Cold Mountain gained national attention following the publishing of Charles Frazier’s Civil War era novel in 1997. Western NC hiking enthusiasts have known of its appeal for much longer. Cold Mountain is a real mountain that stretches 6030′ and is located in the Shining Rock Wilderness and Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. You can reach the spur trail to the summit on the Art Loeb Trail; section 3 from the south, or section 4 from the west. The trail was named for a member of the Carolina Mountain Club who devoted much of his senior years to caring for the area. It is one of the most popular hiking trails in western NC, and deservedly so. This hike occurred on November 11, 2010 beginning at 8:00AM and ending about 3:00PM. The plan was to take section 4 of the Art Loeb Trail from the Daniel Boone Scout Camp to the summit spur trail at Deep Gap, then on to the top. The descent would be back the way we came.
Hike Length: 10.6 miles Hike Duration: 7 hours
Hike Rating: Difficult, strenuous Blaze: No blaze, wilderness
Elevation Gain: 2800 feet Hike Configuration: Up and back
Trail Condition: Covered in leaves Starting Point: Daniel Boone Scout Camp
Trail Traffic: We encountered one group of four bear hunters with dogs, but only one other hiker on this day.
How to Get There: From Brevard, NC take Hwy. 276 to its junction with Hwy. 215. Turn left on 215 and continue for 5 miles. Turn left onto Little East Fork Road and go 3.8 miles to the Daniel Boone Scout Camp. The Art Loeb trailhead is well marked on the left side of the road near the back of the camp past the last building.
View Art Loeb Trail to Cold Mountain in a larger map
It takes awhile to get to the Daniel Boone Scout Camp. It is truly out in the rural country, but isn’t that what you’d expect for wilderness hiking? The Art Loeb Trail is near the back of the camp, and is well marked with a large sign. The morning was beautiful, brisk and sunny. On the first mile or so of the hike, I could tell it was an area near a wealth of seasonal campers. The trail was very well maintained with lots of rock and log stairs to aid with climbing. The camp counselors no doubt enjoy having the free camper labor to take care of trail maintenance. This time of year, though, the trail was completely covered with fallen leaves. The hike uses two trails: the Art Loeb for the first 3.8 miles to Deep Gap, then the Cold Mountain summit spur for another 1.5 miles.
It’s a steep climb right off the bat, then the trail takes a series of switch backs, jumping nearly 1200 feet in the first 1.5 miles. Our crew was the usual three, and of course we whined as always about all the up hill. We wouldn’t be Meanderthals if we didn’t. It’s a thick hardwood forest on the way to Deep Gap, and in November with the leaves off the trees, we could see some of the surrounding mountains, as well as what lie ahead of us on the trail. We crossed Sorrell Creek twice, the first time after about a mile and a half, the 2nd another mile later. The 3.8 miles on the Art Loeb climb a total of 1800 feet with the first part and the last part being the steepest. In between was a gradual grade. There are a couple stretches where the trail follows an old logging road. We had heard about a spring near Deep Gap, so when we came upon it, we knew we were close… about 2/10 of a mile. That last bit will test your legs and lungs.
At Deep Gap we encountered a group of bear hunters and stopped to chat for awhile. Their dogs were beautiful, and anxious to find a scent. The dogs were all wearing GPS collars, and the hunters had receivers for the signals. I’ve never been hunting, but this seemed an interesting application of technology. It took us a little more than two hours to get to Deep Gap, so the breather was nice, especially considering we still had to climb another 1000 feet on the Cold Mountain spur trail.
From Deep Gap to the summit, the forest and terrain decidedly changed. The wind and weather ravaged trees are gnarled and lichen covered. The rhododendron thickets we passed on the way up to Deep Gap now changed to the heartier laurels. There are outcroppings near the trail that foretold what was to come at the top. There are a number of camp sites along the trail, as Cold Mountain is a popular destination for over-nighters. After about 45 minutes of strenuous climbing, we reached the base of the summit where there are dozens of primitive camp sites. They are fairly exposed, so if I were planning on camping there, I would certainly hope it wasn’t a windy night.
The summit of Cold Mountain is a long, narrow ridge that is mostly exposed granite with laurel bushes and other ground cover clinging to the rock for dear life. There is a 180 degree panorama looking south toward the Black Balsam area. You can clearly see Mt. Pisgah, Black Balsam Knob, Sam Knob, Shining Rock, and The Narrows in the distance, and Deep Gap below from any number of rocky outcrops that dot the summit. To the east is the Pisgah Ridge (seen in the photo at the top of this post), and looking west reveals the Great Balsam Mountains and the Middle Prong Wilderness. We found a flat outcrop with a great view of the total area before us and enjoyed our lunch, along with the awe-inspiring scenery. We stayed for about an hour before making ourselves get ready for the descent. It was hard to leave this picturesque setting.
The problem with fallen leaves on a steep descent is slippage. We were fine going back down to Deep Gap, but boy was the Art Loeb Trail treacherous on the way back down. I managed to avoid falling, but I certainly slipped a lot. It’s impossible to tell what is under the leaves… roots, loose rock, wet trail… and the leaves were thick. One of my partners had three separate falls on the way down. I feel confident that section 4 of the Art Loeb is as well maintained as the other three sections are. Art Loeb is generally a beautiful, however well-used trail. But you can’t do much about leaves. That’s what happens in the Fall. The leaves fall, then hikers fall, it’s Fall. For the last three miles of our descent we were delighted to be joined by one of the bear dogs we saw at Deep Gap. She followed us all the way down to the trailhead. Hopefully those GPS locators helped the hunters retrieve their dog. Near the entrance of the scout camp, we stopped for a bit to take in a beautiful scene of a pond reflecting the sky, forest, and an old barn.
On the drive back home, we took a little side trip along Hwy. 215 to take a glance at Lake Logan. It’s a small, recreational lake with lots of picnic tables and cozy pullouts. As usual, I couldn’t resist a few photographs. As we crossed back over Wagon Road Gap on Hwy. 276, we popped on the Blue Ridge Parkway for one last view from the Cold Mountain Overlook. It is a majestic sight. The mountain dominates the surrounding area. One of these days I will approach Cold Mountain from section 3 of the Art Loeb Trail. The ascent isn’t as steep, but the distance is a lot longer. So much hiking, so little time.