Not far to the west of the popular Graveyard Fields area, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a relatively unknown gem, Flat Laurel Creek Valley, and Flat Laurel Creek Trail. This wonderful hike will take you through dense forest, scenic meadows, and alongside beautiful creeks.
In Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina, off the Blue Ridge Parkway
Scenic Views, wildflowers, waterfalls, creeks, dense forest
From The Blue Ridge Parkway, head to milepost 420. Depending on your direction, it will be just before or just after Graveyard fields. There will be signs at the road entrance saying “Black Balsam”. Follow the road as it curves up to the end, and you’ll run into a parking area.
Hiking Sam's Knob and Flat Laurel Creek Trail Loop
The trailhead for the loop along Sam's Knob and Flat Laurel Creek Trail, is at the end of Black Balsam Rd, past the trailhead for Black Balsam Knob, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, at MP 420.2. The parking area here serves as the starting point for a few hikes.
Sam's Knob Trail
For Flat Laurel Creek Trail, you'll want to head down the hike to Sam's Knob, located to the right of the pit toilets. The hike begins on an old roadbed, through some forest and along the side of a ridge.
You'll very soon reach a clearing, and then decend down wooden stairs to a gorgeous meadow. The clearing and meadow are full of beautiful and colorful wildflowers during the spring, summer and Fall. If you're a photographer, you'll want to plan to spend some time here. There are often thousands of butterflies here as well.
As you look at the trail ahead, you'll see Sam's Knob in front of you. Stay on the trail through the meadow, until you arrive at a T intersection on the far side the meadow. The photo above is looking back thorugh the meadow from the T intersection.
Sam's Knob Trail Intersection
This hike goes left, and you'll follow the signs saying "Flat Laurel Creek". You can optionally head up the .6 (1.2 mile roundtrip) mile hike to the top of Sam's Knob, which provides stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The hike up is pretty rocky, and a bit steep.
The trail we'll follow to the left isn't Flat Laurel Creek Trail yet, but a connector trail from Sam's Knob Trail to Flat Laurel Creek Trail. The connector trail follows along the edge of the meadow for a bit, and then begins to decend down a rocky trail.
The trail narrows and becomes more and more rocky through this stretch. The trail here is also very eroded and often wet and muddy, so watch your footing. Good hiking poles are a real asset here for those with balance issues.
You'll soon pass through a popular camping area, with a creek to the right. Shortly following that, you'll cross through a swampy, bog area where not getting muddy and wet is a bit of a challenge. There is a really cool "frog pond" here to the left, that makes for some interesting photo opportunities.
Flat Laurel Creek Crossing
A little further down the trail, you'll reach a set of stairs that take you down to Flat Laurel Creek. We love to stop here, relax on the large rocks, and let our kids play in the water and in the small waterfalls here. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the trail, and a great place to take a break and have some snacks.
To cross, you'll have to rock hop. We've never had a problem getting across, but during periods of high water, this could possibly be a real challenge, especially given the small waterfall just to your right.
Flat Laurel Creek Trail
Just past the creek, you'll reach the wide, and frequently travelled Flat Laurel Creek Trail. The trail will come from the right, continue past you going left. You can head to the right, but this will take you off the loop. To the right takes you down to Highway 215, and past Wildcat Falls.
Again, for this hike, we'll go left. This portion of the trail takes you along an old railroad grade, so while it's a steady climb up, the accent is easy. The trail also takes you alongside Flat Laurel Creek, and through a mainly evergreen forest, with lots of birch as well. There are a number of side trails along this section that take you up into the forest, or down to the creek. We find it fun to explore these.
You'll then begin a gradual turn to the left, that will bring you to another creek crossing and you'll begin to accend shortly after, back to the parking area.
The forest will slowly fade away, and you'll be once again in a meadow like area full of large shrubs, rocks and and trees. You'll be able to hear the sounds of the road and parking area before you actually reach them.
Your hike will end on the opposite side of the parking area from where we began.