Appalachian Trail: Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Bald

Shuttle • 10.1 mi • 0 ft

This beautiful hike visits two high points of the Nantahala Mountains with panoramic vistas. Though a lot of climbing is required, the trail is well graded and goes by several campsites and springs. Wildflowers flourish in spring and summer; fall and winter provide outstanding views. CAUTION: Siler Bald (an appealing side trip) is an exposed high-elevation meadow and can be dangerous in heavy fog, snow, or electrical storms. There are no blazes on the bald, and fog can be disorienting. In bad weather, stay on the AT and skip the bald. Natural history features: Siler Bald and Wayah Bald. Social history features: Wilson Lick historic ranger station; botanists John and William Bartram; Wayah Bald observation tower.
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Activity Type: Hiking
Nearby City: Franklin
Length: 10.1 total miles
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Trail Type: Shuttle
Skill Level: Strenuous
Duration: 8-10 hours
Trailhead Elevation: 3,750 feet
Top Elevation: 5,342 feet
Local Contacts: Appalachian Trail Conference, 304-535-6331
Local Maps: ATC Nantahala National Forest
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Recent Trail Reviews


Nice moderate hike. Siler bald is uniquely shaped and provides awesome views of the surrounding mountains. You can see the Wayah fire tower if you look carefully to the northeast. Great spot to view the sunset. The siler bald shelter is in moderate condition but there are very few (2 at most) level spots for tent camping. Get there early if you plan on camping near the shelter.


We hiked the first half of this trail (just to Siler Bald and back to parking area) this weekend, so I can't comment on Wayah Bald, just Siler Bald. You can see Wayah from Siler, and there's a road to Wayah and no camping allowed there, so we weren't to keen on going there after the unpopulated quiet of Siler. The beginning of the trail is just magical. A few hundred feet off the highway and you're in a deeply shaded and beautiful glade winding around streams & a nice little waterfall. The trail (which is a section of AT) was loaded with wild (flame) azaleas and rhododendron/laurel, plus lots of wildflowers I don't see often. Great variety. It is also a bear sanctuary, and you do see bear droppings here and there. There are a number of good campsites along the way to the first bald (Siler): one near the bottom which you could reach quickly from the parking area, and another at Panther Gap, maybe 1/2 way to Siler. At Siler, there is a loop that takes you down the side of the mountain to an AT shelter, which was occupied that night. There is a wonderful cold spring pipe there (take your filtration kit). We filled our bottles there and hiked to the top of Siler Bald, which is not exactly 360 degrees of view, as the guide says, but certainly more than 180. Only complaint is the bugs in the open meadow, and heat relative to the cool trail. If you're camping on the bald, get there late in the day (evening) and light a fire quick. Camping on the bald (two decent sites) is difficult: no water, have to carry wood up the steep slope, and t-storms are dangerous there. We did have thunderstorms on top of the bald, which was scary, and the shelter is almost a mile away, so you either brave the lightening (probably dumb), run partway down the bald to lower areas (get wet), or maybe you just camp with the AT veterans at the shelter/water source area. But the sunset and dawn views on the bald are worth it if you're pretty sure there won't be T-storms.

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