Art Loeb Trail -- 2,150'

Art Loeb Trail - Gloucester Gap to Davidson River w/ Cedar Rock Mountain

The Art Loeb Trail needs no introduction among North Carolina hikers. Mile-for-mile there may be no finer long distance footpath in the state. Six thousand foot summits, miles of open southern bald, towering granite plutons, and an amazing diversity of forest types are all represented along this 30-mile route within the Pisgah Ranger District. Backpackers typically hike the entirety of the trail in three to four days, but the Art Loeb is also conducive for day hikes as a handful of trailheads are spread out at varying intervals along its length. Traditionally the trail is split up into three sections. Section One is the northernmost, running from Camp Daniel Boone down along the incredibly beautiful spine of the Shining Rock Ridge, and ending at the busy trailhead along Black Balsam Road. This is the most wildly popular section of the Art Loeb and one I had hiked the length of, over the course of dozens of day hikes, previously. Section Two runs from Black Balsam Road down to Forest Service Road 475 at Gloucester Gap. This is a transitional section of the trail as the route drops from the high elevation forests of the Pisgah Ridge to the mid-elevation hardwood forests more commonly seen throughout the District. Section Three runs the relatively low ridge connecting Gloucester Gap with the Davidson River area. This section is almost entirely tree covered, and deceptively challenging as it rises and falls over numerous minor summits along the way. This was the section I’d be focusing on for this trip along with an optional, but highly recommended, side trip up Cedar Rock Mountain. This is a tough one as far as dayhikes go but the effort is more than adequately rewarded. There is solitude in abundance and some incredible views to be had if you opt for the aforementioned trek up Cedar Rock. Add fading but still-striking fall colors into the mix and it’s likely you won’t mind being stuck under a tree canopy the rest of the time. This stretch of the Art Loeb is best enjoyed by those who can appreciate the subtle beauties of the forest and one that, personally, I don’t think you should miss.

Starting at Gloucester Gap, on Forest Service Road 475 I’d technically be heading southbound on the Art Loeb though, with a quick glimpse at the map, you’ll see it’s more of an eastward journey. There’s no official trailhead at Gloucester Gap but there is still plenty of room to park a car alongside the road as long as you’re out of the right-of-way and not blocking any gates. The first mile of trail gives you a good taste for the type of hiking and scenery you’ll be encountering the subsequent eleven. Leaving Gloucester Gap the trail begins a moderate, but not overly taxing, climb up the northwest ridge of Rich Mountain. After around 300-feet of vertical gain the trail just barely bypasses the summit before starting an equally moderate descent to cross Forest Service Road 471 (Cathey’s Creek Road). The descent continues a short distance beyond the road before the trail once again begins to rise as it starts one of the bigger ascents of the day to the top of Chestnut Mountain. Up down up…that’s going to become a pattern so you might as well get used to it. Thankfully the climb up Chestnut is much easier on southbound hikers than it is on northbound ones. From either direction it’s a 500-foot ascent…the difference is southbounders get to do that climb over the course of a mile while northbounders have to overcome it in half  that distance. Regardless, there’s no reward at the top for your efforts as the summit is thickly wooded. You can get some winter views when the leaves are down of neighboring Cedar Rock Mountain but that’s about it. Heading southbound from the summit of Chestnut the steepest downhill grade is encountered…this is where you’ll pity northbound hikers a bit…before arriving at another low point on the ridge, aptly named Low Gap, just shy of the three-mile mark.

