Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower

While Fryingpan Mountain is NOT protected by CMLC, it offers one of the most expansive and scenic vistas to view many of our conserved lands across Henderson, Transylvania, and Rutherford counties. Crowned by a historic fire lookout, this tower’s elevated perch atop a 5,340-foot peak offers views extending beyond 60 miles on a clear day. Fryingpan Mountain is in the Pisgah National Forest (Pisgah Ranger District) and accessed by a gravel road/trail off of NPS’s Blue Ridge Parkway.

Fire lookout towers, like the one atop Fryingpan Mountain, were used for well over a half-century to provide rapid-fire detection for land managing agencies like the U.S. Forest Service. With the aide of a distant view from above that the tower provided, “fire watchers” were able to quickly detect smoke on surrounding slopes and in the valleys below and identify its general location. Alerting smokeschasers and firefighters nearby allowed for the fire to be contained, managed, and extinguished while still small in size, preventing it from becoming a ravaging forest fire that threatened vast quantities of natural resources as well as private property and human lives. A shorter historic fire lookout tower also stands atop CMLC-protected Bearwallow Mountain.

The Fryingpan Mountain lookout tower is one of the tallest in western North Carolina, standing 70 feet above the summit. It was constructed in 1941 by the US Forest Service. A 12’x12’ “live-in” cab surrounded by a catwalk crowns the structure. Due to the tower’s remote and rugged location that made access difficult, firewatchers formerly made their home in the cab for several days, even weeks at a time, while serving fire detection duties. The cab was equipped with basic necessities, including a bed, cook stove for preparing meals, and a radio and/or telephone to communicate with the Forest Service or other nearby lookout towers.

This lookout tower was actively staffed for fire detection until the early 1990s when its use was decommissioned by the US Forest Service. Modern fire potting is achieved more quickly and at less expense utilizing aerial surveillance by airplane or by reports received from the public via cell phone. While no longer used for its original purpose, the tower is a historic structure and enables a scenic view for hikers and tourists enjoying a hike in Pisgah National Forest or drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Using federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, the Fryingpan Mountain lookout tower was restored in 2010 by the US Forest Service.

From the top of the lookout tower, view expanses of beautiful, undeveloped natural landscape. To view lands that CMLC has protected, look east and southeast. On the horizons and successive ridges below, many CMLC conservation projects are visible on a clear day including (from left to right) Little Pisgah Mountain (Florence Nature Preserve), Bearwallow Mountain, Shumont Mountain (Weed Patch Mountain & Chimney Rock State Park), Sugarloaf Mountain (Chimney Rock State Park), Queen Creek Mountain (Deerfields), Sharpy Mountain (Mountain Meadows at Turkeypen), and Rich Mountain (Camp High Rocks). More CMLC conserved land is visible farther below in the French Broad River valley as well as DuPont State Recreational Forest. Try out the Peakfinder app on iOS or Android to identify peaks and CMLC conserved lands.

Enjoy the view—and thanks for your support of CMLC in protecting it!


CHALLENGE: Hike to Fryingpan Mountain lookout tower

Primary Route: Forest Service Road 450 (Out & Back)

Hiking Distance: 1.4 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 400 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 409.6, one mile south of the Pisgah Inn & Campground and 2.3 miles north of the junction with US 276. A gravel road junctions with the paved Parkway and marks the trailhead/turn-off. Park on the grass adjacent to the Parkway; plenty of level parking space is available. Make sure you do not block the gate. Click here to enter your address and receive turn-by-turn directions to the trailhead. GPS users mayenter N35.39510, W-82.76860 in their units. 

Hiking DirectionsAt the carsonite signpost for FS 450m hike beyond the gate on the gravel road and begin gradually ascending the northeast flank of Fryingpan Mountain. At 0.4 mi., the road makes a wide turn to the south and offers excellent views to the north. It quickly gains the ridgeline and levels at 0.6 mi., where the lookout tower and other communication towers are visible directly ahead. A short but steep climb to the end of the road reaches the summit and base of the lookout tower. The tower is structurally sound and safe to climb, though it is not for those who have a fear of heights. While the top cab and catwalk are locked and inaccessible, climbing its 89 metal stairs to the top landing provides equally as breathtaking view. Avoid climbing the tower if their is a possibility of lightning.

Alternative Routes: For a longer hike, you can start at the Mt. Pisgah Inn and Campground and hike the Fryingpan Mountain Trail over Big Bald to Fryingpan Gap, and then follow the directions of the primary route to ascend Forest Road 450 to the tower. The Fryingpan Mountain Trail begins just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near several picnic tables at the far left of the campground (when viewed from the Parkway or Mt. Pisgah Inn). Though it is not signed, a trail is obvious. This out-and-back hike is 3.2 miles roundtrip.


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