This is a nice loop that can be completed as an overnight backpacking trip or can be done in a long day if you really power through. The top of Sam Knob has some pretty spectacular views, and there is a bridge that crosses a picturesque waterfall. There are several sources for water along the trail.
The Sam Knob lot serves as the base point for both the wildly popular Sam Knob and the wildly popular Black Balsam hikes. Parking at the Sam Knob lot and back along the road for almost a mile is always, always packed during the day (seriously, that lot is more than 3/4 full at 2 a.m.) and represents an enormous pain and time-waste. A better idea: give serious thought to parking at the small lot at the bottom of Flat Laurel Creek Trail
, or in the small pull-off where the Mountains-to-Sea Trail crosses the road. There are two advantages to this: those lots are never full, and you'll get the difficult climb of the M2S out of the way when your legs are fresh, leaving the easy descent down Flat Laurel for last. If you start the loop from the Sam Knob lot, you end up doing the descent when your legs are fresh, then must slog up the largest climb on the route when you've already done quite some distance and are tired.
The Sam Knob Trail
starts in a meadow, right up to the base of Sam Knob, where you'll have the option to continue the loop or take a little side trip to the top of the Knob. Once you descend from the mountain and continue on the trail, you'll descend into a forest, where the trail crosses the creek a few times joining with the Flat Laurel Creek Trail
. Along the way, there will be several excellent campsites, both for tent campers and hammock hangers.
Continuing on, the trail follows a ridge, so there will be excellent views of a valley along much of the way. The Flat Laurel Creek Trail
will cross a creek one more time, and then it will end at a parking lot. At this point, run up to the street, staying on the left side as you run up the road. Be on the lookout, because after about half a mile the Mountains-to-Sea Trail will cross the road, and you need to get on it!
From this point, the trail will be uphill. In about 1.5 miles, you'll come across an intersection and have the opportunity to go to the top of Devil's Courthouse
. Past this, the run opens up into mostly meadows, providing great views of Sam Knob and Little Sam Knob as you run around them. Cross a creek once more, and head up to the top of the hill on the Flat Laurel Creek Trail
where it ends at the parking lot where you started.
This area is know for black bear activity, so be prepared to properly secure your food so as not to share it with the wildlife!