Low Gap is the point in the hike you need to really start paying attention to your map as there are a couple potentially confusing junctions lying just ahead. In a third of a mile you come to a split where the Art Loeb Trail goes straight while the Butter Gap Trail begins on the left down an old logging road. It really doesn’t matter which way you take at this point as the two trails are going to rejoin in another quarter-mile. As I was trying to complete the Art Loeb I stuck with it, which meant an extra 100-feet of easy climbing opposed to taking the other way. Butter Gap is the real trouble spot, with the Art Loeb and Butter Gap Trail both coming and going along with a climber’s access trail which departs the spot for the cliffs of Cedar Rock Mountain. Arriving southbound on the Art Loeb, as I did, the climbers trail heads past a large white sign straight ahead while the Art Loeb bears ahead to the right off the south side of the ridge. The Butter Gap Trail joins in on the left and immediately departs off that side of the ridge heading north. Clear as mud? Great…that’s why I always say bring a map!  If you’ve successfully navigated your way through Butter Gap the Art Loeb shortly passes by the huge A-frame Butter Gap Shelter as it begins its journey around the south, and then east, side of Cedar Rock Mountain. The two miles of trail between Butter Gap and Sandy Gap are by far the most rugged of the day, with numerous steep ascents and descents over frequently broken terrain. The nearer you get to Sandy Gap, the more frequent are the views of Cedar Rock’s massive eastern cliffs towering above the trees to your left. Sandy Gap is reached at the point where the trail gains the crest of the ridge extending northeast from Cedar Rock Mountain. Here you have a choice…do you want to see the views from atop those cliffs you’ve been seeing or just continue on? It adds around a mile of hiking and 400-feet of climbing so you’ll have to best determine your capabilities in adding the effort but I HIGHLY recommend it.

The path up Cedar Rock Mountain from Sandy Gap is unmarked and unmaintained but it has become popular enough in recent years that it should be easy to follow. Just look for the double-blazed oak where the Art Loeb makes a hard turn at Sandy Gap and the summit path begins right alongside it. The route up is steep…there’s no other way to describe it. You’ll know you’ve reached the top, however, as the summit is very broad and all but flat. At this point just start exploring. There are numerous spur paths leading to equally numerous clifftop viewpoints which would be impossible to describe in complete detail here. Your best bet is to just pick up a promising path and see where it goes…if there’s nothing impressive to see retrace your steps and find another. With enough determination there are some amazing vantage points to be enjoyed both from the east and north sides of the summit…as you’ll see in the album. Alright…back to the Art Loeb. Leaving Sandy Gap there’s a minor climb to make before the trail drops steeply to Cat Gap. The Art Loeb and Cat Gap Trail coincide through the gap for a few dozen yards before the Art Loeb continues on its merry way east towards its next major hurdle, Chestnut Knob. This is the part of the hike that, while fairly straight forward, might get monotonous at times as the trail bounds its way along the ridge, always under thick cover of trees, over numerous wooded knobs and through equally wooded gaps for another 6+ miles. I’m not going to bore you describing every ascent and descent here but rather just give you the major highlights and junctions in a very condensed summary. So here goes...Departing Cat Gap the summit of Chestnut Knob is reached in about ¾-mile. You’ll then descend a mile to a crossing of Forest Service Road 475C after which, in another rolling ¾-mile around the north side of Stony Knob you pass the upper end of the North Slope Connector Trail. A half-mile later the Art Loeb passes through Neil Gap, and a mile after that it crosses Forest Service Road 5002. The trail continues east atop the ridge for nearly another two miles past F.R. 5002, rounding High Knob before making one final steep drop to the banks of the Davidson River. A left turn here and it’s only a ¾-mile, completely flat, walk to the southern terminus of the Art Loeb Trail, and the end of the days’ long trek, at the entrance to the Davidson River Campground.

So, to sum up, this is an enjoyable hike if you have the stamina and determination to do it. The near-14 mile length is nothing to sneeze at and the half-mile of vertical gain in addition is going to put the trip out of reach for most dayhikers. Personally, I was nearing the end of my quest to finish the Pisgah 400 of which completing the Art Loeb was a necessity. This gave me more than a little motivation to see this one successfully through. Per usual I encourage you to look through the album and decide if what you see is something you’d like to experience for yourself. That said I now invite you along on my section hike of the Art Loeb Trail from Gloucester Gap to the Davidson River, with a stop at Cedar Rock Mountain along the way…as always, I hope you ENJOY!!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.265834, -82.846954  (Gloucester Gap/F.R. 475)

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.282135, -82.721678  (Art Loeb Trailhead @ Davidson River)


Route Type:  Point-to-point w/ Spur       Difficulty:  EXTREME  (Petzoldt Rating:  19.40 )

Hike Length:  13.8 miles                             Hike Duration:  6:30

Trailhead Temp:  35'F                               Trail Traffic:  25-50 people

Min. Elevation:  2,150'                                Max. Elevation:  4,056'

Total Vertical Gain:  2,800'                        Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  203'


Trails Used (blaze color):  Art Loeb Trail (white), Cedar Rock Mountain Path (unblazed/unofficial)


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