Overview...Wesser Bald offers some of the biggest bang for your hiking buck of any peak in the Nantahala National Forest. Rising to the northwest of Franklin, between the Little Tennessee and Nantahala River valley's, it sits astride the always inviting Appalachian Trail. Don't let the name fool you, though, this has long since ceased to be a 'bald'. Instead the views come from an observation platform which was constructed about 20 years ago atop the remains of an old fire tower.
The peak rises an impressive 3,000 feet from the depths of Nantahala Gorge to the north and offers grandstand views of other famous balds of the Nantahala including Cowee, Cheoah, Joanna, and Tusquitee. True giants rise in the distance...the Smoky Mountains to the west and the Balsam Ranges to the east. All this for a 3-mile round trip hike!
Personally, I had heard of Wesser Bald, but it never registered on my radar for a visit. As it turned out, during my year stint with the USFS, I spend a couple afternoons stationed at Tellico Gap, the trailhead for Wesser. After talking to about the dozenth hiker coming off the mountain raving about what they had just experienced I decided to go for a post-shift run to the top. As you can already tell I was quite pleased with what I found.
Like many other like-named peaks of the region in the early 20th Century Wesser Bald was, actually, a bald. It sported a fairly expansive grassy summit which lent itself to the construction of a fire lookout along with an adjoining cabin and pump house. Prior to the 1930's a simple wooden structure topped the mountain which was replaced by the CCC, in 1936, with a sturdier 30' steel tower capped by a 14'x14' live in cab. The USFS occupied the tower, which doubled as an emergency thru-hiker shelter, it until the 1960's at which point it was abandoned.
In 1979 somebody headed up Wesser Bald and thought it would be fun to set the old cab on fire, depriving hikers, for the next 14 years, of the peaks majestic views. The rusting and, now, charred skeleton of the tower stood forlornly while hikers from all over begged and pleaded for the Forest Service to restore the tower. Thankfully, the USFS heard their pleas and took steps to restore the old lookout. Atop the refurbished skeleton they placed the 20'x20' viewing deck which remains to this day.
From Nantahala Gorge (US 19/74): Head south on Wayah Road from the Beechertown Nantahala River Launch Site. In 5 miles, turn left onto Otter Creek Road (SR 1365) where I believe there is a sign pointing to Tellico Gap. Follow Otter Creek Road uphill a bit over 4 miles (it turns to gravel about halfway up) to the AT crossing and parking area at Tellico Gap.
From the East (NC-28): Turn off NC-28 west (crossing the Little Tennessee River) onto Tellico Road. This turn at a point along NC-28 about 12 miles north of Frankiln or 9 miles south of it junction with US 19/74 south of Bryson City. Take an immediate right to stay on Tellico Road after crossing the Little Tennessee and continue to follow it for a bit over 8 miles (the last 5 being gravel) to Tellico Gap.
It's worth noting that the last few miles of the route up to Tellico Gap via Tellico Road is as narrow, steep, and winding as any mountain road I've ever been on in the Southern Appalachians. If these types of roads don't appeal to you, or weather conditions are sketchy, I would highly recommend opting for the route up to the Gap from Nantahala Gorge.
From Tellico Gap, the hike to the top is a relatively easy one. You technically have two route choices but, when one is the Appalachian Trail, do you really care what the other option is? For the sake of clarity and to avoid confusion if you visit I'll elaborate...
Starting from Tellico Gap, both routes have the same vertical to climb...the question is distance required to climb it. Standing at the trailhead the A.T. splits left and winds leisurely for 1.4 miles to the top of the ridge and the summit. Splitting right is what used to be the old access road, now gated, that makes the run to the top in a direct, steep, 0.9 miles. I'd highly recommend the A.T., especially on the ascent...there's just something about seeing those white blazes on the trees that adds a couple cool-points to any hike in my opinion.
Many people also opt to make the hike up to Wesser Bald from the Nantahala Gorge. While I have never ascended the peak from this route I can give you some beta on what, on paper, seems to be a fairly demanding hike...from the Nantahala Outdoor Center you would follow the AT south 6.5 miles, with over 3,000 vertical feet to climb in that distance.
None...go, and enjoy...
Other Info...NC Lookouts - North Carolina Chapter - Forest Fire Lookout Association (blog format)
Hiking North Carolina's Lookout Towers - A book I've found indespensible for pursuing my new fire lookout addiction. Includes info on accessing 26 North Carolina Fire Towers acessible to hikers.
Wesser Bald Photo Journal - Shameless self promotion...a photo journal of my hike up Wesser Bald in October 2012
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