Backpack through Nantahala National Forest via the Appalachian Trail

Rate this Adventure North Carolina Winding Stair Gap

Added by Bradley Burgess

Explore three Southern Appalachian balds on this two or three night backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina.

Winding Stair Gap on Highway 64 is the starting point for this spectacular backpacking trip through the Nantahala National Forest. It's right outside the hiker friendly town of Franklin, NC, so the town is your last chance for a hot meal and any last minute supplies. There is a parking lot at the Gap if you need to leave a car.

After crossing the street from the parking area, you leave the highway and civilization behind. The trail passes a scenic cascading waterfall and begins climbing. After 4.5 miles you'll reach the first of the balds: Siler Bald. A steep side trail leads up to the 5607 foot summit and offers spectacular views. This is a great spot to take a break and have a snack. After fueling up, head back down and continue along the AT. This section towards Wayah Gap is mainly downhill so it should go quickly. Cross the road at Wayah Gap and prepare for the climb up to Wayah Bald.

After hiking steadily upwards for 4 miles you arrive at a short, paved path leading to the stone fire tower on the 5342 foot summit. This bald is easily accessible to cars, so be prepared to share the views. Information boards in the tower point out the names of surrounding peaks and features of the landscape. The AT continues on right by the tower after you've had your fill of the crowds and views. Shortly after leaving Wayah Bald you arrive at Wayah Shelter. This is a good place to call it a day and settle in for the night. If you're feeling strong, another option is to continue on another 4.8 miles, cross a dirt road at Burningtown Gap, then head up the hill to Cold Spring Shelter. It's located directly off the trail and has a spring in front of it.

Continuing on from Cold Springs Shelter, the trail begins its descent to Tellico Gap. If you wanted to, you could leave a car here and make this hike an overnighter, but be sure to make the 1.4 mile hike up to the Wesser Bald fire tower. Offering 360 degree views, it will likely be the highlight of your trip. Set up camp at the base of the fire tower, sleep right on top of it, or push on a half mile to the Wesser Shelter. Wherever you choose to camp, try to catch a sunset from the fire tower, you won't be disappointed!

The last leg of the hike is a 6.5 mile downhill hike from the Wesser shelter down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. The NOC is a whitewater rafting outfitter and has restaurants, lodging, and an outfitter's store. Take some time to enjoy a snack or cold drink by the river, you've earned it!

With trail access at Burningtown Gap, Tellico Gap, and Wayah Gap, turning a trip to any of the balds into an overnighter or a day hike would be very easy.

Helpful Links:
Appalachian Trail Map
Nantahala & Pisgah National Forest Maps

Pack List

  • Backpack
  • Sleeping pad
  • Tent/shelter
  • Food and trail snacks
  • Sturdy shoes or hiking boots
  • Camera
  • Sleeping bag
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Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Year Round

Trail Type:



28 Miles



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