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Colbert Ridge Trail and Buncombe Horse Range Trail loop - Pisgah National Forest, NC

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
13.6 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:

9 hours and 30 minutes with 2 hours of breaks, or 2 days of backpacking
4,290 ft
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Park at the Colbert Ridge Trailhead on Rock Creek Road. 35.80642, -82.20567

By Trail Contributor: Zach Robbins ( Contact Zach )

The Colbert Ridge Trail is one of the toughest trails in the Black Mountains and is considered one of the most difficult trails in North Carolina. Compared to the nearby Woody Ridge Trail it is not as steep, but it makes up for it with similar elevation change of ~3,000 feet over its 3.9-mile length and treacherous footing along the uppermost mile of trail. The Colbert Ridge Trail features multiple dry campsites and two nice views around the 2-mile mark, but is mostly an arduous uphill trek to Deep Gap.

Instead of turning around at Deep Gap, you can continue hiking the Black Mountain Crest Trail up and over some of the highest peaks in the East to form a loop with the Buncombe Horse Range Trail. This is one of the toughest day hikes in North Carolina under 15 miles that does not require a shuttle. From the Colbert Ridge Trailhead, you will climb 3,700 feet in 4.9 miles to the summit of Potato Hill, one of the longest continuous climbs in the state. After summiting Balsam Cone, the 5th highest peak in the East, you will then face a precarious 850-foot descent in 0.7-mi to connect with the Buncombe Horse Range Trail. This trail offers a brief respite at Maple Camp Bald, with wonderful views of the central Black Mountains and the peaks surrounding the South Toe River valley. After this pit stop you will resume your descent, dropping ~2,500 feet in 4 miles towards the valley. Near the valley floor you will follow rocky forest roads back to civilization to complete your loop. This is feasible as a day hike for some, but most hikers may want to tackle this as a weekend backpacking trip by camping at either Deep Gap or Maple Camp Bald.

Alternate parking – You can also park at the Buncombe Horse Range Trailhead off of Colberts Creek Road, or park along on the road itself since the parking access is steep for low-clearance 2WD vehicles.

Nearby hike options:
Green Knob Trail
Mount Mitchell Trail
Roaring Fork Falls
Setrock Creek Falls and South Toe River
Woody Ridge Trail and Colbert Ridge Trail loop

Mile  Summary and Highlights
0.0 - Colbert Ridge Trailhead parking
2.0 - Two rocky knobs on Colbert Ridge with views
3.9 - Deep Gap - begin following Black Mountain Crest Trail past campsites
4.9 - Potato Hill summit (6,475 feet)
6.0 - Balsam Cone summit (6,620 feet)
6.3 - Big Tom Gap Trail junction
6.7 - Buncombe Horse Range Trail junction
7.3 - Maple Camp Bald views and campsites
12.9 - Buncombe Horse Range Trailhead parking
Early July
Colbert Ridge Trail
Colbert Ridge Trail and Buncombe Horse Range Trail Hike Comments
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