Friday, September 9, 2011

Southern Fire Towers

Monarch butterfly on thistle
Frying Pan Mountain Fire Tower Hike
August 27, 2011


Dana Koogler

Pictures are here:

View from the steps of the Frying Pan Mountain Fire Tower

      We recently took a camping trip to Pisgah Forest, North Carolina.  I had with me all my guidebooks for hiking in the area.  Kenny and I opted not to hike to only waterfalls, but to hike to some mountain summits.  We both love great mountain views.  Two of the books we took along were Kevin Adams' Best Wildflower Hikes of North Carolina   and Peter Barr's  Hiking North Carolina's Lookout Towers.  Kevin Adam's book recommended Frying Pan Mountain as an excellent August hike for Summer wildflowers and views.    Peter Barr's book gave interesting historical details and full, clear directions.  We thought it would be fun to hike to the two area lookouts that faced one another.    We got hooked on hiking to opposing summits by hiking to Table Rock Mountain NC and Hawksbill Mountain, NC a few Summers ago.

      The hike to Frying Pan Mountain Tower was beautiful! It was not very hard at only 1.4 miles round trip.   The hike turned out to be everything Kevin Adam's promised for a Summer wildflower hike and more.  Within the first moments of stepping out at the truck I had photographed four different species of butterflies!
I am a butterfly nut and have redone our bedroom in wildflowers and butterflies.
I used my photographs for the decor and have loved being able to add to the collection.    The views were great although the weather was overcast.  The main wildflower species seen on the hike are as follows:

Hollow stem Joe Pye Weed
Sweet Joe Pye Weed
New York Iron Weed
Yellow Golden Glow
Thinleaf Sunflower
White Snake Root
Pale Jewel Weed
Spotted Jewel Weed
Pink Turtlehead

Great Spangled Frittilary on wild Clematis vine. Frying Pan Mountain, NC
     We made it to the top of the summit of Frying Pan Mountain and checked out the tower.  The cab is locked, but access to the steps is not restricted.   We hiked up as far as we could.    Kenny is a crane operator and deals with sites like this as part of his job. He pointed out all sorts of things to me that I didn't notice before. He taught me about ice bridges that are used to protect the structures and equipment place atop spots like this.  I did notice a vent chute on the side of a building that was dented from falling ice.  Interesting tidbits I'd not have paid attention to. 

     We spotted the privy for the old fire tower far below and through a path of briars.
I was surprised to find instead of being smelly and filled with bees and snakes it was clean and odorless.  It had no door, but was solid otherwise.  I doubt it has seen any use in a long time.  I grew up during the transition time for our family to indoor toilets from outhouses. The last outhouse was only torn down for our family about five years ago.  I'm no stranger to carrying a stick to shoo snakes away. 


Privy Behind the  Frying Pan Mountain Lookout Tower

We also saw grouse, goldfinches, mockingbirds, and many other birds on our hike to this summit.   We saw a praying mantis clinging to the side of one of the weather buildings up here.   Elderberries were in abundance attracting all these pretty birds with their songs.   Mountain Ash trees were bursting forth with their bright red berries!
What a truly beautiful spot.  The Blue Ridge Mountains rolled endlessly off in any direction viewed from here!


Praying Mantis giving me a hard look.

     We ate lunch along the Parkway at the Buck Spring Lodge site.  It was the Summer home for the Vanderbilts and it is interesting and a very short walk to visit.  We were able to find the spring house and the rock walls and foundations.  There is a pretty view from here also.

     We began our hike to the summit of Mount Pisgah and the observation platform.
The hike is only 1.4 miles round trip.   The first 0.4 miles are deceptively level. After that the hike gains 712 feet in 0.7 miles.   Knees to the Shoulders! is an apt mantra for these sorts of hikes.   I was shocked when even after all my huffing and puffing it only took us an 70 minutes to get up there.   The trail is very rocky and steep the last section.  We saw a hawk on this hike.  We met Meade Baker and James Groseclose today. They are very nice folks. I felt priviledged to make their acquaintance.  Both are interesting to talk to and love outdoors as we do.  

    The observation tower had a pretty view and the sun came out for awhile.   There are communication towers up here and so the view is not truly 360 degrees.  More like 270.
Behind you is the snarl of towers and equipment. Kenny spent time checking out the towers and equipment. James worked for a telecom company so he had helped with all that stuff and knew lots about it too.   Having someone interesting to talk with is an excellent diversion for the difficulty of a hike like this! 

View from the Observation Tower on Mt. Pisgah's summit. Looking back in the direction of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

          From the summit of Mt. Pisgah we could look back across to Frying Pan Mountain and vice versa.   It was pretty cool.  I had hiked to numerous other tower sites.  Sometimes the tower still stood while other times it was just a site and ruins.
Today's hike hooked me.  I decided I'd collect up all the photos of tower sites I could find and put them in one place.  It sparked my interest in actively bagging more of these  hikes.  It will be good for my body and my brain.  Fitness for my body and keep my mind sharp learning facts about these places.  I love history and these old fire tower sites abound with history.  

    I look forward to many more adventures and adding photos to my fire tower collection .  The views are good for the soul. 

Below is a link to Peter Barr's book  for sale on Amazon for anyone interested in obtaining a copy.   Also Kevin Adam's wildflower hikes book.

Frying Pan Mountain Lookout Tower

      The lookout towers of North Carolina, Tennessee and most other states are falling into disrepair and being lost to time and technology.  North Carolina actively staffs and uses only four of its remaining fire towers at the present time.   I plan to hike to see and enjoy them while I still can.


  1. I love the Swallowtail pic. The Praying Mantis really neat too. What kind of camera do you use?

  2. Thanks Maeflower. I use a Nikon Cool Pix P90 for these. I have an Olympus I like better for waterfall photos that I want to get the silky effect on. For my videos and all else... its my Nikon.


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