Richland Balsam Summit Loop

A easy hike through a dark forest with a few views along the way.

Hiking Easy

Distance
2.2 km
Ascent
119 m
Descent
119 m
Duration
0-1 hrs
Low Point
1.8 km
High Point
1.9 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
Richland Balsam Summit Loop Map

Description

Hike through dark spruce-fir forests on this well-marked summit hike to the highest of the Great Balsam Mountains. Less than 1.5 miles round trip, the loop climbs along a ridge, summits the peak, then skirts around its western edge back to the parking lot.

Begin at the Haywood-Jackson Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it's one overlook southeast of the Richland Balsam Overlook - which also happens to be the highest point on the entire 469-mile long Blue Ridge Parkway. Connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park, many consider it one of most scenic drives in the country.

The first few hundred feet you'll follow a paved path to a junction. From here, most complete the loop counter-clockwise. Numbered trail markers can be found along the way to keep you on track. Several spur trails lead to areas that look like campsites or overlooks - though none actually do. Per the National Park, please stay on the blazed path at all times.

The first half of the hike climbs through a dark southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest, an ecosystem reminiscent of the northern latitudes, especially the White and Green Mountains of New England. After reaching the summit, the return trip is slightly more gradual and offers some occasional views just below the western edge of the ridge. If you know what you're looking for, you can spot the two ridges that encircle the valley where Cullowhee is located.

Due to frequent winter closures of the Blue Ridge Parkway, this hike is best visited in the summer months. At this elevation, the temperature can be almost 20 degrees cooler than Asheville or Waynesville.

Difficulty

Easy

Walking along a well-kept trail that’s mostly flat. No obstacles are present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

April, May, June, July, August, September, October

Features

  • Alpine
  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Summit Hike
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area