Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on October 11, 2023.
Wayah Bald Lookout Tower is a historic lookout tower in North Carolina (near Franklin) that sits atop Wayah Bald at 5,342 feet. The decommissioned stone lookout tower is a popular stop along the popular Bartram Trail, and it’s also an important landmark along the Appalachian Trail.
You can reach Wayah Bald Tower while hiking or by taking a short walk from your car in the parking lot. The fact that you can drive up to this lookout tower is why it’s so appealing.
Of course, the stunning views that await are the best reason to visit. Our guide will share more on those epic views and everything else you need to know about Wayah Bald Lookout Tower.
Here’s how we’ve organized the guide:
- Where is Wayah Bald Lookout Tower?
- The History of Wayah Bald Tower
- The Watchmen
- When to Visit Today
- Wayah Bald Tower Driving Directions
- How to Reach Wayah Bald Tower (by Hiking)
- Leave No Trace Reminder Before You Hike
- Safety Reminder
- Nearby Things to Do (Wilson Lick Ranger Station, Franklin, and More!)
You can skip ahead to any of those sections or keep reading about some interesting Wayah Bald Tower facts!
Where is Wayah Bald Lookout Tower?
GPS Directions/Address: Wayah Bald, Franklin, NC 28734
- Wayah Bald Tower is located at the end of a National Forest Service Road about 40 minutes (by car) from downtown Franklin, North Carolina
- The lookout tower is also 1 hour 20 minutes southwest of Bryson City in Swain County, and 1 hour 20 minutes northwest of Highlands, also in Macon County.
- If you’re hiking on the Appalachian Trail, Wayah Bald Tower is about 10 miles south of Wesser Bald Fire Tower.
- Wayah Bald Tower and the trail leading to it are also within Nantahala National Forest.
- When driving, please add the Wayah Bald Tower directions to your phone or GPS device beforehand. Phone signal is spotty and sometimes nonexistent in the area leading up to it. “Wayah Bald, Franklin, NC,” will get you to the right place.
Wayah Bald Tower History (+ Fun Facts)
- Wayah Bald (“Wayah is Cherokee for “wolf) is a mountain in the Nantahala National Forest near Franklin North Carolina.
- Wayah Bald Tower is an old stone fire tower built in 1937 to protect the forest from fires and other dangers.
- The tower is three stories and 53 feet tall.
- It was decommissioned in the 1940s when cracks started to appear in the stone.
- Wayah Bald Tower was listed on the National Historic Lookout Register in 2007.
- Today, you can climb to the top for an impressive view of the North Carolina mountains!
- You’ll notice that a lot of the trees surrounding Wayah Bald North Carolina are bare. This is because of a wildfire in 2016 that burned the roof of the Lookout Tower.
- Community rebuilding efforts (led by Timber Frames) were completed in 2018.
More Wayah Bald Tower History (The Watchmen)
During the years that it was an active lookout tower, Wayah Bald had an interior stairway, drop-down beds, and living spaces for the watchmen.
The watchmen would live in the tower for two months and have food and water delivered weekly from the Civilian Conservation Corps camp.
When to Visit Wayah Bald North Carolina Today
Wayah Bald Tower is not accessible to drivers from January 1 to April 1 when Forest Service Road 69 is closed.
You can hike through at any time, though we recommend keeping an eye on weather conditions and following official local guidance.
Spring is magnificent at Wayah Bald, but it is an excellent spot for sunrise and sunset throughout the year!
Wayah Bald Lookout Tower Driving Directions
The drive up to the lookout tower does involve driving on a gravel Forest Service road and involves some twists and turns. It is not recommended for motorcycles, but a 4WD vehicle is not necessary.
- From Franklin, drive approximately 3 miles west on US-64.
- Turn right at the Wayah Bald sign onto Old Murphy Road followed by a quick left onto Wayah Road.
- Drive a winding 9 miles until Forest Service Road 69 and continue until the road ends approximately 4 miles later.
