Green Knob Lookout Hike Route Map

Green Knob Lookout

Location, location, location…more than anything, what makes Green Knob special is location. Rising from the Blue Ridge just four miles east of the mighty Black Mountain Range, highest in the east, Green Knob boasts a grandstand view of its neighbors all but unmatched in the area. At just over 5,000-feet in height the summit was also an attractive site to the USFS to build a lookout, which it did in 1931. The diminutive 21-foot tower, constructed with a live-in cab, isn’t an imposing structure but it’s all that is needed to reach above the stunted forest at the summit. The lookout was manned until the 1970’s at which point it fell into serious disrepair. Luckily there was enough interest in preserving the tower that, in the 1990’s, the steel skeleton was restored and then later, in 2013, the wooden cab was also refurbished. Today the Green Knob Lookout remains a lone sentinel overseeing the forests of the Appalachians highest peaks and, though no longer manned, is available to visit by any hiker willing to make the trek up to see it.

Accessing the summit can either involve a relatively easy stroll...or one of the more strenuous day hikes you can undertake in the southern mountains. The easy route ascends from the Blue Ridge Parkway and is a half-mile, 350-foot climb from just north of the Green Knob Overlook via an unmarked but decent trail. The other route, described in this album, is orders of magnitude harder…but you’ll have truly earned the views you’re rewarded with upon completing it. Starting from the South Toe Trailhead across from the popular USFS Black Mountain Campground, this route gains over 2,000 feet of vertical in its three-mile length. While not the most serious grade of any trail in the region, it’s still steep enough to be punishing if you’re not prepared. Right from the get-go the climb commences. For the first part of the hike you’ll follow the River Loop Trail, which coincides with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for the first quarter-mile, before reaching the lower end of the Green Knob Trail a quarter-mile after that. The Green Knob Trail shows its hand immediately, departing the River Loop by heading straight up the hillside at a fairly steep angle. If you don’t like what you’re seeing here you best turn back…it doesn’t get any easier higher up. The path immediately sets about gaining the crest of Lost Cove Ridge, which will serve as its lead to the summit of Green Knob. There’s a brief pause in the uphill grind as it reaches the ridge crest but the ascent quickly resumes as the trail pushes over the first of two minor knobs. Topping the first knob, the trail then loses 100 feet of hard-earned vertical before beginning the even steeper ascent of the second knob. The frustrating loss of elevation repeats itself on the far side of the second knob, at which point the final climb to the summit begins.

The first two miles of the hike has seen an overall increase of around 1,000-feet in elevation. You’ll match that gain, in HALF  the distance, between here and the summit. With precious few exceptions the trail simply heads straight up the increasingly rocky ridge. The only upside is that, beginning halfway up this stretch, you begin to be treated to some views. These vistas primarily look west towards the Black Mountains and north over the valley of the South Toe. They’re a good taste of what’s to come at the summit. Barely a hundred yards from the lookout the Green Knob Trail intersects the path coming up from the Blue Ridge Parkway on the left, with a right turn taking it the brief remainder of its journey to the top. The historic lookout sits atop the summit rocks surrounded by a mixed woodland of small trees and rhododendron. A single flight of steps leads from the ground up to the trap door for the catwalk. Unfortunately, except on a precious few days per year, this door remains locked. While the extra elevation provided from the catwalk opens up the views to almost 360-degrees, the view from the top of the stairwell is still incredible. Four miles west is the towering wall of the Black Mountains, capped by Mount Mitchell at 6,684-feet. Almost the entirety of the range is visible here, with the valley in between lying over 3,000-feet beneath them. To the south, on a clear day, you can make out the Swannanoa Mountains and even the distant Pisgah Range and numerous peaks surrounding Hickory Nut Gorge, some 30+ miles away. It’s a majestic scene. Once you’ve enjoyed as much eye-candy as you handle, simply retrace your steps, three miles back down Lost Cove Ridge to the trailhead.

It's probably clear at this point I loved my experience climbing Green Knob. Certainly a fresh coating of snow helped, but this hike offered just the right ratio of effort-to-payoff to make it a classic in my book. I’ll admit, though, that to most this will just be a brutal uphill climb. If you’re not comfortable with hiking steep mountain trails this might not be the one for you. The nice thing is that the shorter route from the Blue Ridge Parkway is also available. Whichever way you decide to go, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. That said, it’s now my great pleasure to share with you my hike up to the beautiful Green Knob Lookout…as always, I hope you ENJOY!!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.751090, -82.220182


Route Type:  Out-and-Back       Difficulty:  VERY HARD  (Petzoldt Rating:  10.30 )

Hike Length:  5.8 miles                Hike Duration:  3:00

Trailhead Temp:  25'F                  Trail Traffic:  1-5 people

Min. Elevation:  3,000'                  Max. Elevation:  5,060'

Total Vertical Gain:  2,250'           Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  776' (approach)


Trails Used (blaze color):  Green Knob (white), River Loop/M.S.T. (yellow)


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