summit of the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail

Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail – Enchanting Right From The Start

Nestled within the serene landscapes of Waynesville, NC, lies a hiker’s paradise that beckons to both novice explorers and seasoned adventurers. Aptly named the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail, this splendid family-friendly hike showcases the region’s unspoiled charm and natural grandeur.

view near Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail
A view you’ll get about 2 minutes from the trailhead.

Taking a spin on this easy loop trail will make you feel like you’re walking through an enchanted forest, and will give you a glimpse into the wonder that are the high-alpine coniferous forests of the American south east.

The Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail feels like an enchanted forest

And if you’re here in late summer, make sure to bring some containers, as there is an abundance of blueberries and blackberries that line the beginning and end of this trail.

blackberries and and blueberries along the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail
There are blackberries and blueberries galore!


If you’re keen on experiencing the highest point on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll be in luck, because the Nature Loop Trail is about 1 minute away from the Richard Balsam Overlook. Two birds with one hike, yes, please!

highest point on the blue ridge parkway

As always, if you have questions/comments about any of this, please leave us a message below.

Trail Information – Fast Facts

Before embarking on your adventure, arm yourself with a wealth of knowledge about the trail. The Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail presents:

  • Difficulty: This easy hike is manageable for most people, including families with children.
  • Distance: The 1.5-mile (2.4 km) loop offers a compact yet fulfilling outdoor experience. We recommend you hike it in a counterclockwise direction.
  • Elevation Gain: Prepare for a mild ascent of about 500 feet.
  • Duration: Expect to spend around 1 to 2 hours savoring this trail, depending on your pace and breaks.

Trail Description And Points Of Interest

The Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail is more than just a hike—it’s a therapeutic escape into nature’s embrace. As you wander beneath the soothing canopy of high alpine spruce and fir, the tranquility of the forest resonates deep within. You’ll be able to move a quite a fast pace on the first paved part.

mother and two young boys hiking on the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail

Eventually, the trail gets a bit steep and turns to dirt. Still however, the terrain is not very technical.

boy hiking up rock stairs on the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail

Your effort pays off as you reach the summit of Richard Balsam Mountain, the loftiest peak in the Great Balsam Range. And, while there isn’t much of a view, it’s still a great place to enjoy a snack and bask in the soothing forest.

summit of the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail

The trail’s allure is further magnified by its abundant wildlife and enchanted forest-type feel with blankets of rich green moss and dream-like ferns.

There are a few parts of the trail that, during spring and summer, are quite overgrown, but even these sections are not difficult.

boy hiking on overgrown trail
Kai pushed some of the greenery aside.

If you hike the loop in the counterclockwise direction, the recommended direction, the most difficult part will be once you head back to the parking area, as you’ll be on a downhill section that has some rocks. If the rocks are wet, they can be a bit slippery.

mother and son hiking down a rocky trail
Peri likes a hand on the slick parts.

And on the way up to the summit, if you’re just a little tot, you’ll likely find a few parts a bit challenging. But if you’re over 3 feet tall, you should be totally fine.

boy scrambling up a hiking trail
Kai-Kai has grit!

Bird enthusiasts will revel in the diversity of feathered creatures calling this forest home. Be watchful, and you might spot nimble small mammals navigating the forest floor – And even if you don’t see them, you’ll most certainly hear their songs all along the way. The warmer months bring the forest floor to life as wildflowers burst forth in a riotous display of color.

We believe the best view on the loop is towards the end at the point on our route map labeled “Bench with view.”

view from a bench on the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail
Our favorite viewpoint on the loop. The “bench with view” spot on our route map.

Prepare for the Trek: Recommended Gear

To enhance your experience on the Richard Balsam trail and ensure safety, consider the items we mention in our day hike packing guide – sans all we mention for sun protection, as you won’t need much on the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail. For the distilled version, read below.

