious beer distribution network in Virginia, we have only recently been able to buy Green Man in our home state. Whenever we get to Asheville, we always include a visit to Green Man. The Green Man IPA is a “delectably hoppy” English-style IPA. A serious dose of hops and traditional British malts creates a rich, satisfying flavor with a glorious copper color. We also like their ESB or Extra Special Bitter with toasted malt and caramel flavors. Brewed in the traditional English style, the ESB uses authentic British hops and malts.

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe and be responsible.