Siler Bald (11-26-17)
Siler Bald, touted in many websites and guidebooks as being one of North Carolina’s most scenic summits, has long been on my list of peaks to visit. Located along the rugged ‘Wayah Crest’ to the west of Franklin, its open grassy summit is a highlight for Appalachian Trail through-hikers and a popular day-hike for many others. The summit is named for one Jesse Siler, an early resident of the southern mountains, who farmed the area during the 1800’s. Interestingly, Mr. Siler has another peak also named for him…Siler’s Bald in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At one time in the not-too-distant-past the mountain was a true southern bald but, now that the cattle which grazed its summit have long since left, the forest has once again returned to try to claim the peak. Luckily, the Forest Service has deemed it appropriate to maintain the peak as an open summit and the open north slope is kept open through their efforts. The result is a summit which continues to delight hikers with its expansive panoramic views. In every direction from its open summit the countless ridges, peaks, and valleys of the Nanthala National Forest reach to the horizon. It’s a truly spectacular place to visit and its reputation as a premier hiking destination in the region is well-earned.
My plan for the day was to ascend Siler Bald via the Appalachian Trail from Wayah Gap, the shortest and most popular route to the summit for day hikers. The route is well-marked and well-traveled (this is the A.T. after all) but is moderately steep for much of the way which may deter more casual hikers from making the climb. The first mile-and-a-half is fairly uneventful as the trail makes its way up the northwest slopes of the mountain through a dense high-elevation hardwood forest. The trail itself doesn’t cross directly over the summit but rather crosses the ridge just to its north at spot called Snowbird Gap. Here, the grassy north slope of the summit ridge rises to the right as you arrive and the spur path heading up it is obvious. It was at this point in my hike I decided to make what I thought would be a quick side trip to the nearby Siler Bald Shelter. A sign points the way down an old service road from Snowbird Gap towards the shelter but doesn’t indicate just how far away the shelter is. I hadn’t done my homework, so I was a bit in the dark, but figured it couldn’t be all that far off and decided to go have a look. What I discovered was that reaching the shelter required a one-mile round trip hike which added 600 vertical feet of climbing to the hike. In retrospect it wasn’t worth it. The spur trail is steep and not scenic in any way. Unless the shelter is actually a place you plan to use I don’t recommend making the tiring side trip.
After visiting the shelter I made my way back up to Snowbird Gap and began the climb up the open ridge towards the summit. This is where the payoff for all the climbing begins. Within minutes the panorama to the north of nearby Wine Spring and Wayah Balds opened up and, the higher I got, the more expansive and beautiful the views became. At the summit is a small fire ring and a simple plaque inscribed with the peaks name, directional markers, and the elevation. The views in every direction were spectacular. If I hadn’t gotten such a late start on this day I could have stayed much, much longer than I did. After a quick snack and plenty of pictures I headed back down to the Appalachian Trail to retrace my steps back to Wayah Gap. All in all this is a spectacular hike. Minus the side trip I took to the shelter it clocks in at right around 4-miles round trip and is just tough enough to make you feel you’ve “earned” the summit once you reach the top. The reputation of Siler Bald is well-earned and I highly recommend this hike if it isn’t already on you’re list. So, without further adieu, I present the spectacular Siler Bald of Nanathala National Forest…as always, ENJOY!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.153097, -83.581066
Route Type: Out-and-back + spur Difficulty: HARD
Mileage Hiked: 5.0 miles Hike Duration: 2:00
Trailhead Temp: 45'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 4,150' Max. Elevation: 5,216'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,280' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 256'
Trails Used (blaze color): Appalachian (white), Siler Bald Spur (unblazed), Siler Bald Shelter Spur (blue)