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The Balsam Mountain section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) in North Carolina is one of the parks highest elevation areas accessible by car. Because of its more secluded location, it is far less crowded than other areas of the GSMNP. It also has great hiking, camping, picnicking and views.

Other than hiking in from other parts of the national park, the only access into Balsam Mountain is by taking the Blue Ridge Parkway to Balsam Mountain Road which is a well maintained paved road. Balsam Mountain Road is closed during the winter and the Blue Ridge Parkway does close often due to snow.

You can leave Balsam Mountain either via Balsam Mountain Road or if you want a real adventure, via a very primitive 1 way dirt road, the Heintooga Ridge Road. After about 12 miles Heintooga Ridge Road become the equally primate 2 way dirt road named Straight Fork.

The views along Heintooga Ridge Road are wonderful, especially in the fall, however no trailers or campers are allowed on it. When you take Heintooga Ridge to Straight Fork you will eventually end up at Big Cove Road which brings you right into Cherokee North Carolina.

Masonic Monument in Balsam Mountain North Carolina area of GSMNP

Balsam Mountain Steps to Masonic Monument
Steps to Masonic Marker Monument: Balsam Mtn
Balsam Mountain Masonic Monument
The Masonic Monument in Balsam Mountain NC

One of the more unusual things you will find in the North Carolina Great Smoky Mountains is the Masonic Marker Monument at the Intersection Where the Blue Ridge Parkway meets the Balsam Mountain section of the Great Smoky Mountains National park on Balsam Mountain Road.

There is a small parking area where you will see a walkway and grass field often occupied by one of the around 200 elk in the Smokies. Take the walkway to the staircase right up to the Masonic Marker.

This unusual monument marks the spot where the world's largest and oldest fraternal organization, the Masons, have held their summer assembly since 1935.

Masons around the world helped with this markers erecting in 1938 by contributing the 687 stones that form this marker from the various states and 41 nations. The Masonic monument marker is constricted with stones from every continent including Antarctica. Some of the stones are from the White House, Plymouth Rock, the Alamo, and the Rock of Gibraltar.

Balsam Mountain/Heintooga Picnic Area in North Carolina GSMNP

The Heintooga Balsam Mountain picnic area in the Great Smoky Mountain national park is certainly out of the way, but well worth the trip from wherever you live or are staying in the Smokies.

Tucked at the far end on the paved Balsam Mountain Road just before it becomes the Heintooga Ridge Road one way dirt road, is the parking circle for the Balsam Heintooga picnic area, the national parks most picturesque picnic area which is also the parks highest elevation picnic area (5,320 feet) as well.

Picnic Area in Balsam Mountain Heintooga
Picnic Area in Balsam Mountain Heintooga
Balsam Mountain Restrooms at Picnic Area
Balsam Mountain Restrooms by Picnic Area

The Balsam Mountain picnic area does not have a pavilion, but it does have 41 picnic sites at the top of the steps which all have picnic tables with benches. Each site has its own charcoal grill.

Beside the beauty of the surrounding scenery in the picnic area, about half of the tables are actually huge handmade stone slabs with split log benches. These one of a kind tables we made by stone masons in the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930's and are a standing testament to craftsmanship and natural beauty.

There are drinking fountains and running water in the bathrooms which are open when the picnic area is.

The Balsam Mountain Heintooga picnic area is not handicapped assessable.

Hiking Trails in the Balsam Mountain/Heintooga Area North Carolina GSMNP

One of the most common questions asked is "where is the best hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains national park?" and more often than not people in the know say "Balsam Mountain" referring to one the parks best kept secret. These trails are never crowded and are all beautiful to hike on year round.

While there are many special hiking trails in the GSMNP, the only trail that stays entirely in the Balsam Mountain area, Flat Creek Falls is for hikers only and is just 2.4 miles one direction and depending on which way you start, ends up at or starts at a bench with a beautiful mountain view by a water fountain.

The Flat Creek Falls waterfall is off trial, is not well marked or is easy to access so it is best left to those in excellent condition who can navigate steep off trail areas.

The other hiking trails in the Balsam Mountain / Heintooga area are all dual use for hikers and equestrian activity. When Balsam Road is closed to vehicles, it is still an excellent roadway to hike with some nice views and wildlife potential, especially elk.

Camping in the Balsam Mountain/Heintooga Area North Carolina GSMNP

If you want to stay at one of the nicest campgrounds on the Great Smoky Mountains national park that is also the highest campgrounds east of the Mississippi at 5,310 feet, you want to be staying at the Balsam Mountains campgrounds off Balsam Mountain Road.

Check in Area at Balsam Mountain Campgrounds
Check in Area at Balsam Mountain Campgrounds
Tent Campsite at Balsam Mountain Campgrounds
Tent Campsite at Balsam Mountain Campgrounds

In the Balsam Mountain Campgrounds there are a total of 46 sites for either tent camping and camping with Recreational Vehicles that are 30 feet long or shorter. Some of these frontcountry camp sites are tent camping only, some of which are accessible.

All campsites sites have a picnic table and fire ring. Campers have access to food storage lockers.

There are accessible bathrooms with running water as well as accessible drinking fountains in Balsam Mountain. There is also a campfire circle area for groups and special events.

No campsites in Balsam Mountain have electrical or water hookups nor is there a dump station. Horses are not allowed in the campgrounds.

Bathrooms at Balsam Mountain Campgrounds
Bathrooms at Balsam Mountain Campgrounds
Balsam Mountain Campgrounds Circle Area
Balsam Mountain Campgrounds Fire Circle Area