- Once you arrive, there is a short uphill walk to the tower. The trail is paved and easy for most active adults and children.
Note that there are vaulted toilets and a picnic table at the end of the road. The Wayah Bald Parking area is somewhat limited, but we didn’t have any difficulty finding a spot.
How to Reach Wayah Bald Tower (by Hiking)
Wayah Bald serves as a landmark on both the Bartram Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
The Bartram Trail spans 115 miles from Georgia to Cheoah Bald, North Carolina. Wayah Bald is the highest elevation point along the trail and provides a great place for hikers to rest their feet and use the bathroom.
Leave No Trace Reminder Before You Hike
While hiking to Wayah Bald Fire Tower and resting at the observation deck, we ask you to PLEASE leave no trace. Pack in, pack out, and please do not litter in our beloved public spaces.
If you’d like to lend a helping hand, bring your own grocery bag and pick up any trash you see!
Safety is your responsibility when visiting Wayah Bald Fire Tower and along the Bartram Trail. Please stay on the trail, as steep dropoffs could lead to serious injury (or worse).
Another reason to stay on the trail is to protect the delicate ecosystems that can suffer damage from informal trails (or social trails).
Ready to Visit Wayah Bald Tower?
We think you’ll love Wayah Bald Tower if you haven’t visited before. It’s the perfect stop for hikers and even better after the drive on those Forest Service roads.
The views are hard to beat, and you’ll want to stick around for as long as possible.
If you’ve visited Wayah Bald Tower before, we’d love to know what you think about this place. Is it as grand as we say? Let us know in the comments section or by email.
Wayah Bald Tower is just under two hours from Asheville, making it an excellent day trip from our largest mountain city. However, if you want to make the most out of your visit, here are some suggestions on other things to do near Wayah Bald.
- Wilson Lick Ranger Station
- Wesser Bald Fire Tower
- The Waterfall Byway
Wilson Lick Ranger Station
Driving Distance from Wayah Bald Tower: 3 miles (10 minutes)
Hiking Distance from Wayah Bald Tower: 3 miles (1 hour)
Three miles before you reach Wayah Bald on Forest Service Road 69 is a turn for the Wilson Lick Ranger Station. Wilson Lick was the first ranger station in Nantahala National Forest (1913) and provided a great example of early forestry service life.
If you wish to say you’ve hiked a portion of the AT, you can hop on the trail here for a 3-mile hike to Wayah Bald.
Driving Distance from Wayah Bald Tower: 19 miles (40 minutes)
Franklin is an adorable mountain town that is situated on top of a steep hill.
Don’t forget to stop by the Scottish Tartans Museum, an excellent place to learn about tartan and Highland dress and heritage.
Wesser Bald Fire Tower
Driving Distance from Wayah Bald Tower: 22 miles (50 minutes)
Hiking Distance from Wayah Bald Tower: 10 miles (4-1/2 hours)
As we mentioned, Wesser Bald Fire Tower is about 10 miles away if you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail. If you’re driving from Franklin or Bryson City, the 30-foot-tall decommissioned fire tower is less than an hour away.
From the parking area, you can reach Wesser Bald Fire Tower via a short hike of about 0.7-0.8 miles.
From the observation deck, you can enjoy stunning 360-degree views of the Smoky Mountains, the Little Tennessee River Valley, and iconic landmarks like Fontana Lake.
The Waterfall Byway
There are pull-off points for at least four named waterfalls in this section. They include the following:
- Cullasaja Falls
- Bust Your Butt Falls
- Dry Falls
- Bridal Veil Falls (different from the Bridal Veil Falls inside DuPont State Recreational Forest)
You can also drive west on US-64 past Franklin and reach Murphy in about an hour. Just before Murphy is a stop-off for the beautiful Lake Chatuge, which straddles the NC-Georgia state line.
More Things to Do Nearby (NC Travel Guides)
Beyond Wayah Bald Lookout Tower, we’ve created many more NC travel guides. Here are a few of them.