Backpack Graveyard Fields-Black Balsam Knob Circuit

10.75 miles 1879 ft gain  - Loop Trail

Added by Clare Healy

The Black Balsam area is home to some of the most spectacular mountain balds in the Southern Appalachians, including Black Balsam Knob, Sam Knob, and Tennent Mountain, all providing sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This 10.75 mile hike is perfect for a weekend trip, with options to extend your hike along a network of trails.

When the weather is in your favor, these treeless mountain tops will have your jaw on the floor with layers upon layers of Blue Ridge Mountains. This hike can be done in one day, but with panoramic views at multiple points, you'll want to take your time along this link of trails.

This 10.75 mile loop, starting at one of Blue Ridge Parkway's most popular overlooks, Graveyard Fields Overlook, winds through mountain meadows and towering grassy balds. Layers upon layers of the Blue Ridge Mountains are present throughout but are especially sweeping upon arrival to Ivestor Gap and beyond.

Upon parking hop onto the Graveyard Fields Loop trail on the right, through a rare and beautiful mountain meadow with views up to all the mountains and ridges around you, then onto the Graveyard Ridge Connector. This trail can be confusing because they are not very well marked nor heavily used, but as long as you remember where you are coming from and where you are going, you'll be okay. Just keep your eyes out for splitting trails.

Once you turn left onto Graveyard Ridge Trail (orange blaze), you'll cruise along this mostly flat path that walks along the side of the ridge with beautiful views over Graveyard Fields and up to Black Balsam Knob. The trail will come to a 4-way junction. The trail on the left is the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) ascending Black Balsam Knob, the trail straight ahead is the Graveyard Ridge Trail heading to Ivestor Gap, and the trail on the right is the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and Graveyard Ridge Trail (Graveyard Ridge is a loop). You want to go straight to Ivestor Gap. When you arrive in Ivestor Gap, several trails come together and you will find a handful of scattered campsites. Some are on the bald which provide 360 degree views of the mountains, perfect for viewing both sunset and sunrise, but also offering windy nights for your tent. Others are off to the side in a more protected, wooded area. Camping is allowed anywhere in Pisgah National Forest as long as you're 500' of a road or in a designated closed area, so everything is up for grabs.

Whether you're camping in the gap or heading on, you will join the Art Loeb trail at Ivestor Gap. You'll ascend Tennent Mountain (6,040') as the trail curls along the east side of the mountain. The last bald you'll hit is Black Balsam Knob (6,214') where the views open up in all directions here with the Smokies and Pisgah all around. But with a parking lot close by, this is definitely the most populated part of the trail. Once past Black Balsam Knob, you keep heading north east on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. This is the most strenuous part of the hike, but the sights never get old. Before you know it, you will be back at the 4-way intersection you hit the day before to head back to the Graveyard Fields lot.

*Water supply is a challenge when hiking the balds so carry extra and look out for creeks along the way to fill up.

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Tags

Camping
Backpacking
Hiking
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Forest
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Haven't been yet

I've done some day hiking in the area, but not backpacking yet. The day hikes were lovely. Busy around GF if it's a nice day. I emailed the rangers to see if there were any permits we need for the trip. No permits needed, but you do need a hard sided bear canister, and as the post mentions, you can camp anywhere near Black Balsam. You cannot camp in the Graveyard Fields area and haven't been allowed to since 2015.

Great views, bad trails!

This is a great hike with lots of beautiful views and can definitely be done in one day. We camped in Ivestor Gap which is less than halfway I believe, leaving more to be hiked for the second day. If I backpack this loop again, I would probably start by going up the Mountains-to-sea trail first and ascending black balsam (etc.) on day one and THEN camping in Ivestor's gap. The trails are not maintained and very washed out, making for some thorny, treacherous footing. Bring LOTS of water as there really is no water once you pass Ivestor's Gap.

No Graveyard...

Really neat place to visit. Great view of the stream valley from the hillside across from the parking area. I can't say for the parking area because I hiked in from the Shining Rock Wilderness. Upon my visit in April 2018, camping was not allowed in the graveyards field area due to a close encounter a backpacker had with a bear. As I recall, the hiker had food in his/her tent. Follow bear can regulations and look up what to do with the bear can before going. It doesn't go in your tent and you don't eat on your campsite. Graveyard Fields is named such because at one time, a wind storm blew down nearly all the trees in the valley and the remains looked like a graveyard so if you are looking for a mountain graveyard, this is not the place. Like a previous reviewer, I was pelted by cold rain but I'm not rating based on the weather. In ideal weather, it would have been better but it is still worth visiting. It was supposed to be nice with a small chance of rain when I went. I actually got sleet earlier that day in the Shining Rock Wilderness area. I'm not sure if checking the forecast before going would be helpful. It's the mountains... You may just have to get lucky:)

Definitely Check The Weather Before You Go

We unfortunately went on a weekend where it rained the entire time, went below freezing, and then snowed. We couldn’t see the views and the less marked trails were flooded. All of this didn’t deter us too bad from having a great time! We really want to go again-it seems like an AMAZING trail, just not when all the weather is against you ha.

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