Our final day is sunny and lovely. The morning sun slants through the trees and across ferny glades illuminating the landscape behind Laurel Gap in a soft glow. I am truly drawn to this spot and hope to return. We are on the trail by 8:40, and like horses headed to the barn, we can smell the real food, hot showers, and comfy mattresses of Cherokee, NC. In high spirits and yakking away, we are hardly aware of the 1,000’ descent over 4.1 miles in 2 hours and 10 minutes.
On the way down, we do manage to notice some late summer plants in flower including Southern Harebell, Mountain Spiderwort, a species of False Foxglove, Hawkweed, and Jumpseed, a plant whose chevron-marked foliage is so visible on the forest floor in spring. There is a particularly striking blue-purple mushroom with a shiny cap. I think it is Cortinarius iodes, Spotted or Viscid Violet Cortinarius.
Balsam Mountain Trail is a delightful walking trail. When approached from the AT, it presents a gentle downward grade (1,500’) over 10.1 miles. The trailhead at Balsam Mountain Road is at 4,400’ elevation, and the climb up to Tricorner Knob would be relatively easy and enjoyable. This is definitely a trail I’d like to see in other seasons, particularly spring.
At the trailhead, we take our final photo and head for civilization. We stop at the first fast food joint we see – Hardee’s – for lunch and top it off with soft-serve ice cream from Dairy Queen. After checking into the Best Western and luxuriating in long showers, or a bath in Mary’s case, we relax and laugh at the afternoon rain storm outside. A hearty dinner at Lulu’s in Sylva and a bottle of white wine are appropriate finishing touches to this wonderful trip.