Yellow Mountain Trail is a 10.4 mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Highlands, North Carolina that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round.
Yellow Mountain at 5,127 feet is one of the highest mountains in the Highlands Ranger District. On the top is a fire tower built by the Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps originally in 1934, and reconstructed in the early 1990's through the joint effort of the Forest Service, local business and civic groups and volunteers. In 1992, the tower was recognized as a National Historic Lookout. Not only is the tower unique but the 360 degree view from the tower is one of the most spectacular in the District. The trail from Cole Gap to the top of Yellow Mountain starts at an elevation of 4,300 feet and goes along a Cole Mountain ridge at 4,600 feet. There is a short descent before climbing Shortoff to 5,000 feet via a set of switchbacks. At 4,640 feet, from Goat Knob the trail descends to Yellow Mountain Gap at 4,120 feet and makes the final climb up to Yellow Mountain at 5,120 feet. Shorter hikes can be made by terminating the hike at the view over the western cliffs of Cole Mountain or by continuing to the top of Shortoff. Also you can start from the Cashiers side of the trail with a RT of around 3 miles.
The up downs are no joke.
We departed the trail head at Buck Creek Road at 10:10. It took us 2 hours 40 minutes to the top and just under 3 hours back down. the sign at the trail head said the trail is 4.8 miles one way. My FitBit tracker logged me in at just over 14 miles. Very long trail to say the least. the switch backs going up the hill sides made the hike easier for sure. the trails were very well marked and for the most part are in good shape. I myself prefer a shorter more strenuous trail such as Table Rock but I still enjoyed the hike and will definately be back up there in the fall to see the leaves in bloom. the view is fantastic up top.
It took a while to find the trailhead because I didn't know what exactly I was looking for but there is a big yellow sign that reads "National Forest Yellow Mtn. Trail". You can leave your car right across the street from the trailhead in a turnout area.
My group and I started the trail late, around 1pm and made it to the summit around 1730. We did not stay long because the sun was setting but the view and colors of the sky was amazing! If you start the hike late in the day like me, be sure to point out plenty of physical markers! There are blue tags every now and then to keep you on the trail but there is a part on the trail when you are declining and you take a sharp right. On the way back we missed this sharp turn (which would have been a sharp left incline) and continued going straight instead. We ended up off trail and took about 3 hours to get back on trail. There could be more signs to help keep you on trail although we shouldn't have been out there in the dark.
The summit view is a great reward and I would have liked to have stayed there longer to enjoy the view and rest. The fire tower is free to climb up into to further take in the view. This is definitely a day hike that you should start before noon. It's not impossible to do later in the day, just be well prepared for hiking back in the cold, dark night.
The Cole Gap Trailhead is located at the intersection of Buck Creek Road and NF4535.
Facilities: Just across the road from the trailhead on Buck Creek Road is a dirt/gravel parking area for maybe five or so cars. No restrooms or other facilities other than a historic firetower at the top of Yellow Mountain.
I didn't make it the tower though I was so close I got scared and turned back around because I didn't want to risk being stranded in the dark finding my way back. That's what I get for not starting earlier in the day. The hike was some good exercise and the leaves made it more challenging as you can't see where you're really placing your foot. I'll do the hike again in the spring because it was a freezing 37°.
It's been about 14 months since I hiked it the first time, and I decided it was time to see if this hike was as torturous as I remembered. My conditioning has definitely improved since that first time, but the hike was still long and difficult. Getting to the top of Yellow Mountain took 2 hours 15 minutes, and I was back at Buck Creek Rd in a total of 4 hours 50 minutes. The second half of the hike back is the hard part as you start hitting the hills after having already hiked 8 or 9 miles. There was minimal wildlife (saw 1 deer and a few chipmunk) and the trail was completely covered with leaves. I didn't have any trouble following the path and saw 17 other people the entire hike. If you are in town for the weekend and looking for a nice hike and an amazing view, check out Rabun Bald which is only 4-5 miles round trip. This hike takes too long if you are short on time.
This trail is well marked most of the way, and the view at the top was great! However, this trail is definitely not for the faint of heart. Steep, rocky climbs and the distance itself made for a long 6 hours for us. Bring plenty of water and snacks for energy.
This is a hard trail! Saw a black bear though. Went out 2.5 miles and turned around. The bear scared me.
Great, well maintained trail with good signage along the trail. Very challenging hike with some steep and long ascents especially the last mile as you make your way to the fire tower. The trail distance is definitely longer than it is stated on this app and in many hiking guide books. We measured 6.15 miles each way and it felt like every inch of it as we finished up the longer than expected but very enjoyable hike. Great views from the fire tower that make the struggle worth while. We finished the hike in just under 5 hours.
Beautiful views. Got lost trying to get there but definitely worth the drive.
We hiked this trail yesterday. There are new trails cut that extend the length from 4.8 miles to 6.4 miles, one way. It was windy and cold, even snowed on us, but the trail is in great shape. We found an older overgrown trail from the top which takes you through a "development" that never took off and it cut off 1.4 miles on the return. Great long views from the fire tower. The trip back to the trail head has significant elevation climb late in the hike - you knew it from the steady drop on the way out. Stop at Bucks Coffee in Cashiers on the way out to warm up and wake up after a tiring hike. Worth the trip.
Awesome trail. Very well maintained, would recommend for experienced hikers looking for some decent uphill challenges. Not a lot of waterfalls, but a very rewarding view at the top!
Great but longer than 9.6. At least 12 miles.
I hiked this today, and it was a grind 4 hours and 45 minutes from the Buck Creek Rd trailhead to the fire tower and back to Buck Creek. My GPS says just under 14 miles total, and it felt like it. There are lots of long up and down hill climbs. The trail in many spots is one person wide. Nearly all trees that have fallen have been cleared of the trail but there are a few you must lumber over. This is not a "fun" hike. It is a real test of endurance and has no great lookouts until you get to the fire tower, which is an amazing view. If you are in town for just a few days, there are many other trails with better long range views or waterfalls. I'm rating it high because it is clean and well maintained and the view from the tower is great, but I don't know if I'll hike it again.