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Blackrock Mountain Trail – A Challenging Family Adventure
The Blackrock Mountain Trail in Sylva, North Carolina, is a lesser-known jewel in the Plott Balsam Mountains. With its stunning vistas, diverse ecosystems, invigorating climbs, and a 360-degree panoramic viewpoint at the summit, this is a trail that offers a challenging adventure for even a well-seasoned hiking family. So before you lace up your hiking boots, ensure you are fully prepared for what the trail has in store.
And as always, if you have any questions/comments about all of this, feel free to send us a message below!
Trail Information – Fast Facts
- Trail Difficulty: Strenuous
- Distance: 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) out and back
- Elevation Gain: 1,900 feet (579 meters)
- Duration: 4-5 hours
Despite its beauty, the Blackrock Mountain trail is not for the faint-hearted. Its steep drop-offs in certain sections, its technical and/or overgrown terrain virtually the entire time, and its almost 2000 feet of elevation gain make it a test of endurance, strength, and mental fortitude, especially if you’re planning to hike this with kids who may need to be carried on your back for a portion of the way.
Trail Description and Points of Interest
As you set off on the Blackrock Mountain trail, you’ll quickly reach a small trail sign, although it’s not visible from the trailhead itself. If after you’ve hiked for about 30-seconds you see this sign, you know you’ve found the trail.
About halfway through the trail, you’ll begin to see purple and yellow blazes that intermittently mark the path, but they aren’t very helpful at the beginning. And while the trail is well-worn and easy to follow, we still recommend you download GuruMaps to use in order to navigate on the trail.
Soon you’ll find yourself surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of North Carolina’s forests. The trail starts out quite mellow and takes you through some Spruce, Eastern Hemlock, and Fir groves.
If you’re here in the summertime, keep an eye out for the small but beautiful Mountain Woodsorrel flowers too that blanket the trail in certain sections.
Soon, you will be treated by the sweeping views of the valley below and the Smokies beyond.
However, don’t be fooled by the beautiful vistas you’ll quickly experience on this route. Soon after, the terrain gets considerably more challenging and stays that way more or less for approximately the second half of the way to the summit of Blackrock Mountain.
However, before you get to the really challenging terrain, you’ll enjoy a few more excellent views.
And you’ll also summit Yellow Face Mountain, although since the peak isn’t particularly jagged, the views from up here aren’t particularly open.
Eventually, you will reach one of the more challenging sections. There are a few sections where we had to do some very mild rock climbing. Julia and I both took off our packs for those sections so we’d be able to move with less restriction.
Soon after, you’ll get your first glimpse of Blackrock Mountain.
And then just before you are on the final push to the summit, you’ll hit the most difficult part. If a bit of mild rock climbing, as pictured below, isn’t your thing, this trail might not be right for you.
Since this is an out-and-back trail, that also means that the first half of the way back is quite challenging too. Pace yourselves, and enjoy the challenge of it all.
As you near the summit, prepare for a panoramic view that will make all your effort worthwhile.
You will be treated to a 360-degree vista of the Great Smoky Mountains, nearby Waterrock Knob, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Plott Balsam Mountains.
This vista is a spectacular reward that draws hikers from all over the country to the Blackrock Mountain trail.
Save some energy for the way back, however, as unfortunately right after you enjoy the spectacular views, you’ll again be on the most challenging part of the trail.
Preparing for a challenging hike like the Blackrock Mountain trail involves not just having the right amount of motivation and a positive mindset, but also the right gear. Our day hike packing guide will serve you well on Blackrock, but distilled, here’s what you’ll need:
- Child Carrier: If you are planning to hike this with kids who might not be able to hike the entire way, you will need a child carrier. Additionally, there are a few spots where we found it safer to carry Peri and Kai than to have them hike themselves. We love our Kinderpacks, and they serve us well on nearly every hike we do.
- Hiking boots/shoes: A sturdy pair of boots or shoes that provide good grip, suitable for rocky terrain is essential on the Blackrock Mountain trail.
- Hiking poles: These can be helpful for stability on the narrow parts of the trail that have big drop-offs.
- Hydration Pack/Water Bottles: Carry plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
- Map/Compass/GPS: Even with the well-marked trails, it’s important to know where you’re going. We recommend you download GuruMaps for offline navigation.
- Weather-appropriate clothing: The temperature can vary dramatically, so dressing in layers is a good idea.
- Rain gear: Getting wet at high elevations can be dangerous. We always bring our rain gear, and we recommend you do too.
Family Hiking Safety Tips
The Blackrock Mountain trail offers a thrilling adventure for families, but safety should always be a priority.
- Stay Together: Ensure everyone stays within sight. Children should always be under direct supervision. Holding hands is also a good idea through the more challenging sections.
- Pack Snacks: Energy-rich foods like trail mix, fruit, and energy bars can keep energy levels up during the hike.
- Know the Signs of Exhaustion: Be aware of the signs of physical stress and take frequent breaks.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water can prevent all sorts of other complications.
Trail Head and Route
Two Trailhead Choices
Your journey on the Blackrock Mountain trail can begin in one of two places.
Browning Knob Overlook
We parked at the Browning Knob Overlook and walked to the trailhead here (trailhead GPS coordinates: +35.456353, -83.143084). You may realize the trailhead is just a stone’s throw away from Waterrock Knob.
Alternatively, you could start from Pinnacle Park in Sylva and hike to Blackrock Mountain.
Below we include maps from the route we hiked, which is the one beginning from the trailhead near Browning Knob Overlook.
If you’ve hiked the route starting from Pinnacle Park, let us know how it was, and kindly leave us a comment below. And once we’ve tried it from the Pinnacle Park trailhead, we’ll add that route map below.
If you do decide to download our all-time favorite app, you’ll then be able to download our annotated route map from the upper right-hand corner of the map below, and then you’ll be able to upload that file into your own copy of GuruMaps.
It sounds like a lot, but really it’s quite easy. And if you do it, you can take advantage of our annotated route while you experience the challenging yet rewarding Blackrock Mountain Trail.
Our favorite part…
You can navigate using GuruMaps even when you have no service or WIFI! A must for this route.
If you prefer a Google Map however no sweat. We’ve got you covered. But keep in mind, it won’t work when you’re in the backcountry.
Here’s the elevation profile for the Blackrock Mountain Trail, starting at Browning Knob Overlook.
- Q: Is Blackrock Mountain trail suitable for young children?
A: Due to its strenuous nature, this trail may not be suitable for very young children. However, if your young kids are well-seasoned like ours, or if you have older kids with some hiking experience, they all might enjoy the challenge.
- Q: What’s the best time of year to hike the Blackrock Mountain trail?
A: The trail is accessible year-round, but the best time to visit is in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom, or in the fall when you can enjoy the brilliant autumn colors.
- Q: Are there facilities available on the Blackrock Mountain trail?
A: There are no facilities on the trail, so remember to pack enough food, water, and other essentials for the entire hike. The nearest facilities are at Waterrock Knob.
So, if you’re a family that loves a good challenge, and more importantly, if you’re an experienced hiking family, the Blackrock Mountain trail awaits you. It’s a journey of perseverance, beauty, and shared triumph. Do you have what it takes to conquer Blackrock Mountain? The only way to find out is to hit the trail. Happy hiking!