A wonderful Summertime hike through the cool and fragrant spruce fir forest of Richland Balsam.
There is a wonderful summer hiking destination that’s located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway that is about 1/3 of a mile from the highest elevation point of the parkway in Caney Fork North Carolina. This 1.5 mile loop trail treks through a beautiful and fragrant spruce-fir forest, passes over the 10th highest summit in the Eastern United States, offers exceptional views, and is pleasantly cooler than most other destinations due to the high elevation.
The trailhead for Richland Balsam is located at the Haywood-Jackson Overlook near milepost 431 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is only 1/3 of a mile from the overlook that is the highest point on the parkway so you might want to stop there first and get a picture or two.
The Haywood-Jackson Overlook is large with plenty of parking and has a picnic table in the corner where you could have lunch and enjoy the exceptional view available from this overlook. The Haywood-Jackson Overlook is about 1 hour from Asheville North Carolina, 2 hours from Greenville South Carolina or Knoxville Tennessee. There are no restroom facilities at the overlook.
The trailhead starts off in the corner of the parking lot and is easily found as it is paved and there are signs. The pavement ends but the gravel and dirt trail is, for the most part, nicely maintained and easy to follow. The trail does get a little overgrown in some spots but it isn’t too bad and it is always obvious where to go. There are also benches along the trail to rest on if you need to take a breather as you walk up the ridge.
At the start of the loop you will want to head right on the trail. You will walk up the ridge through beautiful sections of the forest that are very different from the forests at lower elevations. It is a great trail to experience one of the diverse forests of the Carolinas.
Your total elevation gain will be about 700ft but it isn’t too bad of a climb. Eventually you will reach the summit at 6,410 feet which is indicated with a sign. This is a great spot to relax at before continuing on the loop and beginning your decent.
From the summit, the trail circles back to the left and parallels the parkway offering exceptional views of the mountains and valleys off to the West and Southwest.
As the trail continues down the ridge, you eventually return back to the paved section of the trail and the parking lot where you can relax at the picnic table and enjoy the views to the East from the Haywood Jackson overlook.