Backpacking the Art Loeb Trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains is one of America’s great backpacking trips with beautiful views, lush forest, and amazing geology.
Chris & Mac
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Length: 30.1 miles
Trailhead(s): Camp Daniel Boone (Start) / Art Loeb Trailhead (Finish)
Elevation Gain: 7,650’
Trail Type: Point to Point
Dogs: Allowed, but Must be Leashed
Difficulty: Moderate to Advanced
Permit Required? No
Considerations: Shuttle Required, Bear Canisters Required, Pilot Mountain Particularly Strenuous, Solid Navigation Skills Required
Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Backpacking the Art Loeb Trail through the mountains just southwest of Asheville is one of America’s great backpacking trips. Over the 31.1 miles, the trail will delight you with beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lush forest, challenging rock climbs, and amazing geology. Once you hike this outstanding trail, you will have no doubts as to why this backpacking trip gets so much recognition from avid backpackers.
The Art Loeb Trail
The Art Loeb Trail can be hiked from north to south or vice-versa. The trail climbs and falls over the 31.1 miles, crossing three significant peaks – Black Balsam Knob (6,214′), Tennant Mountain (6,040′), and Pilot Mountain (5,095′) – so it really will not matter much to your knees which direction you choose to hike the trail.
The hiking is typical of Pisgah National Forest with lots of rocks and roots to challenge your ankles. The trail is often wet too, so sturdy hiking shoes come in handy. There is ample water on the trail, so with proper water management you can carry less than full water weight.
Most of the trail, although somewhat strenuous, is easy hiking. That said, be prepared for Pilot Mountain. The trail is steep here, regardless of which direction you travel, and the Brevard side of the trail requires the navigation of a good amount of steep rock. This can be challenging with full pack, as you will be 16 miles into the trail regardless of which side of the trail you started your backpack. It’s completely doable, but just be aware it will put a strain on your stamina, knees, and ankles.
Then, there is the scenery. This is a beautiful trail! The softness of the Blue Ridge Mountains’ landscape combines with the ruggedness of the Pisgah Forest to give an experience you will not soon forget. Within this framework you will experience sweeping views, enchanting streams, dramatic balds, diverse foliage, and amazing geology. Of particular note is the Shining Rock area. Make sure to allow time to linger here. The enormous quartz rocks, offset by dark greens of the moss and leaves as well as the browns of the ground and tree trunks, blew us away. If you can, try to time your trip to late May or June and you will be treated to fantastic displays of rhododendron, mountain laurel, and azalea blooms.
Backpacking the Art Loeb Trail requires a shuttle. Because we drove up from Florida in one car, we arranged for a local shuttle driver to meet us at the Davidson River Campground and drive us the one hour drive to Camp Daniel Boone to begin our hike. We chose to do this, and hike the trail from north to south, because parking at the Art Loeb Trailhead at the trail’s terminus in the Davidson River Campground felt a little more secure to us than parking at Camp Daniel Boone. If you have two cars, you’re in business, but if you are arriving in only one, Google the local shuttle drivers for the Art Loeb and you can easily arrange a shuttle.
Navigation along the trail can be tricky, particularly in the Shining Rock area, as hikers will encounter unmarked trails and it is possible to get turned around. We highly recommend carrying a quality map (National Geographic Map 780), as well as using a solid tracking and mapping app such as Gaia GPS to manage your route. Make sure you know how to use both and a compass, as getting lost out there will not be fun!
Backpacking the Art Loeb is usually done in 3-5 days. Realize that the hiking is relatively strenuous when carrying your backpacking equipment, so judge the amount of days based on your fitness, as well as your desire to soak in the scenery. We hiked the trail in four days, starting the first day at 5:00 PM and only hiking four miles, since we had to drive up from Florida for the first day. Based on our experience, three full days is a good target if you are in shape and don’t mind 10 mile days.
Dispersed camping is permitted along the trail, but there are a number of hiker shelters along the trail at intervals that work well for daily hiking mileages. The shelters are pretty rough and have their share of rodents, but the surrounding areas are well broken in and offer excellent spots to camp. It can also be fun camping by the shelters. On our last night we hung with a group of Outward Bound trainees and their leaders around a bonfire and had a blast (it didn’t hurt either that the leaders made the trainees pack in beer from a nearby farm road, which they readily shared with us :).
Bear canisters are required on the trail and they must be hard sided. The bears on parts of the trail have become quite adept at opening many bear protection systems, so it is important to carry a canister. We like BearVaults because they are among the lightest bear canisters. Regardless of the brand, be aware that rangers will give you a hefty fine if they catch you on the trail without a bear canister.
Backpacking the Art Loeb Trail is a fantastic experience that you will carry with you always. The beautiful scenery and challenge of the trail offers all that backpacking should be. There are solid reasons why the Art Loeb is an iconic American backpack and the distance makes it accessible to most backpackers. We hope you will enjoy the trip as much as we did!
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Additional Information (Click below to follow links.)
- U.S. Forest Service Trail Information (At site, click links for Art Loeb trail sections):
Art Loeb Trail Slideshow
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