The Appalachian Trail dramatically climbs above Hot Springs, NC along Lovers Leap Ridge, a popular, short day hike with spectacular views of the French Broad River. However, if you want to tackle something a little longer and tougher, you can utilize the Roundtop Ridge Trail to make a large loop around the Bald Mountains above this famous trail town. The trail follows the former route of the Appalachian Trail to the slopes of Rich Mountain (3,670 feet). A short side trail takes you to the summit, which is home to a 30-foot steel lookout tower originally built in 1932. The tower is rehabilitated as of summer 2018 allowing full access to the top. From the tower catwalk you’ll be treated to excellent views of the Bald, Black, Great Craggy, and Newfound mountain ranges. On the return to Hot Springs the Appalachian Trail passes through Tanyard Gap and then Mill Ridge before climbing up Lovers Leap Ridge. The last 1.5 miles of this hike is filled with outstanding views of the gorge, river, and Hot Springs as the trail switchbacks down the steep ridge. The finish is a nice stroll beside the mammoth French Broad River with riverwide rapids to enjoy. Parking is available at the Nantahala Outdoor Center boat take-out beside the U.S. 25/70 bridge. If you only have a couple of hours we recommend taking the 1.6-mi Lovers Leap Loop Trail.
Alternate Hikes - If you only have a couple of hours we recommend taking the 1.6-mi Lovers Leap Loop Trail. The shorter option to see the lookout tower is a 5.2 mile/1,430 feet gain hike from Tanyard Gap.
Mile 1.3 – The trail briefly crosses through private property, so please stay on the trail. You will see the first blazes and signs here. The Roundtop Ridge Trail is the former route of the Appalachian Trail, climbing nearly 1,700 feet over 3.3 miles to connect with the rerouted Appalachian Trail below Rich Mountain. The sparse forest is mostly white pine with blueberry bushes. You should have occasional winter views of Hot Springs and Rich Mountain. Much of this area was severely affected by two forest fires in April 2016 and unfortunately not much work has been done to clear the trail. You will likely encounter a lot of deadfall and encroaching undergrowth as a result of the fire.
Rich Mountain Lookout Tower and Lovers Leap Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Tuesday, May 14, 2019
This trail is nearly impenetrable. My husband and I did it in February of 2017, and it was a nice trail. I enjoyed it thoroughly at that time. We did it again today to visit the restored fire tower. We did literally hours of bushwacking. Miles of briars over the trail, and ticks on us constantly. I don't know what it would be like in the winter, but even without all the undergrowth, there are numerous downed trees to climb over or around. I'm shocked to see it so altered in only two years, and sad that no one is maintaining it. It used to be a great trail.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Don't do this hike. The trail is still very visible but once you get past the water reservoir, it is filled with blowdowns and overgrown shrubs, pricker bushes and stinging nettles for the 3 miles until you reach the AT. I've never been on a more overgrown trail. Even in winter, it would be hard. In August, it was ridiculous.