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Yellow Mountain Lookout Tower – Nantahala National Forest, NC

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
12.5 mls N/A
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
6 hours with 1 hour of breaks
3,020 ft
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Park at Cole Gap. 35.10454, -83.20397

By Trail Contributor: Zach Robbins (Contact Zach)

Yellow Mountain, the tallest peak in the Cowee Mountains at 5,127 feet, features one of the smallest and most isolated lookout towers in the state of North Carolina. The only way to publicly access the tower is by the 6.2-mile Yellow Mountain Trail, which begins at Cole Gap on the east side of the Cullasaja River Gorge in Nantahala National Forest. You'll start at a high elevation and never dip below 4,100 feet, but the distance and elevation gain makes this a moderately difficult hike. Initially you’ll follow a plateau through beautiful woodlands towards Shortoff Mountain. Although the summit is forested, there is a nice view from a rock slab to the southwest. In between Shortoff Mountain and Yellow Mountain is a long trek through Yellow Mountain Gap with many trail reroutes. Fortunately, blazes and signs point the way and it is difficult to get off track here. After Yellow Mountain Gap is a long, winding climb to the top of Yellow Mountain. The open summit holds a small, wooden lookout tower, built in 1934. Although the tower doesn’t provide the clearance necessary for 360° views, the open rock on the south side features a beautiful panorama of the region. You can see Panthertown Valley to the east, Whiteside Mountain and Shortoff Mountain immediately south, and Rabun Bald to the southwest. Don’t linger too long on the summit, the 6.2-mile trek back is tougher than the first half of this hike.

Mile  Summary and Highlights
0.4 - Western Cliffs overlook
1.8 - Southern views from Shortoff Mountain
3.0 - Trail follows FR 4541 towards Yellow Mountain Gap
3.5 - Multiple turns avoiding private property through Yellow Mountain Gap
6.2 - Yellow Mountain summit (5,127 feet) and lookout tower
Late May
Yellow Mountain Lookout Tower
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