This is a great run along the ridge with excellent views of the Smokies. Balsam Mountain Trail is a roughly ten-mile trail that heads north towards Laurel Gap and the Appalachian Trail. BMT is also a notable part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail: Segment 1
. The trailhead is along this segment, nearby Palmer Creek Trail
. This is also a horse trail, so some portions of the trail can be muddy.
Heading north, runners will come across Balsam High Top and Ledge Bald (a nice spot to take a break) and have the option of branching to the left along Mount Sterling Ridge Trail
towards the breathtaking Mt. Sterling fire tower.
Just past the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail
is the Gunter Fork Trail
, which leads to Campsites #36 and #37.
About 4.3 miles into the trail is the Laurel Gap Shelter. It's important to note that a permit must be acquired through the park in order to stay at this shelter.
At 6.9 miles in, runners will reach Luftee Knob and Thermo Knob, before passing Mount Yonaguska and Mount Hardison. Yonaguska is named after a Cherokee Chief, and Hardison after James A. Hardison, who helped in the creation of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The trail comes to an end at the Appalachian Trail, where runners can either head north towards the Cosby Knob Shelter or south towards the Pecks Corner Shelter.
The Smokies are home to more than 1,600 species of plants, most of which produce an abundance of flowers in the spring. These species include mountain laurel, rhododendron, azalea, and many others. Spring wildflowers peak from early April through late May. To learn more about the plants of the Smokies and even get a trees and shrubs checklist, visit the park's website
As for local fauna, black bears are common in the area, along with white-tailed deer and 31 species of salamanders. Birdwatchers can spot a variety of species, notably the northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) and red-eyed vireo (Vireo olivaceus). For more information on black bears, refer to this webpage