You may have seen the movie, read the book, or sipped the beer but have you hiked the well-known landmark, Cold Mountain, itself?

There are two access points to the steep climb one beginning at Camp Daniel Boone where the Art Loeb Trail begins (a 12.5 mile round trip hike), and the other beginning in the Black Balsam parking/ Shining Rock wilderness area (almost a 17.5 mile round trip hike).

Art Loeb Trail

View along the Art Loeb Trail in the Shining Rock Area of the Pisgah Forest.

Regardless of mileage or starting point, Cold Mountain is unequivocally one of the most difficult day hikes in Western North Carolina, and a trek I've hiked several times to date.

Growing up, I taught rock climbing and wilderness first aid at the scout camp at the base of the mountain, and even thru hiked the Art Loeb Trail twice but never took the time to climb to the top of the notoriously difficult peak.

It loomed large on my list of trails that I wanted to explore, but took almost 10 years of procrastination before I finally turned my boots from Deep Gap toward the top arguably the most arduous part of the hike as the trail climbs over 1000 feet in elevation over the last mile to mile and a half of trail.

Cold Mountain is not just day hike you cant just slap your old running shoes or hiking boots on, pack the family up in the car, and leisurely walk almost 6.5 miles to the top (though I've seen many hikers try). The popular repute of the peak is deceptive leading many poorly prepared hikers to abandon their attempt half way through.

Hikers need to set aside six (for the faster hiker that takes few to no breaks) to eight hours for the round-trip trek from the scout camp (not including the nearly hour-long commute from downtown Asheville to the trail head in Canton), at least two liters of water, snacks, supportive footwear (padded inserts are highly recommended as this tends to be a fairly rocky trail), and trekking poles. I would also recommend bringing a headlamp as I've heard many stories of hikers taking more time than they had planned and ended up hiking in the dark.

Two of the times I've set out on this trail, I've been in the company of friends who are in great shape, but don't regularly distance hike or choose trails that require technical skill. At the end of each trek, they were all grateful for the trekking poles (helping them to climb up, and saving their knees on the hike down) and shoe inserts.

If this season is not a dry one, there are a few places for water along the first 3-5 miles on the trail but they tend to be small creeks that variably dry up, so packing your own water in lieu of a filter is recommended.

The first three quarters of the trail ascends variably for the conditioned hiker, the uphill is noticeable but not impossible. The tree cover is thick, and beautiful but can also present problems during the fall leaf season (thick blankets of leaves on top of slick boulders and rock is more treacherous than you'd think).

Once hikers reach Deep Gap, the trail veers to the left toward Cold Mountain, or to the right continuing the Art Loeb trail toward Shining Rock wilderness. Deep Gap is a popular camping spot, and offers a good resting spot for those continuing up to the top. From Deep Gap to the geologic marker, the trail ascends steeply through old creek beds and along the ridge line to the far side of the mountain.


The view from the top of Cold Mountain looks out toward Black Balsam, Graveyard Fields, Mt. Pisgah, and the Shining Rock Wilderness.

Just before you're ready to give up, throw your trekking poles into the surrounding mountain laurels, and curse yourself for deciding to embark on such a trail for fun, you'll reach the top. The view from the top is not 360 degrees, but it is unparalleled. It looks out toward Black Balsam, Graveyard Fields, Mt. Pisgah, and the Shining Rock Wilderness area is unmarred by any sign of civilization.

Rarely have I met anyone at the top, though the popularity of the trail has noticeably increased over the past few years. Most hikers use the view as an opportunity to rest their feet, eat, and soak in the view.

I often have found that on the hike back, the section of trail between Deep Gap and the trailhead at the scout camp, morale in the group is low. The hike up the mountain is strenuous and technical, and the hike down the mountain is slick, difficult on the knees and toes, and offers no view just the incentive of the car several miles away.

While the trail is gorgeous, and an absolute challenge for those that like pushing themselves, it is by no means easy, or a hike that I would include once a month or for a family. It offers phenomenal views, physical challenge, and puts a face to a name, so to speak, for a Western North Carolina landmark that few have ever taken the opportunity to explore.

Whitney Cooper is a middle school English teacher residing in Asheville, but on the weekends, her favorite thing to do is take to nearby hiking trails.

(1) comment


Whitney, a group. If 10 women us planning on doing this hike next week. How rugged is the trail? Please give us any advice that you might have... thanks!! Ellen Williams

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