Wayah Bald, near Franklin, is a popular destination for hikers, especially in the early summer when rhododendron and azalea are in bloom. Its historic fire tower affords great views of the southern Appalachian mountains in three states.
Wayah Bald is named for the red wolves once lived on its slopes. “Wa ya” means wolf in the Cherokee language. Spear points found on the bald indicate that indigenous people used the area as hunting grounds more than eleven thousand years ago.
Balds are high-altitude open areas devoid of trees, occurring as either shrub-dominated areas or tundra-like grasslands at the highest summits with spruce-fir forests. Cherokee legend holds that the Nunnehi, the immortal spirit beings, kept these balds cleared so that eagles could catch rabbits. The origin and continued maintenance of balds are the subject of scientific debate. Some speculate that Wayah Bald could be the result of intermittent fire caused by lightning.
In 1913, the first ranger station in the Nantahala National Forest was completed on Wayah Bald. In the 1930s, the historic Wayah Bald Fire Tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Two long-distance trails, the Appalachian Trail and the Bartram Trail, cross at the tower. A picnic area is located nearby.
From Franklin, travel west on US 64 to old US 64 (Old Murphy Road). Turn right and go 0.2 miles to SR 1310 (Wayah Road). Turn left and continue for 9 miles to Wayah Gap, then turn right on FR 69. Follow the gravel road for 4.5 miles to the parking area.
For more information, contact:
US Forest Service/National Forests in North Carolina
Nantahala Ranger District
90 Sloan Road
Franklin, NC 28734