Last Updated on January 29, 2023
Last Updated on January 29, 2023
Wesser Bald Fire Tower in Franklin (also near Bryson City) is a 30-foot tall decommissioned fire tower that you can reach via the Appalachian Trail or a short hike of about 0.7-0.8 miles.
You can enjoy stunning 360-degree views of the Smoky Mountains, the Little Tennessee River Valley, and iconic landmarks like Fontana Lake from the former lookout tower.
The trail that leads to Wesser Bald Fire Tower might be one of our favorite hikes (especially during fall), and this guide will share exactly how you can reach the observation deck for epic mountain views. There’s also an interesting story behind the lookout tower and other fun things to do, which we’ve included below.
Here is how we’ve organized this guide:
- Where is Wesser Bald Fire Tower?
- History of Wesser Bald Fire Tower
- Leave No Trace Reminder Before You Hike
- Safety Reminder
- Hiking to Wesser Bald Fire Tower
- Nearby Things to Do
You can click ahead to any of these sections or continue reading about how to find Wesser Bald Fire Tower in Franklin, North Carolina.
Read More: Fall in North Carolina (Where to See Foliage + Great Fall Events!)
Where is Wesser Bald Fire Tower?
GPS Directions/Address: Wesser Bald Fire Tower, Franklin, NC 28734
- Wesser Bald Fire Tower stands tall above the Little Tennessee River Valley in Western North Carolina.
- The lookout tower and its trailhead (and parking area) are within the Macon County lines.
- By car, the fire tower is about 45 minutes northwest of downtown Franklin in Macon County, 50 minutes southwest of Bryson City in Swain County, and 40 minutes east of Robbinsville in Graham County.
- Wesser Bald Fire Tower is a well-known landmark along the Wesser NC Appalachian Trail Segment. If you’re hiking on the AT, it’s about 10 miles from Wayah Bald Fire Tower from Wesser Bald.
- The old fire tower and the trail leading to it are also within Nantahala National Forest.
- When driving to Wesser Bald Fire Tower, please add directions to your phone or GPS device beforehand. Phone signal is spotty and sometimes nonexistent in the area leading up to it. “Wesser Bald Fire Tower, Franklin, NC,” will get you to the right place.
Read more: Western North Carolina Map (400+ Wonderful Places Listed)
History of Wesser Bald Fire Tower
Wesser Bald Fire Tower is one of a few remaining old lookout towers, which makes its history even more enjoyable. These fun facts are worth remembering before you hike.
- Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936, Wesser Bald Fire Tower was once a live-in lookout.
- But the old fire tower’s cab was a victim of arson in 1979.
- The current observation deck was rebuilt in the early 1990s and survived fires that ravaged Nantahala National Forest in 2016.
Read More: 125+ Important Facts About North Carolina You Should Know (History, Geography, and More!)
Leave No Trace Remdinder Before You Hike
While hiking to Wesser 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 ever 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 enjoying a hike to Wesser Bald Fire Tower and along the Appalachian 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).
There is a small parking area at the trailhead for Wesser Bald, so it’s best to arrive early. We’ve noticed cars parked along the side of the road near the parking area, but we would still recommend you get there as early as possible to find a good spot.
Hiking to Wesser Bald Fire Tower
The hike is relatively short at 0.7 miles-0.8 miles from the parking lot. However, you’ll gain about 780-790 feet in elevation, making this a somewhat steep hike.
Here’s a breakdown from start to finish:
- There is also no clear signage, so look for the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail and embark on your hike north from the parking area.
- The trail will be to your left if you come from Bryson City and Otter Creek Road.
- From Franklin and Telico Road, the trailhead will be to the right of the road you followed.
- A more straightforward hint is a” road closed” sign and a gate at the base of the trail, indicating you are on the right path.
- Besides the beginning of the trail, we didn’t notice any more white blazes, so don’t worry if you don’t see any.
- The trail to Wesser Bald Fire Tower is a steady uphill, with a few brief flat sections. You will climb almost 800 feet (780-790) for less than a mile along a narrow path.
- Most of the trail (especially the narrower sections) is surrounded by wildflowers like goldenrods. The hike is also mostly shaded if you are venturing up during warmer months or fall.
- You’ll have plenty of chances to enjoy beautiful views before reaching the tower, but the highlights are the 30-foot-tall observation deck and the views that await from it.
- To reach it, you’ll climb two flights of stairs. They might seem steep on the way up and down, but the people who built this tower did a excellent job.
- From the observation deck, you have 360-degree views of Nantahala National Forest, the Smoky Mountains, the Balsam Mountains, and other recognizable landmarks on clear days.
- A portion of Fontana Lake is north of the lookout tower and easy to spot from the top.
- You can enjoy those glorious views for as long as you like, but it may become crowded on busy weekends and during colorful fall days.
- Just as the hike up is a steady uphill, the walk back to the parking area is a steady downhill. Beware of going down too fast, as there are plenty of loose rocks and sections of dry dirt that could become slippery when wet or even during dry spells.
