The Art Loeb Trail is a 30.1-mile (48.4 km) trail located in Pisgah National Forest in Western North Carolina. The Northern Terminus is at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp in Haywood County, while the trail’s Southern Terminus is located near the Davidson River Campground, near Brevard, in Transylvania County. Along the way, the trail traverses several significant peaks, including Black Balsam Knob (6,214 ft), Tennent Mountain (6,040 ft) and Pilot Mountain (5,095 ft). The trail also passes the base of Cold Mountain, made famous by the novel and film. Originally part of the Cherokee Nation, the area was heavily logged in the early part of the 20th century. The Art Loeb Trail was dedicated on November 9, 1969. It was named after an avid hiker and Carolina Mountain Club member, who resided in Brevard. Mr. Loeb often explored and cared for the area.
The Art Loeb Trail is many different things to many different people. For some, the hike is a great workout. For others, the trail is a chance to connect with nature. For most, it is both of those things and more that draw them to tread the well-worn path that runs through the rugged mountains and wilderness between Canton and Brevard.
“It’s one of the best hikes in the state. Maybe even the best,” said Scott Lipscomb, an outdoor instructor who recently completed the 30-mile-long Art Loeb Trail.
Lipscomb said the varied terrain found along the trail makes for an ever changing tour of the Southeast’s wide range of eco-systems.
Along the way, the trail rises and falls, pushing hikers to climb more than 6,000 feet in the 30 miles.
As the trail meanders through the forested ridges near Cedar Rock, Chestnut Knob and Pilot Mountain, it’s easy to see why Loeb loved the area so much.
In the winter, long-range views of Looking Glass come and go through the trees, while views of the City of Brevard – nestled in the valley amongst a sea of trees – emerge as hikers crest the summit of Pilot Mountain.
While hikers today have little trouble finding their way down the well-worn footpath, it wasn’t always that way.
HISTORY OF THE TRAIL
Back before the Art Loeb Trail bore his name, back before it was even a trail, Loeb was the general manager at Ecusta, a paper manufacturing plant in Brevard.
According to his daughter, Joan Dickson, Loeb was in his 40s when a heart attack forced him to reevaluate his lifestyle. His doctors recommended he take up walking. Loeb began exploring the wooded terrain near his home in Straus Park in Brevard, where he found a series of unmarked forest service roads and animal tracks that led deep into the Pisgah National Forest.
“He was always a lover of nature and outdoors,” Dickson said. “After his heart attack, he began hiking for his health and felt in the groove with nature and loved to be out of doors hiking with the Carolina Mountain Club.”
Danny Bernstein, author of the guidebook “Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains,” said hiking in Western North Carolina in the 1950s was much different than it is today.
“Back then, hiking in Western North Carolina involved a lot of bushwhacking, map reading and getting lost,” Bernstein said. “There were all these old roads, game trails and maybe even Indian trails. People explored all of that, but it was different then. There weren’t good maps and there weren’t guides. There also weren’t the same rules and regulations in the forest that there are now. So, people like Loeb and his friends went in and cut trails and worked to improve the trails.”
Weekend after weekend, Loeb ventured deep into the forest, eventually linking the Forest Service roads and trails together until they slowly resembled a navigable trail.
“He was a good, strong, healthy hiker,” Dickson said. “He usually hiked around 10 miles a day. It wasn’t about how fast or how far he could go. He just got out there and enjoyed being out.”
Dickson said while her father probably had favorite summits or forest glades, he truly loved all the different aspects of the area.
“He loved it all,” she said. “He loved being out in the woods hiking with people.”
Dickson recalled fondly a backpacking trip she took with her father and her two sisters in the 1960s in the Shining Rock Wilderness.
“I remember particularly how thrilled he was to be in that area, hiking over the balds,” she said. “He was very impressed that somebody had named a mountain for Dr. Tennent. I think he would be absolutely thrilled that people thought enough of him to name a whole trail after him.”
Bernstein said the early stages of development of the trail system took a lot of effort, which Loeb often led.
“It eventually became the Art Loeb Trail because he loved that piece of the trail so much,” she said. “He improved it and really worked to cut a trail through there.”
Once the basis of the trail was established, he frequently led hikes on the trails that would later be named in his honor with the Carolina Mountain Club.
Bernstein, who has hiked extensively in the U.S., said the trail as it is today is one of the best hikes of its type in the region.
“The way it bobs up and down, crosses the Parkway and traverses across such a large area makes it a great hike,” Bernstein said. “I think it is a signature trail of the Pisgah District.”
But even though the trail still receives high praise today for its wildness, back then, because there was no spur road off the Blue Ridge Parkway to Sam Knob Road, hiking into the Shining Rock Wilderness took more effort, Dickson recalled.
“The trails were not as well used and loved as they are now,” she said. “They weren’t as well-designated, so you had to really use a compass and read the maps and try to follow the trails and hope they connected to trails where you wanted to go.”
In 1969, one year after Loeb died, the Carolina Mountain Club and the U.S. Forest Service named the trail in his honor and marked the path he helped establish with yellow swatches of paint. Atop the yellow paint a stenciled image of a hiker with a walking stick carrying a rucksack was emblazoned. While those markers have long since faded away, the memory of Loeb’s love of hiking continues to inspire hikers like Scott Lipscomb who frequently leads guided hikes of young people.
Dickson said she feels comfort when she sees hikers enjoying the wilderness areas of Shining Rock or exploring the forests in Pisgah because she believes her father’s legacy of a love of hiking lives on.
“He was somebody who loved and honored these mountains,” she said. “Whenever I see people hiking on the trail, I think it is wonderful that it is so well-loved and used. I think he would have loved it.”
Section 1: South of Pisgah Ranger Station to Gloucester Gap: 12.3 miles. Access: Turn onto the road to the Davidson River Campground (US Hwy 276) near Pisgah North Carolina. The trailhead is located 0.2 mile south of the Pisgah District Ranger Station.
Section 2: Gloucester Gap to Black Balsam Knob: 7.2 miles. Access: Start from Gloucester Gap, which is 4.5 miles west of the State Fish Hatchery on Forest Service Road 475. (It is not recommended to leave cars overnight here.) From Gloucester Gap the trail swings West-Northwest before making the ascent to Pilot Mountain, the former site of a fire tower with 360-degree views. Beyond Pilot Mountain is Deep Gap where you’ll find a shelter and spring (we recommend that you bring plenty of water, and plan your next water source.) The trail then cuts through Farlow Gap, crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway at Shuck Ridge, and then proceeds to make the steep climb up to Silvermine Bald where you’ll reach an elevation of over 6,000 feet. From here the trail makes the short climb to Forest Service Road 816 on Black Balsam Knob.
Section 3: Black Balsam Knob to Deep Gap: 6.8 miles. Access: From U.S. Highway 276, travel 8 miles south on the Blue Ridge Parkway and turn onto Forest Service Road 816. Go 1 mile to the crest of the hill where the trail crosses over and look for a small pull-off. At Black Balsam, the trail’s highest point (at 6214 feet), is a plaque commemorating Art Loeb.
Section 4: Deep Gap to Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp: 3.8 miles. Access: From the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp off of U.S. Highway 215 four miles south of Bethel, NC. Notify camp staff if you plan to leave your vehicle at the camp.
Wherever you go, always bring an up-to-date map, some form of communication and fire, and tell someone else where you are going. Also, for historical information on the Pisgah National Forest, see the sidebar on p.25 of this edition.