Sam Knob is arguably one of the most breathtaking trails in Western North Carolina and is a perfect backpacking route for beginners.
Backpacking is one of the few activities I have continued doing with my brothers from childhood into our adult lives. The trips have changed now that we have different responsibilities.
Things like work and our own families, along with not being as young and limber as we once were, weren’t things we had to consider 10 to 15 years ago. But my favorite part of these outings is as soon as we throw our packs in the car and hit the road, it feels like it was only yesterday. We crank up the music and grab a chicken biscuit from a Bojangles drive through, eagerly awaiting the trek ahead.
In October of 2019, my younger brother came home after completing an extensive mission trip for our church. I hadn’t seen him in two years, and we decided that there had never been a more perfect opportunity for an outdoor excursion.
We wanted something that could be a quick overnight trip, test us physically, but also didn’t kill us, all with beautiful views and vistas in the NC mountains. After doing some research we found that Sam Knob Loop, just outside of Asheville, would check all of those boxes.
Things you should know about Sam Knob
Sam Knob is a popular day hike, but we decided to make it a longer, 10-mile loop by continuing on the Flat Laurel Creek Trail, up to the top of Devil’s Courthouse, and then back around to the parking lot. After packing and grabbing food from the store the night before, we woke up early the next morning to start the 4-hour drive to Canton, NC.
Our drive took us on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which I always enjoy with the windows down no matter the time of year. We entered the parking lot around 11 AM, which was already packed with people doing the hike to the summit.
The Journey Begins
After lacing up our boots, we hit the trail, albeit the wrong one. We got a little turned around and hiked about an hour on the nearby Art Loeb Trail after two separate hikers told us we were headed towards Sam Knob. We were not in fact headed toward the knob but enjoyed the extra miles and scenery. When we finally made it back to our car, we came across the correct trailhead next to the bathrooms which, in our defense, was fairly hidden.
We were now on course and made our way through the woods out into a beautiful meadow. The wind blew the tall grass and wildflowers as we hiked past, all the way up to the top of Sam Knob at just over 6,000 ft. It was a little more crowded than we would have liked, but that’s to be expected at these parts of trails accessible from the Parkway.
The crowds didn’t stop us from finding a nice soft spot to sit down and enjoy our lunch, looking out into the meadow we just passed through and the mountain we had ascended. It was incredibly calming and peaceful, and being in no rush to make distance, we decided to lay down in the grass and take a power nap. I’m convinced that life’s best naps are taken in nature.
Taking a swim near Sam Knob Trail
Our descent began and we took the path down into a dense forest. We walked, talked, and reminisced while making a few creek crossings as the Sam Knob Trail met up with the Flat Laurel Creek Trail. Another of our favorite parts of backpacking is enjoying the mountain-spring water, even if it was October.
We discovered a great camp site next to the creek and set up to swim. It was the perfect spot surrounded by large mossy boulders to walk on, and a waterfall that fed into a deep swimming hole.
In anticipation of the hypothermia we were about to give ourselves, we made a fire to warm us as soon as we got out. Dipping our toes in the frigid water, we began to second guess our plans, but decided to go through with it and took the plunge. As expected, it was freezing, and we leapt out making a mad dash towards the fire.
After regaining feeling in our fingers and toes, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the hammock and cooking our dinner. After we ate we enjoyed the sunset over the river and then hit the sleeping bags hard and slept like babies.
Rainy Mountain Mornings
In the morning, we awoke to a light drizzle of rain as we prepared our oatmeal breakfast. The temperature had dropped significantly but was still nowhere near as cold as our leisure swim yesterday. We knew we had to move a little more quickly today if we wanted to regain the mileage we were planning on doing the day before.
We picked back up on the Flat Laurel Creek Trail, passing between towering trees and climbing lichen strewn rocks. The trail was starting to ascend as we crossed the creek a few more times and arrived at a beautiful view from a ridge.
The rain was really starting to pick up now, but we were in good spirits as we took in the stunning vistas of mountain fog rolling over the green hills. Continuing along the ridge led us to a parking lot and then a road that we needed to follow for about half a mile until hopping on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. If you wanted to avoid the crowded parking lot at Sam Knob you could always park here and hike the same loop, just in a different order.
From here, the trail was steady and steep winding through the thick forest. This was assuredly the most difficult part of the trek. We were completely soaked now from head to toe, so we crouched under a large tree to eat a light lunch.
Our feet thanked us for the break in hiking, but the rest of our bodies cooled off drastically from the sudden stoppage of movement. We started doing jumping jacks to keep our body temperature up until we finished our lunch break and marched on.
An optional side trail to Devil’s Courthouse
After about a mile and a half we arrived at the trailhead leading to the top of Devil’s Courthouse. This was an optional hike to a lookout, but we are so glad that we did it. This would also be a great day hike to do on its own if you park at a lot nearby.
A short half mile but steep path up that ends in a flat overlook area at the Devil’s Courthouse, named after the “sinister and devilish” appearance of the bare rock profile. The mountain is home to Peregrine Falcons, although we didn’t see any.
Typically, the peak overlooks a beautiful mountain panorama that includes four states (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee) at 5,720 ft. I say typically because due to the heavy fog we couldn’t see farther than fifty feet in front of us.
Nonetheless it was just as breath taking and added to the eerie aesthetic and theme of being at the “Devil’s Courthouse”. It truly was a unique experience that I imagine many don’t get to have and reminded us of the famous German painting “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich.
Goodbye Sam Knob, Hello BBQ
Having conquered Devil’s Courthouse, we were now in the home stretch. The rain was spotty, but we had emerged from the dark forest of vegetation into bright mountain meadows full of wildflowers.
Nearing our journey’s end, we were given a gorgeous view of Sam Knob, which we had climbed only 24 hours earlier. We got back to the parking lot and jumped into our car exhausted, drenched with sweat and rain, and proud of what we had just accomplished.
I always like to end the trip with a hot meal on our ride home. This time we stopped at JD’s Smokehouse, a favorite of ours located in Connelly Springs. I got the brisket, pulled pork with jalapeno cheese grits, sweet potato crunch and a Cheerwine and it was delicious as always.
I’ve found that while camping, whether it’s just one night or a whole week, time seems to slow down. We left our car and the house just a day earlier, but it felt like much longer. This always gives me the moments I need to decompress and reconnect with people that are important to me. This visit to Sam Knob did just that for my brother and I. It also helped me value the little things that I take for granted. Clean clothes, a bed, warm food, showers, all of which I appreciate a little more upon my return.
If you’re looking for a great backpacking adventure or day hike in the NC Mountains, Sam Knob could be just what you are looking for.