We had been putting off the Sam Knob hike since we noticed the signs on one of our Blue Ridge Parkway explorations but ran out of time to hike it, and the driving time (1.5 hours from Greenville) and trail difficulty are both a little too steep for me to join friends for the hike just me with the kids. Our solution was to take dad with on a sunny Saturday, making a day-trip by adding a few more stops along the way.
The parking lot at the end of Black Balsam Road was already full, but luckily we snagged one of the last spots in the overflow parking. By the time we emerged in the early afternoon both sides of the road were lined with parked cars; the Black Balsam Road trailhead is a popular destination off the Blue Ridge Parkway, with trails leading to Black Balsam Knob and Graveyard Fields.
The Sam Knob trailhead is near the info kiosk to the right of the toilets. The old roadbed leads past a campground before descending into the meadow via a long wooden staircase. This time of year there wasn’t much blooming, but I can imagine later in the summer there is quite a bit of color. Other than some asters and dandelion, the meadow was almost purely green save for the clumps of brown dried grasses; comparatively the woods were vibrant, with the bluets, trillium and various trees blooming.
I began to believe we had embarked on this hike completely unprepared, as only Lauris had a winter hat to ward off the chill of the windy spring morning. We didn’t linger long in the meadow, as the wind funneling over the saddle was cold. Reaching the cover of the forest we began the climb up Sam Knob, visible since our descent into the meadow but looking far steeper now that we were at its base.
|Painted Trillium, Bluets and mountain paper birch bark|
Winding up a series of switchbacks we quickly warmed up, several steep and eroded sections warranting giving the boys a hand. The blackberry thickets gave way to birch trees, and then soon we were in a rhododendron and mountain laurel tunnel. The trees and shrubs became more and more stunted until we finally emerged on the bald, rocks and shrubs covering portions but not obstructing the views.
With an elevation of 6,045 feet, Sam Knob offers great views of the Shining Rock Wilderness, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Devil’s Courthouse. Mikus got out his binoculars while Lauris explored some of the paths running through the shrubs, both parents busy supervising Vilis on the rocks. The lure of a snack got all three boys to sit down for a spell, but soon the cold wind pressed us into starting the return trip.
There’s one point where the trail seemingly splits near the top of the knob, and we took the second trail on our way out to see where it led. From the meadow Sam Knob appears to have two humps, and the diverging trail takes hikers to the top of the other summit.
As soon as we started our descent the sun came out, warming our chilled hands and tempting me to return to the bald for more photographs. One look back up the steep section of trail convinced me to save a repeat climb for a second trip – we’ll be back to hike this trail again some other season.
The Sam Knob hike is 2.2 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 570 feet. To reach the trailhead take the Blue Ridge Parkway to FR 816 (Black Balsam Road) near milepost 420, and follow it one mile to the parking area at the end.