After Mount Pisgah I hopped back on the Blue Ridge Parkway south to my next hike of the day, Fryingpan Mountain. This was my second short hike of the day, and is shorter and much easier than Mount Pisgah with very similar views. Fryingpan Mountain is home to the one of the tallest lookout towers in North Carolina at 70 feet. The mountain, at 5,342 feet, is part of the rugged Pisgah Ridge on the eastern front of the Great Balsam Mountains. This short, accessible hike from Fryingpan Gap is suitable for all ages. You can also use a combination of trails emanating from Mount Pisgah Campground or Buck Spring Gap Overlook to create a longer day hike. Although the top cab of the tower is closed, you can still climb the steep stairs to get fantastic views in every direction. You’ll be blown away by the view of the Shining Rock Wilderness to the west, plus the other directions aren’t too shabby.
From Asheville hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway and drive south. You start climbing to the heights of the Great Balsam Mountains and pass by some wonderful overlooks on this drive. The hike starts at Fryingpan Gap at mile 409.6. Parking can be an issue here since there is no official parking area. I parked on the grassy shoulder of the parkway but there wasn’t much room left. I’d estimate around 20 cars were at the gap. I was here mid-February on an unusually warm Sunday and the area was full. In the summer there’s a strong possibility you can’t find a safe place to park. Definitely do not block the gate for FR 450, or you will get a ticket or be towed. If you cannot find a parking spot, turn around heading north and park at the Mount Pisgah Campground. You can pick up the Fryingpan Trail here and your hike will be 4.2 miles round-trip.
Max elevation: 5361 ft
Min elevation: 4902 ft
Total Time: 00:48:35
When you park you should be able to see the lookout tower and communications tower overhead at the top of the mountain. Walk around the gated FR 450 and turn left at the fork. The right fork is the Fryingpan Trail heading north across Big Bald towards the Mount Pisgah Campground. Stay left following the Fryingpan Trail which follows FR 450 to the summit. This is a wide, gravel road and has a moderate grade that is never too steep. You’ll head southwest then turn at a ridge heading south below power lines to the summit. Although this is a consistent climb up the mountain, it is only 0.8-mi to the summit with ~350 feet elevation gain. Trust me, you can make it.
There is a cluster of buildings at the summit surrounding the communications tower. The tower is not nearly as tall as the massive television tower on Mount Pisgah. These buildings are all off-limits. The lookout tower, at 70 feet, was originally built in 1941 and the structure stands on top of the true summit (5,342 feet). The wind forecast for the day was a steady 20-30 mph with 50 mph gusts. I did not have an issue on my previous hike at Mount Pisgah since most of it was sheltered and the summit was not completely exposed. I got word from fellow hikers that it got windy on the tower, so I secured any loose items. This is generally good practice for climbing any lookout tower in my experience. The top cab is closed, but you can climb almost all of the 89 stairs to get fantastic views. After the first two sets of stairs I began feeling the wind, and it only got stronger from there. You can tell from the terrible sound in my video below how strong it was. When I was at the top taking pictures, I had to brace my whole body to avoid falling.
The views on the stairs of the lookout tower are very comparable to the views from Mount Pisgah. Unfortunately the communications tower blocks what would be a phenomenal view of Mount Pisgah, but you get a more open view from the trail just below the fire tower. The mountains drop away to the east where the French Broad River Valley separates the Great Balsam Mountains from the Hickory Nut Mountains. You should be able to pick out the communications tower on Little Pisgah Mountain, the tallest peak in the Hickory Nut Mountains. With better visibility I bet I would’ve seen the Great Craggy and Black Mountain ranges to the northeast. The Blue Ridge Parkway continues its steady climb south along Pisgah Ridge towards Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam Knob. The central Great Balsam Mountains run from southwest to west, separated by the East Fork of the Pigeon River. The peaks of the Shining Rock Wilderness undulate before dropping sharply to The Narrows, with Cold Mountain the dominate peak due west.
I tried my best to stand still and brace my camera and phone for pictures and video clips, but you can probably tell that there’s a blur factor to most of my pics. The wind was so strong, probably gusting near 50 mph. I’m glad it was close to 70ºF, otherwise it would’ve been frigid on the tower. I climbed back down and made my way back to the car. As you walk below the summit the view of Mount Pisgah opens up, much clearer than on the tower because the giant antenna doesn’t block your view. That picture is above. This was a really quick hike clocking in at 48 min. I would guess most people would take 1 hour for this hike, so it is a really nice option if you’re in this region. I highly recommend combining this with another short hike to Mount Pisgah, they both offer great views without a strenuous effort. After this I drove down U.S. 276 to my third hike of the day to John Rock and Cedar Rock Falls.