I distinctly remember putting this trail on my ‘to-hike’ list years ago. But, it was a little too far away and I was a little too scared to hike it by myself (literally me at every new hike I do…), so it kept getting pushed to the end of the list. But, the great thing about having friends who both love to hike and were living close to Pisgah is that you can semi-spontaneously decide to hike Art Loeb in the middle of the week. All I needed was a little push.
The Art Loeb Trail is a 30.1 mile trail (plus a little more if you do some short side trails) in the beautiful Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina with its termini at Davidson River Campground and the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp (yes, through a literal summer camp to get to the trailhead). By my numbers, the elevation gain was roughly 7,100 feet.
But, wow, what a beautiful, challenging and rewarding trail. We initially planned on a SOBO hike of 3 days and 2 nights but pushed to get done in 2 days trying to avoid potentially bad weather. Hiking 16+ miles each day with lots of elevation change and a pack (with bear canister, which are required in Shining Rock Wilderness btw; I believe you can rent one from the Asheville REI.) was a doozy but one I’d do again in a heartbeat.
There are many places to camp along the way. You can disperse camp in National Forests, meaning you can virtually camp anywhere you’d like, preferably 200 feet from the trail or water. Many people suggest NOT camping in Shining Rock Wilderness because of bear activity (and also why you need a bear canister), so that may be something to take into account as you are planning your sites. But, there are plenty of already ‘developed’ sites along the way, so you can really decide to stop whenever you get to a place you like. There’s also 2 very sketchy, but cool looking shelters on the trail, but I would not advise actually sleeping in them for fear of collapse.
Also, water can be scarce at certain times of the year on this trail, so fill up when you can. In the summer, you may need to carry most of your water for the whole trip. I hiked this trail in March and we didn’t have a problem, but we also filled up every time we saw any water. You may not be so fortunate in the warmer months. I used this post to help plan out my trip.
Here was our itinerary for a 2-day, 1-night hike of Art Loeb:
Day 0: Met Bethany late at Davidson River Campground and we slept in the back of my Subaru. (I have an air mattress that fits the back of my car and it’s a game changer for arriving at trailhead late at night so you don’t have to hike i and set up in the dark.)
Day 1 (16.6 miles): Woke up and drove one car to the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp trailhead and started hiking around 8:00am. Camped at a nice little spot just south of Farlow Gap. Features: Shining Rock, Tennent Mountain, Black Balsam Knob
Day 2 (16.96 miles): Started hiking around 8:00am and finished the trail around 5:00pm at Davidson River Campground. Features: Pilot Mountain, Sassafras Knob, Chestnut Mountain
We chose to go SOBO so that we would end near Brevard, NC, so we could eat a bunch of town food after we finished the hike. (The Boy Scout Camp trailhead is much more secluded.) They say it’s a bit more challenging going NOBO, but no matter what, you are going to climb, descend, climb, descend, etc. Also some say to do NOBO because you ‘save the views for the end’, but there are views throughout and the ‘best’ ones are just about halfway through. You do you though and HYOH (hike your own hike)
I was stunned by the diversity of the trail: the sweeping views, very narrow rhododendron tunnels, forest-like cover and shining rocks. A+ would recommend to any backpacker that loves beauty and a challenge. (And maybe falling. I fell a lot 🙈)
Distance from Nashville: 5 hours
Trailhead: Davidson River Campground near Brevard, NC and Cold Mountain/Camp Daniel Boone near Canton, NC
Trail: Art Loeb Trail
Length of trail: 30.1 miles (we clocked just over 33 miles)
Link to trail map: Art Loeb Trail (I also thought my Gaia GPS map was great)
Camping: Dispersed, many options that are already ‘developed’ as sites (cleared out and flat), also 2 shelters that no one should actually sleep in (Deep Gap and Butter Gap). Most say to avoid camping in Shining Rock Wilderness because of bear activity. Bear canisters required in Shining Rock Wilderness.
Overview: Super beautiful and challenging hike with sweeping open Appalachian views, shining rocks, thick forest cover, narrow rhododendron and laurel ‘tunnels’. I would recommend this to anyone who likes backpacking, but maybe just not make it your very first every trip. You may hate yourself.