view from Flat Laurel Creek Trail - October 4, 2013
Flat Laurel Creek flows near Sam Knob in Haywood County, close to the Graveyard Fields, Black Balsam Knob, and Tennent Mountain areas off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are several cascades along Flat Laurel Creek. A couple of them are fairly easy to access with some rock hopping. Seeing all of them requires some extreme rock scrambling skills and is only recommended for skilled creek waders. This is a very popular hiking and primitive camping area and the parking areas become very overcrowded during the summer months. Get here early and you shouldn't have any problem finding a parking spot. You'll need the Pisgah Forest trail map to fully explore all of the hiking possibilities in this area. Several hikes offer some of the best high elevation and view hikes in western North Carolina. Go to this section of hikewnc.info for details on these hikes. This area also offers excellent early October fall color - usually between the first and second weeks.
Directions: There are a couple of ways to access the Flat Laurel Creek Trail. The most popular is at the end of FR816 - Black Balsam Rd at MP420 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Keep in mind that the Parkway is closed in the winter and you can not get to this area by vehicle. If you are coming from the Asheville area or Hwy 276 from Brevard, head south on the Parkway passing Graveyard Fields on the right, then continue to the right turn for Black Balsam Rd. If you are coming from the Smokies or Hwy 215, head north on the Parkway, pass Devil's Courthouse and look for Black Balsam Rd on the left. This road is usually not in good shape, so drive slow. It's paved but has with numerous deep potholes. A couple of small pulloffs on the right as you first drive up offer views east (sunrise photo potential) back towards the Parkway and Looking Glass Rock. At about 3/4 of a mile up the road there is access to the Art Loeb and Mountains to Sea Trails. People park along (and sometimes in) the road here. Keep going about another 1/2 mile to the end of the road and park. If you get here by mid morning you shouldn't have any trouble finding a spot. There are 2 pit toilets here, but be prepared to hold your breath if you need to use them. Several trails lead from this parking area - the Flat Laurel Creek Trail is at the far end of the paved parking area. Pass the info kiosk on the left and snap a photo if you don't have a trail map!
The other parking area is off of Hwy 215 in the same spot you would park for Wildcat Falls. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, drive north on Hwy 215 for 0.8 miles and the camping area will be down a steep gravel driveway on the right. This area is small and I think there's only one primitive site here, so if someone is camped here there may not be any room to park. Another option is to park in the gravel parking area that is 0.4 miles down Hwy 215 from the Parkway on the left and walk along the road the additional 0.4 miles. The trail begins at the old logging road that goes down and crosses Bubbling Spring Branch. You should be able to rock hop without getting your feet wet. The hike to Flat Laurel Creek Cascades area is about 2 miles from this point and varies from fairly easy to difficult if you want to rock hop to see several cascades. Follow those directions to park and head to Wildcat Falls. From Wildcat Falls, keep going up the Flat Laurel Creek Trail for a little over a mile to a big turn in the trail to the right (east). Flat Laurel Creek will be down on your left at this point. You may notice a trail to the left right after this turn. Pass it and continue a short distance to a wash on the left where you have to scramble down to the creek to view the cascades. There are several cascades in this area and seeing them requires a combination of rock and boulder hopping and wading in the creek depending on water levels. Remember that wet rocks are very slippery and you could be severely injured in this area if you slip and fall!
Now back to the Black Balsam parking trail head for Flat Laurel Creek. The hike to the cascades from this end is a little over 1.75 miles and is easy to moderate. The only difficult part is the same scramble at the end to see the cascades. I think this is the more scenic way to the cascades and would make a good hike even if you can't scramble down to the creek at the end. The hike begins through a mix of rhododendron, laurel, and blueberry shrubs with some good views off to the right towards Sam Knob. The trail continues down and crosses a couple of creeks and wet areas and then through a mixed birch and coniferous forest area. You'll pass one end of the Little Sam Trail on the left, then at about 1.5 miles from the trail head, look for the Sam Knob Trail crossing the creek on the right. You could have also taken this trail from the parking area. At about 1/4 mile past the Sam Knob Trail, look for the wash out area on the right that will take you down to the cascades on Flat Laurel Creek. Below are a few pictures of some of the cascades you may see.
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