(Barbra Rodichok is NOC's Online Relations Coordinator. This trail is accessible from NOC via Wayah Road, where the Nantahala Public Put-In is located. From the put-in, the drive to the trailhead takes about 30 minutes.)
When I first moved to Wesser six years ago, I spent my afternoons snapping photos of NOC rafters at Nantahala Falls. My evenings were spent chasing sunsets across the county with my own camera. One of the first places I went is still my favorite, the hike to Siler Bald.
First of all, the drive from NOC to the trailhead is spectacular, passing along the upper Nantahala River, by the curvy shores of Lake Nantahala and deep into the Nantahala National Forest. While most visitors turn north toward the historic stone fire tower that sits atop Wayah Bald, this hike requires a turn south, to a Forest Service picnic area. From here you simply hop on the Appalachian Trail headed south towards Georgia.
The hike to the summit of the Siler Bald takes anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the speed of your clip. Having hiked it so many times, I tend to divide this trail into three distinct phases.
It begins as most Southern trails do, with thickets of tangled mountain laurel and towering poplar and hemlock. There are a few places where natural springs overflow onto the trail, but never deeper than the soles of your shoes. This first portion climbs gradually in elevation as it heads southwest.
Just when you've reached the ridge line, the trail switches back almost 180 degrees and increases in grade. This is the start of the second portion of the hike. This section is marked by exposed rock and increased variety of wildflowers. Just last week, we were treated to beautiful flame azalea in bloom. The steep stuff only lasts about 200 yards or so, then levels off.
The end of the second section is marked by an ancient oak tree with a double white blaze on it. You'll also know you've made it by the sweeping grassy field that ascends to your right. This third portion of the hike is the steepest, so I like to take it slow and enjoy the many vantage points.
The higher you climb, the more you see, including Lake Nantahala to the northwest. This is a true bald, with 360-degree view from the top elevation of 5,216 feet (just shy of a mile high).
At the top, you can always count on a steady breeze to cool you down, intriguing views, awe-inspiring layers of mountains and swallows dashing among the brush.
After six years, this is still my favorite hike in western North Carolina. It's not as challenging as some of the more demanding hikes in the Smokies, and I know there are other scenic vistas to experience, but Siler Bald still gets my highest marks.