Hikes & Trails

Exploring the Peaks and Valleys of the Art Loeb Trail

POSTED ON April 24, 2024 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Nestled within the picturesque landscape of the  Shining Rock Wilderness Area and the sprawling Pisgah National Forest, the Art Loeb Trail stands as a testament to the natural splendor of the Carolina Mountain region.

Established by the Carolina Mountain Club, this iconic trail spans across diverse terrain, offering adventurers a captivating journey through mountain balds, evergreen forests, and panoramic vistas.

Stretching over 30 miles (48 km), the trail presents an opportunity for both day hikes and extended backpacking trips, promising unforgettable experiences for outdoor enthusiasts.

As hikers traverse the entirety of the trail, they are greeted by breathtaking scenery, rich biodiversity, and the serene ambiance of the Appalachian Mountains, making it an essential destination for those seeking to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature.

History of the Art Loeb Trail

Black Balsam Knob, Pisgah National Forest (Shining Rock Wilderness

The legacy of the Art Loeb Trail is as rich and varied as the landscapes it traverses. Named to honor Arthur J. Loeb, a passionate activist and member of the Carolina Mountain Club who deeply loved the mountains and worked tirelessly to protect them, this trail has been a labor of love since its inception in the 1960s.

Art Loeb was a local business leader and outdoor enthusiast from Asheville, North Carolina, who saw the potential of these trails to inspire and invigorate others.

Following Loeb’s passing in 1964, the Carolina Mountain Club sought to commemorate his contributions by creating a new trail through the majestic peaks of western North Carolina. It was envisaged as a way to invite others to experience the wilderness that Art Loeb had cherished. Thus began the collaborative effort that spanned many years and involved numerous volunteers dedicated to blazoning and maintaining the path.

Throughout its development, numerous organizations partnered, including local Boy Scout troops. Notably, the participation of the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Council, particularly through troops adept at navigating and surviving the rigorous mountain terrain, was integral to the trail’s creation and continued enhancement.

As the trail matured, improvements and expansions were made while ensuring it remained true to the essence of the natural landscape. Marking significant events in its history, the Art Loeb Trail was lengthened in the 1980s, connecting it with the Davidson River area, and thereby making it more accessible to the public. The trail now spans over 30 miles, offering multiple access points and intersecting with other paths to introduce variety for hikers.

Today, the Art Loeb Trail represents not just a man’s love for the mountains but a communal dedication to wilderness accessibility and conservation. It stands as one of the more challenging and scenic long-distance trails in the Eastern United States, inviting hikers from all around to experience the rugged beauty of the Appalachian landscape.

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Key Facts about the Art Loeb Trail

on tennent mountain on the art loeb trail.

  • Location: Western North Carolina, mainly within the Shining Rock Wilderness and Pisgah National Forest
  • Total Length: approximately 30.1 miles (48.4 kilometers)
  • Time to Hike: It typically takes 2 to 4 days for a through-hike, depending on pace and stops.
  • Trailhead(s): Southern end at Davidson River Campground, near Brevard, NC (location) and Northern end at Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp, near Cold Mountain, NC (direction)
  • Difficulty Level: Considered a moderate-to-strenuous trail, with rugged terrain and significant elevation changes.
  • Establishment: Initiated in the 1960s and officially designated in the 1980s
  • Total Elevation Gain: More than 9,000 feet (2,743 meters)
  • Best Time to Hike: Late spring  (April to June) through early fall (September to November), with peak colors in autumn
  • Lowest Point: Davidson River Campground trailhead, at 2,150 feet (655 meters)
  • Highest Point: Black Balsam Knob, at 6,214 feet (1,894 meters)

Trail Overview: Difficulty Levels and Route Options

Art Loeb Trail

The Art Loeb Trail, stretching through the heart of the Pisgah National Forest, offers a trek that is as challenging as it is rewarding. Known for being one of the premier North American hikes, the entire trail encompasses a variety of landscapes that boast remarkable biodiversity and geographic features, from the Davidson River origin to the Cold Mountain summit.

