Joanna Bald Lookout Hike Route Map

Joanna Bald Lookout

The Joanna Bald Lookout Tower is a wonderfully remote and relatively easy-to-reach (with the right vehicle in the right season) historic fire tower located in the Snowbird Mountains in far western North Carolina. Built in 1952 and standing only 31’ in height, the tower had a remarkably long service life. The small live-in cab was staffed all the way up until the early 2000’s. You may also have seen on certain maps, including those from the USGS, that Joanna Bald is also designated as Teyahalee Bald. While I’ve heard the name Teyahalee occasionally, Joanna Bald is nonetheless far more frequently used. Either is acceptable. The tower itself offers nice views, though the best are reserved for those who visit when the door to the upper catwalk is unlocked. All other times you’ll have to be satisfied with obstructed views from the top of the stairs. Looking to the northeast from the catwalk is the most stunning scenery, with the 5,062’ Cheoah Bald rising eight miles away across the valley. Beyond the crest of the Great Smoky Mountain Range is also seen. Views in other directions are limited at best, with a high tree canopy and neighboring communication towers doing a good job of obscuring it. As a result, Joanna Bald is probably going to be most appealing to hikers (like myself) who are in the process of completing the Carolina Lookout Tower Challenge. I’ll let you decide if a trip is worth-while after looking through the album.

The hike begins from a locked USFS gate on Forest Service Road 423B about one-half mile below the summit. The drive up to this point is far more of an adventure than the hike itself is. The drive up to nearby Tatham Gap via FR 423 is steep and rough, regardless of a north or south direction of approach. FR 423B is even rougher. I’ve heard of small cars successfully making the climb but I wouldn’t recommend trying. Get yourself a vehicle with clearance and, preferably, four-wheel-drive before considering this hike. A wide pull-off is located on the outside of the sharp curve below the gate…park here to begin the walk to the tower. The moderately-steep stroll up the gated access road is easy and uneventful. I visited in early fall and enjoyed a nice variety of wildflowers, but that’s the limit of visual stimulation along the route. Before long the summit is reached with the lookout tower and neighboring communication towers populating a small clearing. There’s no fence to limit access to the tower so you should be able to easily approach and climb the stairs. The metal door to the catwalk, however, is typically padlocked so odds are you’ll have to make the best of the limited views from there. If you manage to arrive on a day when the door is unlocked, however, the reward for reaching the tower is MUCH more impressive. The aforementioned views of nearby Cheoah Bald and the distant Smoky Mountains are beautiful. When you’re finished, simply retrace your steps back to the start.

Joanna Bald is beautiful, but perhaps not quite enough to warrant the long and rough drive to get reach it. If you are in pursuit of the Carolina Lookout Tower Challenge then you don’t have a choice, and you might even enjoy it. Everyone else, however, is best to skip this one. Not a sparkling review, I know, but I want to be honest before you decide to make the trek. It’s my pleasure though to give you another option…letting me do the driving and then strolling along with me up to Joanna Bald. This isn’t a long hike but, as always, I still hope you ENJOY!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.256891, -83.796492

Route Type:  Out-and-back          Difficulty:  EASY  (Petzoldt Rating:  1.33 )

Hike Length:  1.0 mile                     Hike Duration:  0:30

Trailhead Temp:  55'F                    Trail Traffic:  NONE!!

Min. Elevation:  4,550'                    Max. Elevation:  4,716'

Total Vertical Gain:  166'                Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  166'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Forest Service Road 423B (unblazed)


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