Located in the Pisgah National Forest northeast of the town of Hot Springs, North Carolina, Rich Mountain (3,643 ft.) offers spectacular 360 degrees views from the historic lookout tower situated on the summit. There are several possible routes to the summit but the primary artery is the Appalachian Trail (section 14). Rich Mountain can be accessed at any time of year. The best seasons to visit Rich Mountain is during the fall, winter and early spring. If backpacking from Hot Springs, the hike is strenuous (2,201 ft elev. gain). The total Roundtrip distance of the hike is 16.4 miles (8.2 each way).
From Knoxville, TN, take I-40 east toward Asheville. Take I-70 east towrd Newport, TN. Exit 432B (on left) & turn left onto US 25/70 toward Hot Springs. Follow 25/70 all the way into Hot Springs, NC. Park at the gravel parking area at the end of AT section 13 located just off US 25/70 in Hot Springs.
From the parking area to the end of AT section 13, follow the AT east through the town of Hot Springs (1,326 ft.). Cross the railroad tracks and proceed over the bridge that spans the French Broad River. Pass the Warm Springs Spa, a large mineral springs resort, on your left at 0.4 mile. At 0.5 mile, hikers will reach the river’s edge and follow the AT upstream. The 7.3 mile, 2,201-foot ascent to Rich Mountain begins at mile 0.9. Hikers will reach a prominent overlook on Lovers Leap Rock with amazing views of the town of Hot Springs and the French Broad at 1.2 miles. At 1.4 miles Lovers Leap Rock extends northwest, dropping 500 ft. to the eastern bank of the river below. One mile later, you will be on the top of Lovers Leap Ridge (1,800 ft). From Lovers Leap Ridge, follow the white-blazed AT to Pump Gap at 3.3 miles. Continue on the AT to pond and meadow at 4.9 miles. You will reach Mill Ridge at 5.1 miles (an excellent campsite is located near the pond’s dam). The views from the meadows at Mill Ridge on a clear day are outstanding! At 5.9 miles, the AT crosses Tanyard Gap (2,278 ft.). Cross the single-lane bridge that spans US 25/70 and follow the AT back into the woods. At 7.8 miles you will reach a junction with the Roundtop Ridge Trail. Continue on the AT until you reach the signed spur trail that leads to the summit of Rich Mountain at 8.2 miles. Follow the side trail until you reach the summit tower.