Fryingpan Mountain rises 5,340 feet along the Pisgah Ridge edging the Great Balsam Mountains, and on its summit stands Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower, the tallest fire tower in western North Carolina (and one of the tallest in the Southern Appalachians). Climb up its five stories, and you’ve got the kind of glorious sea-of-mountains view just about guaranteed to knock anybody’s socks off. The 1.5-mile round-trip hike isn’t difficult, appeals to all ages, and makes a great day trip out of Asheville or the perfect stretch-your-legs break on a cruise of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The walk up begins at the parking area on Fryingpan Gap along the Parkway and follows a gated-off gravel road (Forest Road 450) uphill. Before you know it, you’ll level out and hit the summit, which besides the fire lookout tower sports a communications tower.
The fire tower, built by the U.S. Forest Service in 1941 and in active use into the 1990s, can definitely be a little intimidating for anybody with a fear of heights, but if you can master your jitters, you’ll certainly be well rewarded. (That said, folks with major acrophobia probably ought to skip the Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower. This is an impressively lofty structure!) The lookout quarters at the top of the tower are closed to the public, but you can soak up the full panorama from the highest accessible landing—and what a panorama it is!
Some celebrity mountains help compose the viewshed, including the gleaming granite-faced Looking Glass Mountain to the south, 5,721-foot Mount Pisgah to the near northeast, and, rising amid the Shining Rock Wilderness across the valley of the East Fork Pigeon River to the north, the great cone of 6,030-foot Cold Mountain, made famous in the Civil War novel by Charles Frazier (and the movie made from it). Cold Mountain is among the high peaks of the Great Balsams, among the loftiest ranges in the Southern Appalachians; they also include 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob, another prominent landmark on the Fryingpan skyline.
To the far northeast, meanwhile, a clear-day prospect (which unfurls 60-plus miles) includes the highest summit in all the Appalachians: 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell in the Black Mountains.
Given the easiness of the hike and that extraordinary panorama, you can expect some company along the trail and up on the tower—though, it must be said, Fryingpan Mountain remains a somewhat lesser-known gem than, say, Mount Pisgah close by. Just be patient and respectful of others’ space: There’s plenty of time for everybody to soak up the view and grab some selfies!
– There’s never a bad time to take in the view from Fryingpan Mountain Tower, but it’s hard to beat the autumn vistas, given how much fall-fired foliage falls within that 360-degree vista.
– Sunrise and sunset are pretty darn extraordinary from the top-of-the-world perch of Fryingpan Mountain Tower, if the twilight timing works with your schedule.
– Make sure you don’t block the Forest Road 450 gate when you park.