Fall Colors Tour (Wayah Bald Lookout)

Fall Colors Tour (Wayah Bald Lookout)

Due to some scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t able to ride up to North Carolina with Eddie and John.  So, I got an early start the following morning and was able to join them just after noon.  They had visited Dry Falls in the morning.  I had already been there in June, when Lori and I rented the lake house in Robbinsville, so – while it would have been nice to go with them – I didn’t miss out on seeing something new.  It was nice of the guys to adjust their schedule so I wouldn’t miss any new experiences.

Once we joined up, Keith, the group member who now lives in Franklin, guided the 3 of us out to the destination I had specifically suggested we visit.

Wayah Bald has a vantage point of 5,342 ft. in elevation in the Nantahala National Forest, and is only a short 18 mile ride from downtown Franklin. It is said that on a clear day you can see north to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and south into the rolling hills of Georgia.

The discussion during trip planning had raised some questions as to whether we would be able to get up to the site.  While the majority of the ride there was on paved roads, the last couple of miles was up a gravel forestry service road.  I figured that I had the best chance of making it since I ride an adventure bike.  It is purpose built for rides that are a combination of paved and unpaved roads.  The sport touring bikes, like Eddie’s FJR, would be second most likely to make the trip up, and the Harley, and Harley-Like, riders in the group would likely shun any thought of riding on gravel.  In the end, that is exactly how the ride up, broke out.  So Eddie and I took the ride up to the tower and Keith, who has been there many times anyway, and John headed back into town.

The ride up, turned out to be much easier than expected.  In fact, the Harley guys could have easily ridden up as well.  The forestry service road was hard packed to the point of being nearly a paved road.  There was a sprinkling of small loose gravel in the center and at the edges, a few slightly wash-boarded spots, and a couple of spots where there were some minor ruts, which could pretty easily be avoided.  Eddie and I rode up at around 20 mph.

When we reached the summit we found a parking area which could accommodate roughly 10-15 cars.  So, we parked the bikes, grabbed our cameras, and took the short hike from the summit parking area to the old stone lookout tower.  (Note: Forest Service Road 69, which runs from Wayah Road to the summit parking area, is closed January-March.) 

The lookout, which provides panoramic views of the southern Appalachian mountain chain, sits along both the Appalachian Trail and Bartram Trail.  Built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the lookout provided fire detection services until it was decommissioned in 1945.  In 2007, it was listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.

The original structure had an interior stairway to the second story, where an external wooden catwalk encircled a public observation level enclosed by 12 windows. The third story had 16 windows providing a 360-degree view of the Nantahala National Forest, housed fire-detecting equipment, and served as the lookout.  In 1947, two years after being decommissioned, the forest service removed the upper levels of the tower for safety reasons.

Wayah is a Cherokee word for “wolf,” and the bald was named for the red wolves that roamed in abundance here.

Sadly, a wildfire burned across the bald in the fall of 2016.  That fire burned the tower’s historic wood roof. In my video below, you’ll see the burned trees at the summit, but the entire drive up the mountain, both paved and unpaved roads, is damage free and very beautiful.


Wayah Bald Lookout Tower from Changing Gears on Vimeo.

Wayah Bald Lookout Tower

One Reply to “Fall Colors Tour (Wayah Bald Lookout)”

  1. Glad we went up there Steve. It was an awesomly beautiful views. Since I already knew the road up there, I would ride there again, even If I had a cruiser bike.