Route Options and Highlights

Taking a journey along the Art Loeb Trail can take several forms, with each offering its unique splendor:

  • Complete Through-Hike: Starting at the southern trailhead near Brevard, an extended backpacking trip ends at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp, near Cold Mountain.
  • Sectional Day Hikes: The Trail offers multiple ingress points like Gloucester Gap and Black Balsam Road for day hikes.
  • Popular sections include the ascent of Tennent Mountain and the panoramic views from the trail’s high point, Black Balsam Knob.

Alternative Routes

  • The Ivestor Gap Trail and the Butter Gap Trail allow less strenuous options to form loops with the main trail.
  • For a more rugged experience, the trail intersects with the Grassy Cove Top and the Graveyard Ridge Trails.

Difficulty Levels Across the Trail

While the trail offers diverse terrain suitable for all skill levels, some sections can be more challenging than others.

The Southern Section

Starting at the Davidson River Campground, hikers face a moderate climb with small streams crossing the paths. As the trail approaches the base of Cedar Rock Mountain, white blazes mark a steeper ascent.

Pilot Mountain and the Shining Rock Wilderness: The terrain becomes rugged around Pilot Mountain; a strenuous segment that provides breathtaking vistas. Within the Shining Rock Wilderness, hikers navigate a network of connecting trails amidst quartz boulders and dense forest canopies.

The Northern Section

To reach Cold Mountain, hikers embark on the final ascent from the Deep Gap Shelter, moving west-northwest. This section is known for its strenuous climbs and the plaque commemorating Art Loeb.

Highlights Along the Way

Tennent Mountain

The Art Loeb Trail enchants with diverse ecosystems and impressive sights:

  • Shining Rock, a crest of quartz boulders that gives the wilderness its name.
  • The Grassy Cove section, where Flower Knob and Silvermine Bald offer places of solitude and beauty.
  • Cold Mountain Trail, which presents challenging yet fulfilling segments culminating in the summit’s commanding view.
  • The pristine waters and picturesque setting at Butter Gap Shelter and Deep Gap Shelter deliver serene resting spots for many hikers.
  • Highlights Along the Way:
  • Marvel at the majestic quartz boulders and glass rock formations dotting the landscape.
  • Take in panoramic vistas from prominent peaks like Black Balsam Knob.
  • Explore historic sites like the Pisgah Ranger Station, offering insights into the area’s rich cultural heritage.

Seasonal Considerations: Best Times to Hike the Art Loeb Trail and Weather Conditions

Summer in Art Loeb Trail

The Art Loeb Trail, winding through the scenic landscapes of the Pisgah National Forest, experiences varied climate and weather conditions throughout the year.

Here’s what to expect in each season:

Spring (Late March to Early June)

As the late spring months unfold, the climate begins to transition. Hikers can expect temperatures ranging from a cool 4°C (40°F) in the early season to a comfortable 21°C (70°F) by late June.

The shining rock wilderness area comes alive with verdant evergreen forests and a myriad of small streams, filled with melting snow. During this time, base layers are still a wise choice for early morning starts or higher elevations like Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain.

The Ivestor Gap and Butter Gap Trails offer spectacular views and are less treacherous, although rain can create muddy conditions. It’s the perfect time for an extended backpacking trip as the Pisgah National Forest awakens.

Summer (Late June to Early September)

The warmth of summer transforms the Art Loeb Trail into a vibrant ecosystem. Daytime temperatures hover around 20°C to 29°C (70°F to 85°F), but can drop significantly after sundown, especially around Graveyard Fields and the higher elevations near Shining Rock Mountain and Cold Mountain.

The lush foliage along the entire trail, including the canopy-covered sections near Cedar Rock Mountain, offers relief from the sun. High humidity is typical, necessitating adequate hydration for many hikers.

Following the Forest Service Road and connecting trails, such as the Spur Trail towards the summit of Cold Mountain, rewards adventurers with balmy breezes and scenic beauty.

