WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA LOOKOUT TOWERS
Nanatahala National Forest
Mileages are listed one way; double the distance for round trip length. Various routes are listed, depending on the hiker’s desire as to length of trip. Many can be incorporated into loops or shuttle hikes. Any of the routes are acceptable to meet the Challenge requirement. For some towers, other routes are possible but must meet mileage requirements. Check with the Challenge Committee to confirm other routes in question.
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Situated along both the Appalachian Trail and Bartram Trail, Wayah Bald was built by the CCC in the 1930s. Once a 53-foot tall, three story stone lookout, faulty mortar led to its decommissioning in the 1940s. Later, the USFS removed half of its structure for conversion to a public observation tower. Wayah Bald features breathtaking views of the entire Nantahala National Forest and extends to the Great Smoky, Unicoi, and Great Balsam mountain ranges as well as into Georgia.
Appalachian Trail via Wine Spring Bald access trail from FS 69B (1.5)
Appalachian Trail from Wilson Lick Ranger Station (3.2)
Appalachian Trail from Wayah Gap at Wayah Crest Picnic Area (4.2)
Appalachian Trail from Burningtown Gap (4.5)
Bartram Trail From Nantahala Lake (7.3)
Bartram Trail From FS 713 at Harrison Gap (5.3)
A 30 ft. live-in USFS lookout, Panther Top it the western most NC fire tower and sits perched on a peninsula jutting out into the Hiwassee Lake. Built in 1940 by the CCC, its road accessing the summit is opened for vehicular access for several weekends each autumn by the Tusquitee District of the Nantahala National Forest. The tower features a stone monument underneath the tower commemorating its listing in the National Historic Lookout Register. Panther Top was staffed by the USFS until 1971 and then periodically by the NCFS thereafter. The tower is accompanied by a popular ‘geocache’ located nearby.
FS 85 Access Road (0.75)
Rising high between Andrews and Robbinsville at the crest of the Snowbird Mountains, Joanna Bald is a 31ft. live-in lookout built in 1952 which replaced a wooden lookout house with a cupola. Staffed through the early 2000s, its use for fire detection ceased due to state budget cuts. This lookout was staffed by FFLA member Marshall McClung during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Upon completion of structural repairs, McClung will once again staff the tower as a volunteer during periodic lookout tower access dates. Joanna Bald features spectacular views of the Nantahala, Snowbird, Unicoi, and Cheoah Mountains.
Joanna Bald FS 423B Access Road (0.6)
Albert Mountain took over fire detection duties from the lookout house on nearby Standing Indian Mountain on the opposite rim of the Nantahala River Basin in 1951. Built to compliment a lookout cabin on the summit, it also replaced a wooden lookout tower one half mile north on the peak of Big Pinnacle Mountain. It overlooks the deep Nantahala River Basin to the west and the steep sloped Coweeta Hydrological Laboratory to the east. Over 10 other current or former lookout tower summits are visible from this tower. Its views also extend into Georgia as well as the Great Smoky Mountains. Located directly on the Appalachian Trail, one route to this tower features a brutally steep, hand-over-hand climb up abrupt slopes that lives in infamy among AT thru-hikers.
Bearpen Trail & AT (2.9)
Albert Mountain Access Trail & AT (0.5)
Albert Mountain Short Loop /w FS 69 (1.0)
AT From Mooney Gap (2.5)
Built 1936 by the CCC, this 30 ft. former live-in lookout on the Appalachian Trail offers stunning views of the Nantahala, Snowbird, Unicoi, and Great Smoky Mountains while hovering just above the canyon-like southern rim of the Nantahala River Gorge. Most are unaware of Wesser Bald’s significance in revitalizing the Appalachian Trail when first ever thru-hiker Earl Shaffer spent the night in the tower during his 1948 epic journey. In awe of his quest, the tower watchman radioed ahead to lookouts further north on the trail and word eventually spread into trail towns and into the media. Becoming overgrown and forgotten during a post-World Ward II slump, the AT gained national popularity after word of Shaffer’s hike got out from the Wesser Bald lookout. The live-in cab was destroyed by arson in 1979 and replaced in the early 1990s by the USFS with an observation deck for hikers.
AT From Tellico Gap (1.9)
Old Jeep Road from Tellico Gap (0.9)
AT from Nantahala Gorge (6.5)
Wesser Creek Trail (4.3)
Steeped in Native American and pioneer history, the summit of Cowee Bald hosts another 30 ft. live-in USFS lookout tower. Built in 1933 by the CCC at the crest of the Cowee Mountains, it overlooks the Macon County seat of Franklin with superb views of the Nantahala, Great Smoky, Plott Balsam, and Great Balsam Mountains. Used for fire detection through the mid-1990s, Cowee Bald look also overlooks the nearby Big Laurel, a peculiar high altitude “hanging valley”. Accessible within a half mile by vehicle, Cowee Bald shares the summit with numerous other communication and meteorological towers.
FS 70 Access Road (0.5)
Atop the highest peak in the Cowee Mountains, this 1934 CCC-built stone lookout house is among only two of its kind remaining in the southeastern United States. Staffed until 1969, Yellow Mountain lookout tower fell into disrepair until the mid-1980s when USFS employee Ron Carnes led a restoration effort to rehabilitate the tower to its former condition. Its central location among mountain ranges enables a spectacular vantage point of the Great Smoky Mountains, Plott Balsams, Cowees, Nantahalas, and Great Balsams as well as into the Georgia and South Carolina high country. Reach it by hiking the 5 mile Yellow Mountain Trail starting near the quaint town of Highlands.
Yellow Mountain Trail (4.9)
Steward Cove/Buck Creek Trail (4.2)
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