Appalachian Trail: Albert Mountain fire tower to Mooney Gap

Hike the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, climbing to the Albert Mountain fire tower, hiking through Bearpen Gap and catching stunning views along the Big Butt ridge to Mooney Gap.

 

trail info

The Appalachian Trail hikes an epic 2000+ miles from Georgia to Maine, trekking through shady forest and lush creek valleys, and over towering mountain summits. The AT’s stretch in North Carolina is exceptionally beautiful, climbing and diving through the Blue Ridge mountains after making its Georgia exit at Bly Gap near the GA-NC border.

Hhike to stunning, 360-degree views from the historic Albert Mountain fire tower on the Appalachian Trail near Franklin, NCAbove: hike to stunning, 360-degree views from the historic Albert Mountain fire tower on the Appalachian Trail

This moderately challenging, 4-mile out-and-back hike travels a particularly scenic stretch of the Appalachian Trail near Franklin, NC, climbing Albert Mountain to a historic metal fire tower and catching exceptional, 360-degree panoramic views from the mountain’s summit. The hike descends Albert’s southern, rocky, sun-drenched slope, trailing through Bearpen Gap and ducking through tunnels of dense, gnarly-branched rhododendron. The hike catches some additional sublime views from the lower elevations of Big Butt Mountain before descending to Mooney Gap, and then flips to return to the Albert Mountain trailhead by following the outbound hike in reverse.

Hike to the historic, metal Albert Mountain fire tower and some stunning summit views on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

It’s a view-packed hike through a beautiful stretch of the Nantahala National Forest, and a moderate (but very scenic) drive from Franklin. The area is prone to electrical storms, so be sure to check the forecast and change plans if a storm is even remotely likely. And the return hike is definitely a workout, requiring some light scrambling over exposed rock – but it’s oh-so-worth it.

The views are simply unforgettable.

Appalachian Trail to the Albert Mountain fire tower: the hike

The hike departs a gravel parking area off the graveled FS67 in the Standing Indian area of the southern Nantahala National Forest (view maps and driving directions). The hike crosses through a metal gate to the north, following a blue-blazed access trail to the northeast, and beginning a climb through a dense forest of gnarly-branched rhododendron.

The hike reaches the Appalachian Trail at .3 mile, hanging a right to hike the white-blazed AT toward Albert Mountain. The trail begins a steep ascent, climbing southbound toward the summit. The AT summits at .5 mile, reaching the historic steel fire tower on the rocky mountain’s peak.

Catch some beautiful summit views from the Albert Mountain fire tower on the Appalachian Trail in NC

While the former-live in quarters at the top of the tower are usually locked, the tower’s metal stairs and lower landings are usually open, and offer some exceptional views. Views stretch endlessly in all directions on a clear day, reaching south toward Georgia, west to Standing Indian Mountain and down into the adjacent Coweeta Valley. The views are particularly beautiful in fall, when autumn’s colorful leaf splendor paints the nearby mountains and valleys in vibrant oranges, golds and reds.

The Appalachian Trail climbs through a rocky landscape to the summit of Albert Mountain near Franklin, NC

Departing the tower, the hike continues following the iconic, rectangular white blazes of the Appalachian Trail southbound, descending Albert Mountain’s rocky southern slope. The trail dives elevation sharply, carefully navigating over steeply angled rock outcrops and descending to a gravel road, reaching Bearpen Gap at .75 mile.

The hike begins a short climb from the gap, ascending through a forest of oak and rhododendron, and passing a campsite on trail left. The Appalachian Trail winds through switchbacks, descending once again, and reaching a large campsite on trail left at 1.2 miles. A side trail makes a short trek eastbound to an overlook with exceptionally beautiful views and several rustic wood benches.

Hike the Appalachian Trail to beautiful summit views near Franklin, NC

The hike continues its southbound trek on the AT, ducking under a dense rhododendron tunnel and rolling elevation along a rocky ridge near the summit of the oddly-named Big Butt Mountain. Through-the-trees views extend on the left as the trail carefully navigates a narrow path in a rocky, steeply-pitched landscape. A small spring drips down the mountain’s mossy, steep walls at 1.65 miles.

The Appalachian Trail passes a campsite at 1.9 miles, just before crossing a small creek over a large metal culvert. The hike passes a wooden sign for Mooney Gap and reaches a gravel road, FS83, at 2 miles.

Hike the Appalachian Trail from Mooney Gap to Albert Mountain in North Carolina

From here, this hike flips in reverse, retracing its outbound steps on the Appalachian Trail and making a long climb to Albert Mountain. It’s a rolling, 725-foot climb to the summit from Mooney Gap, but a second chance to soak up those sublime views (and a great workout, too). After summiting Albert, the hike descends the AT to the north, and hangs a left on the blue-blazed access trail to return to the trailhead.

Nearby can’t-miss hikes near Franklin

Up for some more summit serenity and gorgeous mountaintop views? Hike the Appalachian Trail to Standing Indian Mountain, catching some beautiful summit views of the Tallulah River basin and Georgia’s Lake Burton. Hike the Big Laurel Falls Trail to a beautiful waterfall in a lush, rhododendron-filled forest. Or hike the oddly-named Pickens Nose Trail to a rocky mountain summit marked with sharp, angular rock outcrops and exceptional summit views; the Pickens Nose trailhead is just southeast of Mooney Gap on FS83.

 
 
 

Albert Mountain to Mooney Gap: Appalachian Trail: Directions & Details

Parking

Free parking is available at the trailhead. Before you go, check for seasonal trail and road closures on the USFS Nantahala National Forest site.

Please Remember

Always leave no trace and follow these trail etiquette tips.

GPS Coordinates

35.052562, -83.480219     //     N35 9.20993 W83 34.83923

Driving Directions


Elevation Profile

Albert Mountain to Mooney Gap: Appalachian Trail Elevation Profile

Albert Mountain to Mooney Gap: Appalachian Trail Map

Trail data and photos © Summit19 Studio LLC. This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.
 
Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, online magazines that cover the South’s best outdoor adventures. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.

Eric is also a freelance writer, photographer and creative director.