- Otherwise, we hope you enjoy this wonderful hike. As we mentioned, it’s one of our favorites and a trail we hope to continue revisiting over the years!
Read More: How to Relax at Lakeview At Fontana (One of the Best Spa Resorts in NC)
Nearby Things to Do
Some beautiful places and a few of our favorite mountain towns surround Wesser Bald Fire Tower. Here are a few that you should know.
Upper Nantahala Cascades
GPS Directions: 23723-23727, State Rd 1310, Topton, NC 28781
Upper Nantahala Cascades is a beautiful waterfall on Wayah Road (sometimes referred to as White Oak Creek Falls?) near the beginning of Otter Creek Road. It’s just before the Otter Creek Road turn if you’re coming from Bryson City and shortly after the intersection if you’re traveling from Franklin.
There’s a small pull-off on the side of the road, so you can hop out and admire it for a while before moving on to either Wesser Bald Fire Tower or elsewhere after hiking!
Read More: 10 Beautiful Roadside Waterfalls in North Carolina for Everyone!
Wayah Bald Tower
Driving Distance from Wesser Bald Fire Tower: 22 miles (50 minutes)
Hiking Distance from Wesser Bald Fire Tower: 10 miles (4-1/2 hours)
Wayah Bald Tower is another former lookout tower located along the Appalachian Trail. If you want to hike to it from Wesser Bald along the AT, it is 10 miles and will take approximately 4-1/2 hours.
Wayah Bald Fire Tower does not require a hike if you choose to drive instead. The road is bumpy, and parking can be limited during peak times.
When you reach this tower, you’ll be treated to some of the best views in Franklin!
Read More: Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower (How to Reach NC’s Tallest Fire Tower)
Driving Distance from Wesser Bald Fire Tower: 23 miles (40 minutes)
About 40 minutes west of Wesser Bald Fire Tower is the Graham County town of Robbinsville. The town itself is lovely and it’s surrounded by some of NC’s most bucket-list-worthy places:
- Joyce Kilmer Forest, the wonderful Cherohala Skyway, and Lake Santeetlah are all within a short drive of Robbinsville.
- The tallest dam in the Eastern US, Fontana Dam, is one of the more popular spots in Graham County.
- All this fantastic scenery might be why many movies, including The Fugitive and Nell, were filmed in the area.
Read More: 25+ Beautiful North Carolina Road Trips (Scenic Byways and Highways)
Driving Distance from Wesser Bald Fire Tower: 20 miles (45 minutes)
Franklin is a small town located at the top of a hill. Warm up your calf muscles and enjoy the “Gem Capital of the World” at these places.
- Lazy Hiker Brewing: Reward yourself with a post-hike beer at Lazy Hiker Brewing in Franklin! Located in the former town hall, Lazy Hiker has been pouring pints since 2015. Its on-site food truck serves fresh local beef burgers and is a dog and kid-friendly site.
- Outdoor 76: Get the gear at Outdoor 76, which carries everything you need for outdoor adventure. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an AT-thru hiker, they got the supplies you need. There’s also a beer bar in the back for you to refuel.
Read more: 80+ Tasty North Carolina Breweries (The Best of the Best!)
- Scottish Tartans Museum: Did you know there are more people of Celtic heritage in this area of North Carolina than anywhere else in the World? The Scottish Tartans Museum aims to educate and serve the Scottish heritage community. It is a one-of-a-kind museum and worth checking out while in Franklin!
Read more: 40+ of the Most Amazing Museums in North Carolina (for ALL Ages!)
Driving Distance from Wesser Bald Fire Tower: 30 miles (50 minutes)
Bryson City is the central hub of activity and shopping in Swain County. Enjoy a beer, ride the GSMR, or go for a hike!
- Deep Creek Trail: Hiking the Deep Creek Trail is one of the most popular things to do in Bryson City! The trail is located in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (no dogs allowed) and is an easy hike. Enjoy the mostly flat trail as it loops around three beautiful North Carolina waterfalls.
Read more: Kid-Friendly Waterfalls in North Carolina
- Nantahala Outdoor Center: Nantahala Outdoor Center is the leading destination for outdoor adventure in Western North Carolina. With 500 acres, NOC offers rafting, paddling, zip-lining, hiking, mountain bike trails, and outdoor courses. NOC also has two restaurants and an aerial rope playground for children aged 3-years old and up!
- Great Smoky Mountains Railroad: Ride through the Smoky Mountains on a historic steam engine! The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers several excursions along the historic railways with beautiful views. Make memories aboard and enjoy the views of Fontana Lake and the incredible Smoky Mountains!
Read More: Road to Nowhere (A Broken Promise-Turned-Fun Walk near Bryson City)
More Hikes Beyond Wesser Bald Fire Tower (NC Travel Guides)
Beyond the hike to Wesser Bald Fire Tower, we’ve created many more NC hiking guides. Here are a few of them.