Introductory Guide to Visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park
(while Wesser Bald is technically outside GSMNP, it’s still part of the greater Smokies region)
This 2.8 mile out-and-back is an easy hike to one of the area’s best viewpoints. The platform atop the defunct firetower on Wesser Bald offers panoramic views of the spectacular Smokies (and all the other mountains in the area).
It is nice when you find a hike that the locals rave about. During our trip to North Carolina, I heard three different people mentioning that we needed to hike Wesser Bald. After getting to the top, I can see why this is so revered.
When we started off in the morning, it had been storming the night before. A fog had settled on the lower elevations. While we were driving, we were curious if we were going to get any views at all. On our drive there, the cloudy conditions gave us great views along the Nantahala River as we passed several scenic spots and chances to catch some roadside waterfalls and rapids. We made our way up Otter Creek Road and parked at Tellico Gap, where the Appalachian Trail crossed the road.
When we first parked, we noticed the sign that designated the start of the trail, but we noticed there was a white-blazed trail and a fire road to the left. We knew our hike was on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, so we took the trail to the left. The fire road trail to the right also leads to the tower. I’m not sure how the conditions are on it, but it did seem to be shorter, since we found a family with kids that left after us beat us back to the parking lot (and they didn’t seem like fast hikers). The trail passed through a thick brushy area fairly quickly, but most of the trail was in a more opened-up wooded area. The hike was fairly uphill as it skirted the mountainside, but I didn’t find any of the trail to be incredibly steep. Instead, it winds There were a few switchbacks towards the end of the hike where it was a little steeper, but the switchbacks save you from going straight up the mountain.
When we reached the top of the spur trail at 1.3 miles, there was a great viewpoint that gives you a small sample. If you are not willing to climb the fire tower, this would be the best views you would get on this hike. As you reach the top, take a right and you’ll reach the fire tower in a short distance. Make your way back to complete the out-and-back or you could press pass the fire tower to take the fire road back to make it a loop.
When we reached the fire tower, we could hear a couple people at the top of the tower. Christine quickly made her way up. I, on the other hand, needed to psych myself up. As you’ve probably seen in many pictures, I don’t mind getting out on rocks that are on the edge of a huge precipice; however, I don’t trust man-made structures when it comes to heights. I trust nature over man. I went up halfway and then I could start to see the sky through the gaps in the stairs and I just turned back around. But from the bottom, I could hear Christine and the others at the top of how beautiful everything was and I knew I needed to force myself to get up there. So, I took a second attempt and made it up. Christine and the others at the top applauded my efforts for overcoming my fear. I’m so glad I made it to the top, because the scenery was breathtaking and some of the best mountain views I’ve ever seen. We stayed up there a while and talked to a few different groups of people that made it up after we did.
After we made it back, we decided to head to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. We had a nice lunch at the River’s End and then we enjoyed a beer at Big Wesser BBQ & Brew, while watching kayakers and whitewater rafts go down the river. This is always one of our favorite spots while visiting near the Smokies and it is definitely a place you can spend hours during the afternoon. You can also hike from Tellico Gap to the Nantahala Outdoor Center on the Appalachian Trail for a one-way total of 7.5 miles if you want to do a shuttle option.
If you are interested in geocaching, there are three you can find on the trail:
The forecast for our week in the Smokies didn’t look good – stormy, rainy and unsettled every single day from Sunday to the next Saturday. So, when we woke up to dense fog on Monday morning, we weren’t completely surprised. However, the hourly forecast on weather.com made it look like the fog might burn off. We hoped that the odds would be in our favor, and headed off to hike a trail we’d been eying for a while. Wesser Bald is a short, moderate 1.4 mile hike along the AT to an old fire tower overlooking the southern Appalachians. It’s a spectacular view if you’re lucky enough to hit the spot on a clear day.
From Tellico Gap, we followed the AT as it made gradual, sweeping switchbacks through beautiful, lush forest. The trail was lined with wildflowers and blooming azaleas/rhododendron. I think I saw more pink lady slippers on this hike than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. It was gorgeous. The azaleas came in white, pink and orange and the rhododendron bloomed in their classic bright pinkish-purple color. I also spotted wild strawberries and some gorgeous purple spiderwort.
The humidity took some getting used to! Even though it wasn’t particularly hot, the day was windless and the air was completely saturated. By the time we got to the top, I looked like I’d been dunked in a pool! Just before reaching the tower, we passed a nice view looking toward the Smokies and Fontana Dam. Near the overlook, a short spur trail took us to the top of Wesser Bald. This bald is no longer actually a bald – it’s been let go and returned to the natural forest environment. So while the view has closed in from the base of the tower, the view from the two-story viewing platform is superb!
I climbed up to the top and said WOW! Adam didn’t feel comfortable with the open, rattling stairs, so he hung out at the bottom while I chatted with a couple at the top. They had hiked up earlier from the NOC and were waiting to meet up with their son, who was on a solo backpacking trip. They were really fun to talk to – both were veteran AT thru-hikers and REI employees. We talked about favorite spots on the AT and chatted a bit about gear. I always love meeting people like them on the trail!
While we were chatting, Adam mustered the courage to climb to the top of the tower. He was so glad he did, too! The views really blew both of us away! Even though it was hazy, we could still see for miles in every direction. We spent a long while atop the tower, enjoying the views and the fresh mountain air.
After a while, we decided it was time to make our way down and seek out some lunch. One of our repeat stops ever time we visit the Smokies is the Nantahala Outdoor Center. We enjoy lunch at the Riverside Cafe, browsing the nice outdoor gear store, and (of course) drinking a few beers by the river at Big Wesser. It’s so fun to sit at an umbrella table, drink a nice craft beer and watch kayakers shooting through the rapids. It’s also a great place to people-watch in general. While we were sitting and enjoying our drinks, the skies opened up and dumped a huge amount of rain in just a few minutes. I’m sure glad we had the rain at the NOC instead of on top Wesser Bald!
- Distance – 2.8 miles out-and-back
- Elevation Change – 777 feet.
- Difficulty – 2. The trail is mostly uphill, but not too steep.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was in great shape and the footing was fairly solid.
- Views – 5. Absolutely spectacular views from the fire tower and another nice view right before the tower.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 0. Non-existent.
- Wildlife – 1. We only saw some birds along the way.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. The confusion of the fire road at the beginning gives it a lower score, but other than that you should be fine. Follow the white-blazed AT.
- Solitude – 2.5. Popular with locals, but this wouldn’t get the traffic that a hike in the nearby Smokies would.
Directions to trailhead: From Bryson City, follow US 19/74 for 20 miles. Turn left on Wayah Road and follow it for five miles. Turn left on Otter Creek Road and drive 4.1 miles to Tellico Gap. The road is paved for the first 2.8 miles. At the crest of the hill, you will see the AT crossing and several parking spots. Follow the signs to Wesser Bald.