Hike to Green Knob
Sunburst Campground

Green Knob in Middle Prong Wilderness

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If you're in for a challenge, a superb(ly terrible) workout for your quads, or just all around "see how good of shape I'm in" hike, this is the one for you!

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Green Knob is a open bald, elevation right around 5,900 feet.  The climb to it from Sunburst Campground gains 3,000 feet in three and a half unrelenting uphill miles.  That averages out to a 16% grade; however, the first 0.6 mile climbs 1200 feet, making that section a 38% grade!!  Click the profile image below for a larger image.

Elevation Profile

That first 0.6 mile goes through thick rhododendron growth, and you'll find yourself climbing by pulling yourself up the trail with your arms as well your legs.   I had a hiking pole pushing up the slope in one hand, the other hand pulling myself up using the nearest rhodo branch, and my legs climbing their little hearts out!

The trail in this section is easy to follow, and other than being incredibly steep, does not require any special climbing skills other than good conditioning.

You come to several short, flat sections which gives your body a break from the climbing, and each offers great views off to the east and west.

Flat Section along Green Knob Trail
Along Green Knob Trail
Long Range Views from Green Knob Trail

Due to the steady elevation gain, over the course of these 3.5 miles, you go through differing vegetation zones, starting first in thick rhododendrons, progressing then to hemlocks and spruces, and ending at the top on a scruffy, rocky, grassy open bald.

Another indication of the variations in weather and climate along this elevation range was that even though we were doing this hike on a 70 degree late March day, nearing the top we saw quite a few patches of lingering snow!

Snow on Green Knob

Almost right adjacent to the snow, we spotted some early crocuses!!


While most of my hikes are done solo, I did this one with the Carolina Mountain Club, and was glad that I did.  The 3 1/2 - 4 hours of steady, uphill climbing that is required to reach Green Knob via this route, is a LONG time, and the camaraderie of the other hikers made that time much more pleasant for me than if I'd been doing this alone! 

Once you reach the top of Green Knob, lunch never tasted so good!  Great food, great scenery, a steady breeze, and lots of grassy patches on which to stretch out.

Lunch spot at the top of Green Knob Lunch spot at the top of Green Knob
Lunch spot at the top of Green Knob Lunch spot at the top of Green Knob

The bottom right photo shows a view of Flat Laurel Creek nestled between Sam's Knob on the left and Little Sam's Knob on the right.  Looking north (left) from this vantage point gives you a glimpse of a waterfall on Sam's Branch creek.

From Green Knob, if one continues south on this trail for another 1.5 to 2 miles, you will come to the Mountains to Sea Trail.  Our group however, bushwhacked west to join up with Buckeye Gap trail, following it to Haywood Gap trail.

This section included a long, steady downhill stretch that followed Grassy Ridge Branch downstream to its junction with the Middle Prong River.

Grassy Ridge Branch River Valley

At the point where Haywood Gap Trail meets the juncture of Middle Prong and Big Beartrap Branch, one has a major creek crossing, with two beautiful waterfalls to enjoy.  The day our group did this, the water was about mid calf high.

Juncture of Middle Prong River and Big Beartrap Branch

I was standing in the middle of the creek to take this photo
(Haywood Gap Trail crosses here)

Following this crossing, one has a very easy 2.6 miles of hiking remaining, continuing to follow the Middle Prong River downstream.   A little over a mile after the creek crossing, the trail comes to its end, joining FR97.  The final 1.5 miles is hiked along this (normally gated) forest service road.  FR97 joins highway 215 at the Sunburst Campground.

The final mile along Haywood Gap Trail beyond the big creek crossing includes two other smaller creek crossings, each complete with a waterfall of their own ... one on Little Beartrap Branch, and one on an  un-named little creek joining Little Beartrap Branch.

Waterfall on Little Beartrap Creek

Total distance 9 miles.  Our group spent 8 hours doing this hike, which included a 45 minute lunch stop on the top of Green Knob, another 45 minute stop at the big creek crossing, as well as other shorter stops throughout the day.

NOTE:  This loop is entirely in the Middle Prong Wilderness area, which means the trails are un-blazed.   MOST of the route had trails that were "barely there" .... difficult, if not impossible in some places to find and follow.  If you hike in this area, be sure that you have good map reading skills and compass, and/or GPS (and know how to use them!).  

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