From Nantahala Outdoor Center to Tellico Gap and back, you cover 16 miles with nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain. You’re rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains when you reach the Wesser Bald fire tower.
Just keep going- up, up, up- for miles on this rigorous section of the Appalachian Trail that goes Southbound from Nantahala Outdoor Center to Tellico Gap. You’ll cover 16 miles with nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain. You’re rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains when you reach the Wesser Bald fire tower.
What Makes It Great
Up and up you’ll go as soon as you leave the trailhead at Nantahala Outdoor Center. The beauty, and its inherent challenge, is that the trail does not have many switchbacks. It just takes you on a long, steep, 6 mile climb. Rocks and roots populate the trail terrain, so watch your footing. Keep an eye out for the “Jump Up” just after 4 miles. This exposed rock face offers beautiful views of the Nantahala River Valley and Fontana Lake.
You’ll continue climbing on technical, rocky terrain before the final haul to the summit of Wesser Bald. There are a few switchbacks here that make this hike easier than the first climb. You’ll find a spur trail to water around mile 6. Shortly after, you’ve arrived at the fire tower. Make the climb to the top for lunch and admire the view. From here, it’s just a 1-mile ascent to Tellico Gap, before you turn around and repeat. This time, your knees and quads will take a beating on the long descent to NOC.
Who is Going to Love It
By this point in the Appalachian Trail, you’ve seen some elevation, but this section still wears on even the most in-shape thru-hikers. This is one of the sections of the AT where hiking South adds an unknown challenge. Many are heading Northbound, so they’ll descend the six miles that you’ll hike, but as you’ll see on the return trip, the descent is just as brutal.
The trail is strenuous, so if you haven’t hiked much elevation, choose an easier trail or hike the opposite direction and turn around before the long descent. For those experienced hikers who want a challenging, long climb (and sore legs), this hike will meet expectations.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The best way to hike this trail is to get the longest elevation over first by starting at NOC. The trailhead is located on Silvermine Road. There is plenty of free parking around the Nantahala Outdoor Center, as well as bathroom facilities. A bonus- the Wesser General Store at the base of the trailhead has beer, sodas and snacks to curb your craving, and there are two other restaurants just across the river.
Expect this to take you all day- so be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks and leave with plenty of daylight. There’s a gravel road at Tellico Gap that you can opt to get picked up, but beyond that, there are no other road crossings.