Ever have this glorious idea of what a backpacking trip is going to be like? You know, you’re packing up your gear and you’re thinking that you’re heading out on the most incredible trip, and that nothing in the world could ever bring you down? Then later you realize you were just challenging nature to beat you down? Yeah, me too.That may or may not have been the case on my recent trip on the Art Loeb Trail. And by that, I mean it definitely was the case.
The Art Loeb is a 30.1 mile trek through the wilderness of Pisgah National Forest. It’s rated as a difficult trail the entire way, and it ascends to over 6,000 feet in some areas. Parts of the trail are beautiful, and I’d definitely recommend it, but come prepared.
Getting to the Art Loeb trailhead is definitely the easiest part of this trip. Since it is a point-to-point trail, there are two trailheads: one at the Davidson River Campground, mere minutes outside of Brevard, NC, and one way up in the mountains at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp. Although the Boy Scout Camp is certainly a longer drive, both trailheads are fairly easy to find. We decided to park one of our cars at the Davidson River Campground and drive out to the Boy Scout Camp* and start our hike from there.
*Side note: if you’re going to park your car at the Boy Scout Camp, please be sure to let the Camp know.
What We Expected
Did we see the difficult trail rating? Yes. Did we believe it? No. My mom and I did the mandatory trail research before heading out, and much of what we read was that The Art Loeb was a beautiful ridge hike with plenty of scenic views. Cool. We looked at the elevation profile, and for the most part it looked just that. A steep ascent to the ridgeline, a ridgeline hike, and a steep descent to the trail terminus. It didn’t seem all that difficult, so the people rating the trails must not really know what they’re talking about. Obviously.
We expected a somewhat strenuous hike to the top, but it was only about a 3 mile hike up, so it couldn’t be that bad. And then we expected to backpack along beautiful North Carolina mountain ridgelines, and take in the views that were promised to us.
What We Got
Did we get those views? Yes, for about 5 miles of the entire hike. Much of the rest of the hike was bushwhacking. Since we started out at the Boy Scout Camp, we were in the Shining Rock Wilderness. A fun fact about the Shining Rock Wilderness is that no trails are marked. We knew this before heading out, but it proved to be a lot more difficult than we had imagined. There were plenty of trail crossings and absolutely no signs or indication of which way to go. Luckily, we had a trail map as well as a GPS, so we were able to make the correct decisions, but it did slow us down a lot. Once we left the Shining Rock Wilderness, trails were marked and we were able to move much faster.
As for the ridge hiking, although we were on ridges some of the way, the ridges were so forested and covered with foliage that we couldn’t see anything. We also had to bushwhack most of the way because the trail was very overgrown. But finally, we did reach the wide-open ridges where you get beautiful views of the surrounding area. The most beautiful views came from the Black Balsam Knob Area, and it really made the trip worthwhile. We were able to cover a lot of ground here and enjoy the surrounding mountains as we went!
From here you descend back down into tree cover and cross the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Mountain-to-Sea Trail. Along this section, there usually are a few more nice views from areas like Pilot Mountain. However, the clouds rolled in and the sky opened up, and once we got to the top of Pilot Mountain we could barely see two feet in front of us. Plus, it was thundering and lightening pretty badly, and we had the desire to live, so we headed back down.
The rest of the trail consisted of a lot of wet hiking in torrential rain.
What We Learned
People who rate trails generally know what they’re doing. This was a very strenuous hike even for those in great physical shape. Also, Pisgah National Forest is a beast, a beautiful beast, but a beast nonetheless.
Even though this trail was difficult, weather conditions were less than perfect, and the trail wasn’t at all what we were expecting, we were still outside, living life. And I definitely can’t complain about that!