Cold Mountain stands at 6,030 feet in Pisgah National Forest about an hour southwest of Asheville, its peak rising gently from the broad sweep of ridges around it. To reach its summit, plan for an overnighter in the woods – or to reach it in style, make it a 4-day trip: one day in Asheville to fuel up, two in the woods, and one back in town to celebrate.
Day 1: Gear Up and Chow Down
Start your outdoor adventure in the mountain city of Asheville. In this city of like-minded hikers, bikers, paddlers, climbers and foodies, grabbing that piece of last-minute gear and that last civilized meal before your trip is no problem. You’ll have your choice of a couple of outdoor outfitters here, from downtown’s Mast General Store to REI a short drive away.
Once you’ve grabbed your forgotten gear, it’s time to grab some grub. Whether you want pizza and beer, beer and pizza, Indian, burgers or vegetarian fare, Asheville’s robust dining scene will see to it that you’re fed.
Day 2: Hike All Day, Sleep Under the Stars
To many, the trail to Cold Mountain is an easy one, but if it’s your first time in the woods, you’ll find it a little more challenging. In reality, it’s a moderate trail, with a few steep sections, but most of the elevation gain is gradual and easy, meaning you have to spend less time focused on the trail and can enjoy the scenery.
Travel the Blue Ridge Parkway to Milepost 420 and turn onto Black Balsam Knob Road. At the parking lot, gear up and follow the Ivestor Gap Trail to the northeast. This old logging road makes for easy walking and there’s a spring where you can fill a canteen or water bottle a half-mile from the trailhead. Continue on for 2.4 miles to Ivestor Gap, where you’ll find a 3-way trail junction where the Ivestor Gap, Art Loeb and Big East Trails meet. Take the unmarked single track trail to the left. This trail rises through berry thickets for around 4 miles where you’ll reach an unmarked junction. Turn right here and link up to the Art Loeb Trail.
Your next obstacle is the first steep part of the climb, the appropriately named Stairs Mountain (5,869 feet). A short walk along the ridge will bring you to Deep Gap, where the trail descends some 900 feet into a beautiful spot for camping (around mile 7 on your hike).
Along the way, you’ll pass a handful of single-tent campsites, all of which offer great views, but none like the secluded sites on the west ridge of Cold Mountain. It’s a steep, mile-long climb to the north, so if you’re feeling strong and you have the daylight left, make the climb and camp nearer the summit. Otherwise, pitch your tent, kick off your boots and settle in for the night.
Day 3: Summit at Sunrise
Get up early for a pre-dawn hike to the summit, the perfect place to watch the sun rise over these stunning mountains. After you’ve taken it in, backtrack to your campsite, break it down and head due south down the trail to the Art Loeb Trail and one of the hike’s highlights – a 5-mile ridge walk through grassy balds and hollows and rills choked with rhododendron. You’ll cross Flower Knob around mile 13 (again, appropriately named if you’re visiting at the right time), then Tennent Mountain at mile 15.7, and Black Balsam Knob at 17. From here, it’s a little more than a half-mile to the car, or, if you’d rather spend another night in the woods, set up camp and skip the celebratory Asheville beer.
Once back at the car, it’s an easy drive back to Asheville where the breweries, and your post-hike celebratory toast, await.
Day 4: Breakfast in Town
Whether you spent the night in a goose down sleeping bag in the woods or with your head nestled in a goose down pillow in one of Asheville’s hip hotels, you need breakfast before you leave. Early Girl Eatery serves a tasty plate of pancakes, and Biscuit Head brings it with innovative jams, jellies, butters, and spreads for its humongous, and innovatively topped, biscuits. Whatever you choose, you’ll leave Asheville and Cold Mountain knowing you’ve bagged another peak (or maybe your first peak) and tried some tasty grub along the way.