Fall (September to November)

Autumn on the trail is lauded for its crisp air and the spectacular kaleidoscope of colors as leaves turn. Weather is variable, with early fall presenting warm days of 21°C to 27°C (70°F to 80°F) and cooler nights, while late fall sees temperatures drop to 10°C to 16°C (50°F to 60°F), descending further near Cold Mountain’s final ascent.

White blazes guide trekkers through the colorful canopy of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s adjacent areas, such as the panoramas from Black Balsam Knob, the trail’s high point.

Essential gear should include layers to adjust for the swings in temperature that come when passing through various altitudinal zones, from the Davidson River up to Silvermine Bald.

Winter (December to March)

Winter introduces a serene yet harsh environment. The season’s grasp brings average highs of 0°C to 10°C (32°F to 50°F) and lows that can plummet below freezing, particularly in the northern part near Deep Gap Shelter.

Hiking the entire trail now requires preparation for snow, ice, and potential trail obstructions. The evergreen forest near Shining Rock Wilderness and Graveyard Ridge can seem untouched and extend a quiet beauty.

Surprising warmth can be felt during sunny days on south-facing slopes like Pilot Mountain, but nights are invariably cold, making several campsites like Butter Gap Shelter ideal for their protection from the elements.

Visitors should monitor the Forest Service’s weather advisories for updates on the challenging yet rewarding winter conditions.

Feel free to check out the climate data at these three links:

Essential Gear

Art Loeb Trail Adventure

When embarking on an adventure along the Art Loeb Trail, having the right gear can make all the difference in ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience amidst the rugged terrain and diverse landscapes.

Here’s a comprehensive list of recommended gear to consider for your journey:

Clothing and Apparel

  • Base Layers: Essential for regulating body temperature and moisture management, especially during fluctuating weather conditions.
  • Hiking Boots: A pair of robust, yet breathable, hiking boots will offer the necessary support for varied terrains, from the rocky inclines near Rock Mountain to the soft forest floor in the south sections of the trail.
  • Weather-Resistant Outer Layers: Lightweight, waterproof jackets and pants protect against rain and wind. Check out how to choose outer layers and shop for the correct wear
  • Hiking Socks: Moisture-wicking socks prevent blisters and keep feet dry and comfortable. Silverlight compression socks guarantee comfort while on the trail.
  • A Hat and Gloves: Protect against sun exposure and cold temperatures, particularly at higher elevations.
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Equipment and Accessories

  • Navigation Tools: Carry a detailed map of the trail and a compass or GPS device, as some sections may lack cell phone service. Also, check the wooden signs guiding you through the trailhead at Davidson River to the Cold Mountain terminus
  • Backpack: Choose a comfortable, well-fitted backpack to carry essentials such as water, snacks, and gear. Learn how to choose a backpack based on trip length and pack capacity and shop for the ideal pack here.
  • Bear Canister: Always have on hand bear canisters and bags to secure your food, as these are required in certain parts of the Pisgah National Forest or Deep Gap to protect both you and the wildlife.
  • Trekking Poles: Provide stability and reduce strain on knees and joints, particularly on steep ascents and descents like the Deep Gap and Black Balsam Knob.
  • Headlamp: Always keep a headlamp handy for spots such as the sheer cliffs by the summit or navigating several side trails that branch off the main path because visibility can be reduced by fog or sudden weather changes.
  • Water Filtration System: Ensure access to clean drinking water by carrying a portable water filtration or purification system.

Safety and Emergency Supplies

  • Emergency Shelter: Carry a lightweight emergency shelter, such as a tent or bivy sack, in case of unexpected overnight stays.
  • First Aid Kit: Pack a lightweight first aid kit with essential supplies for treating minor injuries and ailments. Similarly, check out our guide to the basics of wilderness first aid.
  • Whistle and Signal Mirror: Useful for attracting attention in emergencies or signaling for help.
  • Fire Starter: Pack waterproof matches or a lighter for starting fires in emergency situations.
  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB): Consider carrying a PLB for additional safety, especially when venturing into remote areas with limited cell phone service. 

