One would be hard pressed to put together a loop hike in the Black Balsam/Sam Knob area that wouldn't result in one of the most visually spectacular hikes in the southern mountains. The area is just that beautiful. Park at the Ivestor Gap Trailhead and simply pick a trail, there's not a bad choice to be made. It is a landscape of open balds, rocky peaks, spruce-fir forests, and high elevation streams. The Upper Flat Laurel Creek Loop is none-the-less a favorite amongst favorites in this area. Starting at the Ivestor Gap Trailhead, high on the slopes of Black Balsam Knob, this hike circles the high elevation valley of Flat Laurel Creek with a climb to the never-disappointing Sam Knob (6,050') thrown in as a bonus.
I'd be hiking the loop in a clockwise direction descending to Flat Laurel Creek from the parking area via the Flat Laurel Creek Trail. At this point, 1.3-miles in, I'd make a right turn onto the Sam Knob Trail and begin my climb of the trails namesake peak. The twin summits of Sam Knob offer, hands-down, the most jaw-dropping eye-candy in the Great Balsam's. The view down the West Fork Pigeon River gorge is simply stunning. Anyway, you can tell I like this hike. I've done it many times but finally decided to put it together into an album. So, come along with me on one of the finest day-hikes the southern Appalachians has to offer...
Hike Length: 4.5 miles Hike Duration: 1:45
Trailhead Temp: 65'F
Min. Elevation: 5,400' Max. Elevation: 6,050'
Total Vertical Gain: 850' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 189'