Cowee Bald Lookout Tower -- 4,944'

Cowee Bald Lookout

The Cowee Mountains are a collection of peaks, of middling height, which lie to the north of the town of Franklin between NC-28 and U.S. 441. The tallest of these mountains, at 4,944-feet, is Cowee Bald. This made the mountain a very desirable spot for the Forest Service to erect a fire lookout tower, which it did in 1933. The 30-foot tower was of typical design for the southern mountains, with a simple steel skeleton topped by a small wooden live-in cab. It served as an active lookout until the mid-1990’s meaning it’s one of the oldest and longest-used towers still standing in North Carolina. The lookout itself only requires a short, easy walk to get to…it’s the drive up, via Forest Service Road 70, which might pose as a challenge for some. Exceedingly steep, frequently eroded, and involving two minor streams to ford, it’s an approach that should really only be attempted by a vehicle with some clearance and (preferably) four-wheel-drive. Once you reach the locked metal gate high atop the mountain it’s only a gentle half-mile uphill walk to reach the lookout, which sits at the southeast end of the summit ridge beyond a large cluster of much taller and more modern communication towers. The stairs are open to visitors but, typically, the trap door to the catwalk above is locked. If this is the case the views you’ll see will be very restricted. If it’s open, however, the sweeping views are among the best from any lookout in the region. To the east the vista looks across the valley of the Tuckasegee River, where the high peaks of the Plott Balsam and Great Balsam Mountains block the far horizon. To the north, the equally impressive Great Smoky Mountain Range is seen almost in its entirety. Finally, to the south, the countless peaks and valleys of Nantahala National Forest stretch away to the mountains of North Georgia.

In a nutshell a visit to Cowee Bald is a bit of a roll of the dice. In the right vehicle the drive up is a fun little adventure but this is a remote peak, one that most people will have to drive a good ways to get to. Then there’s the views which, depending on the status of the trap door lock will either be a huge reward for the drive or quite a let-down. Regardless, this is a lesser-visited corner of Nantahala National Forest so you’re all but certain to find solitude…which can be a reward in itself. With that said, I invite you along with me now as I make the quick hike up to the Cowee Bald Lookout…as always, I hope you ENJOY!!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.332596, -83.340354


Route Type:  Out-and-back          Difficulty:  EASY  (Petzoldt Rating:  1.37 )

Hike Length:  1.1 miles                    Hike Duration:  1:45

Trailhead Temp:  35'F                    Trail Traffic:  NONE!!

Min. Elevation:  4,810'                     Max. Elevation:  4,944'

Total Vertical Gain:  134'                Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  122'


Trails Used (blaze color):  Forest Service Road 70 (unblazed)



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