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 hike from Tanyard Gap is relatively steep but not all that difficult for experienced hikers.
The lookout tower was erected by the United States Forest Service in 1932. The F-7 Civilian Conservation Corps Camp from Hot Springs began manning the tower in 1933. The tower itself is 30 feet high and capped by a 14-by-14-foot live-in cab. The tower was actively staffed until the 1990s, however, it ceased to be a live-in lookout in the 1970s. The USFS used the Rich Mountain lookout in 2001 as a communication and observation post during the Larman fire that burned 2,700 acres in the Pisgah National Forest and threatened the town of Hot Springs
Getting ThereDriving directions from Knoxville, TN
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.
Driving directions to Tanyard Gap from Hot Springs, NC
From Hot Springs, NC, drive 2.8 east on US 25/70 to Tanyard Gap at the crest of the hill and turn left onto paved side road and park in gravel lot just before the road turns left and proceeds over a one lane overpass. White blazes n the pavement lead you a few feet to the trailhead. The AT enters the forest at a small sign just beyond on the right.
There are several campsites located along the AT between Hot Springs and Rich Mountain. Spring Mountain Shelter is located 2.8 miles beyond where the AT intersects with the Rich Mountain spur trail.
While You are There
People have been travelling to Hot Springs, NC since at least 1788 seeking the healing powers of its natural Hot Springs. When finished with your adventure, you can enjoy the therapeutic effects of the waters at the Hot Springs Resort and Spa. Also, check out Mountain Bluffs Outfitters owned by Don Gallaher located on the AT in Hot Springs on Bridge Street. For excellent Southern cooking for a reasonable price, eat at the Smoky Mountain Diner in Hot Springs (an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker favorite!).
Carolina Mountain Club Lookout Tower Challenge (LTC)
The Lookout Tower Challenge (LTC) is a program that challenges hikers to reach 24 lookout towers in Western North Carolina. Fire and lookout towers offer breathtaking 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains. Lookouts are also historic structures left over from a bygone era of fire detection; sentinels of the forest that safeguarded the mountains and forests we cherish. The LTC encompasses hikes in all regions of Western North Carolina and offers an assortment of challenging hikes over varying terrain. Formal recognition from the Carolina Mountain Club is granted to those who successfully reach all 24 lookout towers. However, the real reward is the exhilarating vistas from their mountain summits.
There is no red tape. Access to the mountain and AT in this area is free.