A must hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 420.2 - about 30 miles from the Asheville exit on the Parkway) is the Black Balsam area that includes some of the most spectacular mountain balds in the Southern Appalachians, including Black Balsam Knob (or Black Balsam Bald), Sam Knob, and Tennent Mountain. These treeless mountaintops in the Pisgah National Forest draw people from afar due to their sweeping views and alpine-like appearance. Almost entirely devoid of trees above 6000' the summit is more reminicent of New England than North Carolina. In fact, you can hike almost three miles without dropping back into the trees. This is almost unheard of in this region. At 6,214 feet, Black Balsam Knob is the 23rd highest of the 40 mountains in North Carolina over 6000 feet.
To reach the summit of Black Balsam Knob, take the Art Loeb Trail. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, look for the "Black Balsam" sign near milepost 420, just south of Graveyard Fields and north of Devil's Courthouse. Drive about 8/10 of a mile down the road and look for the trail on the right. Park along the road. Walk about 1/2 mile through the forest to reach the open, grassy and rocky mountain meadows. Cross Sam's Knob and continue to Black Balsam (about a mile).
A great time to visit is during the off-season (Oct-Apr), when the Blue Ridge Parkway is open. 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. Latitude/Longitude (WGS84): 35° 20' N; 82° 52' W
To cool off after a hike, go to nearby Skinny Dip Falls (three miles north on the Parkway).