Driving distance/direction from downtown Highlands, NC: Follow Hwy. 64 west through Franklin, NC, and turn right at the Wayah Bald direction sign. Take the first left onto Wayah Road (State Road 1310). Stay on State Road 1310 past FS 388, up winding road to top of the hill (Wayah Gap). Turn right on the gravel road (FS 69) to Wayah Bald. Drive about 4.5 miles to a parking area near end of the road just around a 180-degree turn.
Hiking distance: 0.6 miles round trip
Description: This national historic landmark provides panoramic views of the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia, Tennessee and both North and South Carolina. Mountains visible from the tower include the Smoky Mountains to the north, the Balsams and the Cowees to the east and the Tusquittee and Slickrock ranges to the west. A short paved trail provides easy access to the tower. The stone observation tower stands at an elevation of 5,385 feet. It was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps for fire detection. During early summer, look for blooming rhododendron and azaleas.
Footnote: For those wanting a longer hike, the Appalachian Trail and the Bartram Trail cross Wayah Bald at the tower.
Hike descriptions adapted from the Highland Hiker’s Guide to Day Hikes. www.HighlandHiker.com