  • Comfortable hiking boots: The varying terrain demands sturdy footwear for a safe hike.
  • Water and snacks: Regular hydration and energy-boosting snacks are key.
boy eating skinless green apple
We must go through about 2 bags of green apples weekly! Kai likes them skinned.
  • Weather-appropriate clothing: Be prepared for weather changes by dressing in layers. You’ll be quite high up on this one, so layers and rain gear are a must.
boy wearing a fleece, hat and gloves on the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail
Even during summertime, we bring layers on these high-elevation hikes.
  • Map and compass: Despite well-marked trails, these tools can serve as your safety net.
  • First aid kit: For immediate treatment of minor injuries or discomforts.

Ensuring a Safe Family Adventure: Hiking Safety Tips

While the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail is perfect for families, safety must remain your top priority. Here’s how you can ensure a secure and memorable hiking experience:

  • Trail discipline: Do your best to stay on the designated trail to protect the natural habitat and avoid getting lost. Enjoy the little side trails with caution and always remember to Leave No Trace.
two boys exploring a side trail
We let Peri and Kai explore the side trails, provided they do their best to practice Leave No Trace.
  • Visual contact: Ensure you can always see your family members to prevent separation.
  • Timing: As you’ll be above 6,000 feet (1,800 meters), don’t start this hike too early, as it’ll likely be cold and foggy. Similarly, don’t start this hike too late in the day. A 10AM start time would likely be ideal.
  • Respecting wildlife: Teach kids about the importance of observing wildlife from a safe distance and not feeding them. Also, keep your kids between the adults.
boys hiking on the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail
Julia is up ahead, and I’m in the back. Keeping the kids in the middle is the safest way to hike in these parts.
  • Emergency preparedness: Have a contingency plan for emergencies, and always let someone back home know your hiking plan.

In essence, the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail is more than a mere hike. It’s a journey into the heart of nature, a lesson in ecology, and a testament to the rejuvenating power of the outdoors. With an enchanted forest feel, rich biodiversity, and a simple yet engaging trail design, this family-friendly hike guarantees an unforgettable and mellow day out.

Trail Head And Route

Your journey commences at the trailhead, strategically positioned near the pinnacle of the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Haywood-Jackson Overlook. This is also a great place for a quick bike ride if your kids like that kind of thing.

Boy riding his bike at the Haywood-Jackson overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The route of the Richard Balsam trail is simple to navigate. There are also gray trail marker posts throughout.

boy laying at the trail head of the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail
The trail markers are easy to follow. Peri decided to take a quick pre-hike nap.

Beginning at the overlook parking area, you’ll ascend a gentle paved slope leading you into the thick spruce-fir forest. Eventually, the trail turns to dirt, and increases a bit in incline. As you progress, the loop portion of the trail reveals itself, eventually guiding you back to your starting point.

Route Map

If you’ve read any of our other posts, such as the one on the family-friendly hike at the nearby Flat Creek Trail, you’ll see the same advice we’re about to share below. But…We recommend you download the offline navigation app called GuruMaps. For countless reasons, it’s our top mapping app for offline navigation.

After you’ve downloaded the app, you can then download our route data (the download links are right below in the top right-hand corner of the map), and then you’ll be able to upload the map file into the app. It sounds a bit crazy, but it’s really easy. Once you’ve downloaded and the app and uploaded our route into the app, you’ll be able to follow our annotated route map while you’re experiencing the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail on your own!

And the part we like most…You can navigate using GuruMaps even if you don’t have service or WIFI. Pretty nifty, huh?

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 offline.

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile - Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail


  1. Can I bring my dog to the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail?
    Yes, dogs are welcome but must remain on a leash for their safety and the protection of local wildlife.
  2. Is there an admission fee for the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail?
    No, the trail is free to all, aligning with its mission to make nature accessible to everyone.
  3. When is the ideal time to hike the Richard Balsam Nature Loop Trail?
    The trail is open all year round, though spring through fall typically provides the most enjoyable weather conditions.

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