Flat Laurel Creek is a beautiful hike for families of all sizes. A combination of trails between Flat Laurel Creek, Sam Knob and Little Sam Knob allow a choose your own adventure. The combination of trails and two parking lots allow all types of hiking. Parking at the North parking lot, you can follow a one mile trail to the top of the Sam Knob. Or you can park at the south parking lot and create a 10 mile hike that covers the all types of scenery.
Friends of ours came into town for a long weekend and we searched out many different types of events. The two couples went down to Dupont Forest for the Three Waterfall Hike during a weekday to beat some crowds. Since it was a popular weekend in the spring, so we searched for less popular hike for Saturday. We picked out a four mile loop that circled the valley between Sam Knob and Little Sam Knob. We left the house later than normal and arrived in the area around 10am. Graveyard Fields was packed and parking was down the side of the road for Black Balsam. We pulled into the last two parking spots at the end of Black Balsam Road. After a bit of confusion on supplies and plans, we started off down the south side of the parking lot.
Exploring the Sam Knob Valley!
The Flat Laurel Creek trail descends from the parking lot on Black Balsam Road and starts circling the valley. The trail provides a variety of scenery as it crosses small streams and pokes out into wide open views. At some points in the trail, the tributary creeks flow alongside and within the trail. Avoiding the water took some work and waterproof shoes are highly recommended.
Our group took a leisurely pace, stopping for the different flowers, shiny rocks and puddle splashing. The trail gets a bit rough with large rocks strewn across the trail. The hike pass Little Sam Knob was our first high elevation hike besides Max Patch. We enjoyed the different types of trees and bushes along the trail. The diversity in the region is mind blowing. Heading a dozen miles in any direction ranges from high altitude at 6000 feet mini alpine zones to roaring creek beds covered in ferns and rhododendrons.
Our friend Shawn brought his hand made fly fishing rod in case we came across a good section on the Flat Laurel Creek. Since our daughter was getting restless, we followed a side trail down the valley to a good picnic spot. Sitting down for lunch and Shawn went skipping down the bank to go fishing. We stayed in place lounging and enjoying the sounds of the creek. We found a big crawdad giving a perfect show and tell moment.
Hopping along the rocks we found a swirl in the river with an abundance of baby salamanders. Everyone enjoyed watching them move around the rocks. Eventually we realized Shawn hadn’t come back so it was time to go check up on him. I found him ambling back towards the group with a huge grin. His expedition went perfectly for him, he was able to catch and release three different Brook Trout on his first ever high elevation trout fishing. If interested in your own collapsible fly fishing rod, Shawn designs the rod to your specifications crafting each step before signing off. You can find him on Instagram @ Desantis_shawn. If you mention this site he will give a discount on your own custom fly rod.
Laurel Creek or Sam Knob?
We packed up our picnic and continued down the trail. We started passing a few other groups on the trail and came across an intersection. The trail was called Flat Laurel Creek Loop, but the route that headed across the valley was called Sam Knob. We did not plan on climbing to the top of Sam Knob, so the marker confused the group. Remember that part about confusion in the parking lot? We had looked up other items in the parking lot on our phones and forgot to download a map.
In other situations, we would have turned around and not risked getting lost. The group over packed on gear, snacks and water so we continued down Flat Laurel Creek trail waiting for the cut back North. Our group continued on in high spirits and enjoying the scenery. We passed a set of cascades called the Flat Laurel Creek Cascades which was a pleasant surprise. We did not climb down to the creek for pictures as we were unsure of our location on the trail.
Eventually the trail made a turn south and our group put together our mental images of the map. The compass confirmed we turned south, and we recalled there was a parking lot a few miles down the trail in that direction, but we obviously missed our turn. At this moment a group came down the trail from the opposite direction with a paper copy of a map. Realizing the time and the total distance covered, we all decided to turn around and walk out the exact way we came in.
A long march back
Our long trek out followed the Laurel Creek trail all the way back to the parking lot. We made good time on the hike back to our cars. About halfway back we called a long water break, laughing about a group of old scouts getting lost on a perfectly marked trail. We all took out the tons of extra water bottles and had everyone drink them so we could avoid carrying it all the way back. The break was nice to catch up and reflect on the weekend full of trips.
After some fun group photos, we picked up the packs, loaded up the sleepy baby and started the final portion on tired legs. The sun was slamming us the trail during the walk back. I was glad to see the parking lot across the valley before walking the final mile. Our daughter fell asleep in the carrier and we made the last hundred yards in a tired reflection of the trip.
Overall we had a wonderful time on the trip with good friends. The trip serves as a good reminder to not get complacent on our hikes, even if the trips are on well traveled trails. Without the extra supplies or the group remembering the trail did not curve south, we could have turned a 3.5 mile trip into a 10+ mile hike. In the end, we traveled close to five miles on the trail making the trip our longest hike carrying the baby pack. We enjoyed the trip and plan on heading back to the area to hike the real Sam Knob trail and also check out Black Balsam Trail in the same area.