Miscellaneous Items

  • Trail Maintenance Tools: Carry a small multi-tool or knife for minor repairs and adjustments, such as tightening gear or cutting through obstacles.
  • Trash Bags: Practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash and waste from the trail.
  • Camera: Capture stunning vistas and memorable moments along the trail.
  • Emergency Contact Information: Carry a list of emergency contacts and relevant medical information.

For high-quality hiking gear and expert advice, check out the Silverlight Store, for additional recommendations and tips tailored to your hiking needs find more info on our blog.

Art Loeb Trail 2-Night and 3-Day Itinerary

Art Loeb and Ivestor Gap Trail junction as you enter the Shining Rock Wilderness. Grassy Cove Top in background

For hikers seeking a memorable adventure along the Art Loeb Trail, a 2-day and 3-night itinerary offers the perfect balance of exploration and immersion in the stunning wilderness areas.

Here’s a suggested itinerary:

Day 1: Ivestor Gap Entry Point to Shining Rock Wilderness Area

Begin your journey at the Ivestor Gap entry point, located on the northern end of the trail. This point offers a more gradual ascent into the wilderness, saving the more challenging elevations for later in the trip.

The first day should see you covering approximately 10 miles (16 km), aiming to camp a few miles past the Shining Rock Water Point. This provides a reliable water source and places you within one of the trail’s most stunning areas, surrounded by quartz formations that glitter under the sun.

Hikers can set up a backcountry site at Grassy Cove Top or near Tennent Mountain.

Day 2: Shining Rock Wilderness Area to Sassafras Knob or Pilot Mountain

On the second day, continue your trek towards Sassafras Knob, passing through flower-covered meadows and dense forests, reaching altitudes that offer panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

The rugged backcountry offers an ideal place to set up camp for the second night. You can set up camp near Pilot Mountain or a few miles towards Rich Mountain.

Day 3: Rich Mountain Area to the Southern Terminus

Your final day entails a descent through multiple wilderness areas, rich with diverse flora and fauna, back to the trailhead. This segment of the hike allows for reflection on the serene beauty encountered throughout the journey.

The final stretch cuts through Chestnut Mountain, two water points, Cedar Rock Mountain, and Stony Knob, to the Southern Terminus.

Navigating the Art Loeb Trail: Maps, Markers, Permits, and Regulations

 Art Loeb's northern trailhead at Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp.

Planning your Art Loeb Trail adventure requires some preparation regarding permits, maps, trail markers, and being aware of the regulations specific to the areas you’ll traverse. Before setting out, it’s critical to determine whether you need a permit.

Permits:

Fortunately, permits are not required for day hiking on the Art Loeb Trail; however, overnight stays in certain sections of the Pisgah National Forest may require a permit, especially during peak seasons. A list of camping and day-use areas can be found here.

Also, check with the appropriate park agencies or recreation departments, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, for information on permit availability and regulations.

Maps & markers:

You can obtain recreation maps of the Art Loeb Trail and surrounding areas through the Pisgah Ranger District office or by visiting National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated maps. These maps are invaluable for navigating the Spur Trail, Stairs Mountain, Ivestor Gap, and Shuck Ridge, as well as providing details for connecting routes like the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Silverlight app is available for download on your mobile device, allowing you to access detailed trail information offline.

Markers, such as wooden signs and blazes, guide hikers along the Art Loeb Trail. The trail is marked with white blazes, while side trails and connectors have blue blazes. The Carolina Mountain Club oversees trail maintenance and provides updates on trail conditions and marking.

Regulations:

  • Trail Regulations: Hikers must comply with regulations set by the [United States Forest Service (USFS). Specifically, practice Leave No Trace principles to minimize ecological impact and be prepared for the mandatory bear canister zones, which are clearly marked and require the use of bear-resistant food containers.
  • Camping Regulations: Adhere to camping regulations, such as designated camping areas.

Accommodation, Camping, and Overnight Stay

Butter Gap

For those planning an adventure on the Art Loeb Trail, finding the perfect spot to camp or stay overnight enhances the experience.

