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Green Knob Trail from Sunburst is a 8.7 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Canton, North Carolina that features a waterfall and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Distance: 8.7 miles Elevation Gain: 3,024 feet Route Type: Loop

dogs on leash

backpacking

hiking

nature trips

bird watching

forest

river

views

waterfall

wild flowers

blowdown

rocky

scramble

off trail

historic site

This was a beautiful, remote, and extremely challenging winter dayhike. We began hiking at 7:45 AM and reached our cars 10 hours later as the sun was going down. It was sunny but in the low 30s. Hiking in the winter, the views were expansive and the undergrowth tame. The beginning of this hike, from route 215 up to the summit of Green Knob, is monstrous. The trail climbs 2800 feet in around 3 miles of hiking, but some of it, especially during the first 45 minutes or so, was at an almost comically steep grade. It's not just that the overall trail grade is steep - I've done plenty of hikes, such as the Cabin Trail in Linville Gorge and some of the headwall trails in New Hampshire, that are comparable. The uniquely sadistic challenge here is that the trail has no steps -- it's just an insanely steep ramp covered in a thick bed of leaf litter. So you climb with your feet dorsiflexed as far as they go, stretching your calves out, and you're leaning way over the slope. Thankfully there are enough trees lining the trail to serve as a railing of sorts, and trekking poles help. The first 45 minutes were barbaric, after that the trail reaches some knobs on the ridgeline where there's at least a brief respite before some shorter bursts where the trail just goes straight up again. Hard as it was, having good conditioning makes this quite doable. The challenge was more muscular than cardiovascular. I can't imagine descending it, though, I'd be on my butt sliding down most of the way... There were open views to the northeast of Cold Mountain in the foreground, and amazingly we could see the Smokies in the distance. It took us about 3:15 to reach the summit of Green Knob, where there's an east facing open ledge with stunning views of the Shining Rock Wilderness and the non-Wilderness landmarks to the south. The view looks directly at Sam Knob, with Black Balsam Knob looming behind it. To the south Devil's Courthouse and Chestnut knob were in view, to the north one could easily make out Grassy Cove Top and Shining Rock within the Wilderness. After Green Knob the trail descends a bit, goes over some small subsidiary knobs, and crosses the MST. There is NOT much descent here - the MST is probably at 5700 feet where it meets the Green Mountain Trail, less than 300 feet below the summit of Green Knob - you're really still up on the Fork Ridge crest. From that point we decided to climb Mt. Hardy, a 6000 footer just 300 feet above us. It was decent 1-2 mile round trip hike and mostly a bushwhack. We could barely make out a trail on the way up and couldn't find it at all on the way down. But the winter undergrowth was very tame, and we uneventfully hooked back up with the MST. The Buckeye Gap Trail was a delight for the first stretch, which follows an old logging railroad along the west flank of Fork Ridge. There are old rotting railroad ties, esp in the many springs and rivulets flowing down the ridge. Eventually the trail turns west and just plunges down the hillside. It's steep but not inhuman - except given what our legs felt like by that point in the hike. On Buckeye Gap there were a number of stream crossings, some of which were easy, some took a minute of planning, and some which where challenging, requiring a foot on a stone in the water and a vaulting leap to the other bank. Finally Buckeye Gap ends on the Haywood Gap trail at about 3900 feet. A short hike gets you to a majestic double waterfall, maybe 10-15 feet high, but dramatic. That's the good news. The bad news is from this spot you have to ford the river, maybe 20-30 feet wide, to get to the trail on the other side. My friend shimmied over the river on a fallen tree, which was suspended about 8 feet over a waterfall. I just hiked up my pants legs and walked through the water at what looked like the shallowest point, with boots on and all - I knew I should have brought my water shoes... The water was as cold as one would expect for January at 4000 feet. Actually, despite walking the next 2-3 miles with my feet wet, it felt pretty good as sore as my feet were. Beyond the crossing, the trail is quite easy and eventually comes out on the forest service logging road just after crossing a beautiful two-tiered waterfall. It's possible to bushwhack by some of the long switchbacks on the logging road, which eventually empties out on rt 215 right next to the trailhead. Other than on Mt Hardy the trails were all easy to follow; though GPS helped a lot. The trail conditions were good. Up on top of Fork Ridge there were a number of fallen rhododendrons blocking the trail. There was also quite a bit of deadfall on the lower reaches of Buckeye Gap. This was a nice long loop that I'd recommend for someone looking for a challenge and solitude in a pristine wilderness.

This trail is great if you are looking for a good challenge. From the road to the top of Green Knob is intense uphill. After the top of the knob my app indicated there was a trail that dropped immediately down to the buckeye gap trail, but even walking back and forth over where it should have been with the gps I couldn’t find it and ended up bushwhacking down to the buckeye gap trail. Fairly easy bushwhack as the woods in that section are pretty open. I did end up finding the cut through trail just as I was meeting buckeye gap trail, but it was very overgrown so be aware if you are looking for the cut through. The rest of the trail is a nice hike through the forest and along the stream before joining the forest service road back to the road.

hiking
bridge out
bugs
muddy
off trail
over grown
rocky
scramble
9 months ago

This "trail" is crazy... in both good and bad ways. It’s really more a system of logging roads/goat trails where a machete would have been nice. I walked almost 14 miles in total. In retrospect I would have taken a much lighter pack and someone who had been here before. I second that this is not a good fit for anyone not comfortable with being lost in remote, extremely rugged terrain. I relied on GPS to get back on course several times and even then I got turned around and confused multiple times. I am not sure what the best way up is, but going counterclockwise, the first two miles is gravel. The "trail" then leads you pointlessly straight uphill through shin deep leaf litter only to get back to the road. Next, you schlog directly up a creek that turns into a beautiful but vertical tree root system overtop of a thick mossy underground spring. All that said it’s a Stunning landscape and tons of amazing unique fauna and flora of Western NC. The views really aren’t really worth the punishment but I'm glad I did it in the end.

hiking
11 months ago

I'd guess I lost the trail 5 or 6 times leading to rough bushwhacking up and down creek banks through heavy brush in an attempt to find it again. I started off on the left leg of the loop and probably fell down 10 times during the last mile which was straight down on loose soil/leaves. It was a punishing hike but not busy and is rewarding.

hiking
Sat Dec 15 2018

Made sure I saw everything I wanted to see ‘cause I won’t be there again! Great Hike! So glad I did it!!!

backpacking
Sun Apr 22 2018

Amazing.

backpacking
Tue Sep 26 2017

Unquestionably the most menacing hill I've done in the combined Shining Rock / Middle Prong wildernesses. The trail begins unceremoniously just a few yards beyond the bridge coming from the Sunburst campground. Once you manage to top the ridge, the trail frequently vanishes, but is recoverable by remaining on the ridge-line while favoring the left side. I actually descended it coming up from the MST to loop back via the Fork Ridge. My toe nails were black for months afterward! A brutal trail, but worth a tale!

hiking
Wed Jun 21 2017

Hiked this trail over 2 years back. Absolutely loved it! However, use extreme caution, this trail isn't marked and the way up is steep at first. Also, because there aren't any blazes, I didn't know it was a loop trail, so I ended up hiking back the way I came.

Sun Apr 23 2017

Take heed when it says "very experienced adventurers." We weren't aware that this pieced together a couple of trails, and we needed GPS to trail blaze to stay with this route. I'm glad we did it, but won't do it again!!! Haha!!

hiking
Sat Jan 05 2019

hiking
Sat Nov 05 2016

Tue May 13 2014