Near the trail, there are several popular campgrounds and accommodations that cater to the needs and preferences of every hiker.

Campgrounds:

  1. Camp Daniel Boone: One of the closest campgrounds to the Art Loeb Trail is Camp Daniel Boone, situated approximately 5 miles (8 km) from the trailhead. This camp provides a rustic, back-to-nature experience suitable for both individuals and groups. While it mainly serves Boy Scouts, there is availability for public camping depending on the season and existing reservations. Information on permits and reservations can be found on their official website.
  2. Cove Creek Group Campground: For group camping, Cove Creek Group Campground offers spacious sites with easy access to trailheads. It is located about 10 miles (16 km) from the starting point of the Art Loeb Trail and requires reservations, which can be made through Recreation.gov.
  3. Davidson River Campground: Renowned for its amenities and proximity to Pisgah National Forest attractions, it lies approximately 12 miles (19 km) from the trail’s southern terminus. This campground provides a more comfortable stay with accessible facilities, and reservations are also managed via Recreation.gov.
  4. White Pine Group Camp Site: Lastly, the White Pine Group Camp Site is a favorite for larger groups, positioned about 8 miles (13 km) from the trail. Offering a secluded environment and larger sites, reservations are necessary and can be completed on Recreation.gov.

Nearby Lodging: Hotels, Motels, and Inns

Nearby towns such as Brevard and Asheville offer several lodging options, including hotels, motels, and inns, for hikers looking for comfortable accommodation before or after their trek on the Art Loeb Trail.

  1. Pisgah Inn: Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this inn offers rooms with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
  2. Hampton Inn Brevard: A budget-friendly option located in Brevard, this hotel provides comfortable rooms and easy access to the trail.
  3. Pilot Cove: For a more luxurious stay, Pilot Cove offers modern cabins and cottages nestled in the Pisgah National Forest.

Note: Availability may vary depending on the season, and reservations are highly recommended for both campgrounds and lodging.

Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options

 Art Loeb Trailhead

Planning your journey to the Art Loeb Trail involves considering transportation options to reach the trailhead and navigating the area effectively. Here’s a comprehensive guide:

Nearest Airports

Transportation Options

  • Rental Cars: Renting a car from the airport provides flexibility and convenience for reaching the trailhead and exploring nearby areas like the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • Shuttle Services: Consider utilizing shuttle services or private transportation companies that offer transfers from the airport to trailhead access points.
  • Public Transportation: While public transportation options are limited in the area, some connecting trails may be accessible via public bus routes or local taxi services.

Directions to Trailheads

  • From Asheville Regional Airport: From Asheville Regional Airport, a drive of approximately 45 minutes via I-26 W and NC-280 W will bring you to the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic route to various trailheads. Upon reaching the Parkway, follow the signs leading to Black Balsam Road, where you’ll find the clearly marked Art Loeb Trail access points, indicated by wooden signs.
  • From Charlotte Douglas International Airport: If you arrive at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the journey is substantially longer, requiring about a 2.5-hour drive. The route involves taking I-85 S, merging onto US-74 W, and then continuing on the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Black Balsam Road. Both airports offer car rental services, making the trip to the trail straightforward.

Getting Around

  • Vehicle Access: Many trailheads along the Art Loeb Trail are accessible by car, with parking facilities available at designated trailhead access points.
  • Trailhead Shuttles: Some shuttle services may offer transportation between trailheads or access points, providing hikers with options for creating loop hikes or accessing connecting trails.
  • Hiking and Backpacking: Once on the trail, navigation is facilitated by wooden signs and trail markers, ensuring ease of travel along the designated route and connecting trails.

Conclusion

The Art Loeb Trail is a remarkable hiking experience through the stunning Pisgah National Forest. From challenging terrain to breathtaking vistas, this trail offers something for everyone.

By properly planning your journey, you can fully enjoy the beauty and adventure of this iconic trail.

So grab your gear, lace up your hiking boots, and get ready for an unforgettable journey along the Art Loeb Trail.

If you found this trail exciting, you can check out other trails in our Hikes and Trails guide.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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