Yellow Mountain Trail

HARD 87 reviews
#4 of 87 trails in

Yellow Mountain Trail is a 11.9 mile lightly trafficked out and back 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. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

11.9 miles
2,952 feet
Out & Back

dogs on leash



mountain biking

nature trips

trail running




wild flowers


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.

15 days ago

It is hard! Great views in the fall with the foliage

28 days ago

I enjoy hikes that make me work for a view...I even enjoy hikes that are really strenuous without even offering a great view. I just enjoy feeling the burn. AND...this hike definitely deserves the title of most challenging. We started around 1:45 PM, taking our time, enjoying the scenery and the light drizzle of TS Florence on our skin. According to my FitBit tracker, we arrived at the fire tower after 7.32 miles. Another 7.52 miles (we made a small detour with our dogs to explore the trail to the parking lot at the top) and we arrived back at the car.

Most definitely pack a lot of water, and plenty of food to fuel the hike back. The return is pleasurably painful, but It's worth every moment. Almost 15 miles.

1 month ago

Hard is right!

2 months ago

Great exercise. Limited viewpoints was only negative

3 months ago

trail isn't overgrown or full of poison ivy. we read that review, decided to hike it anyways, and to our pleasant surprise it was amazing today. definitely hard work, but well worth it.

3 months ago

the trail started off good. it was moderately challenging and not crowded which is,a huge plus the week of 4th of july. unfortunately we turned back a mile and half in to the trek because the trail was over grown and full of poison ivy.

trail running
4 months ago

Beautiful single track. Lots of climbing. Only a couple of “views” until the firetower.

4 months ago

Beautiful day - excellent trail - very challenging!

5 months ago

Wow. Great run/hike. Enjoyed this one lots! What a view on a clear day

5 months ago

Very well marked trail. Some trees are down after Irma.
Pretty sleep elevation gain, so it was a great work out. We did it on a foggy rainy Sunday and didn’t meet any single person.
Flowers along the way and mossy trees.

5 months ago

Beautiful hike and amazing views at the top.

7 months ago

Definitely a tough challenge! Worth the experience especially at the top!

9 months ago

Nice trail with a beautful view. This trail is most definitely NOT a loop, and is longer than the distance given. Just follow the blue blazes (which are spread out) and you'll be fine.

10 months ago

Awesome hike but not 10.6 miles nor a loop. Got lost and ended up doing 14.2 miles.

11 months ago

Hiked this from the north side of the mountain and much shorter than the buck Creek entrance. The view and tower were great. Will definitely do again!

trail running
Sunday, October 08, 2017

An awesome spot for a trail run. I did it in the rain yesterday, Some technical parts and some climbing, but a really fun trail!

My gps said it was 6.08 miles to the fire tower, then I came back the same way. I didn't see a loop.
So 12.1 miles round trip.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Have done this trail in the past. Amazing view at the top, but the trail signage is definitely deceptive on the distance now that the trails have been redone.

Looking to hike this again, but one of the shorter options due to a limited schedule. Does anyone have specifics to get to some of the starts on the shorter options? Can't seem to find a trail map for those options

Sunday, September 17, 2017

There was a ton of debris from Irma which made a tough hike even tougher. You need to prepare for 12 + miles of tough up and downs there and back. Tremendous views at the top.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Yes, this is a great workout. Beautiful scenery. Make sure you are physically fit enough to hike this trail. The comments below from other hikers are correct. This trail is almost 13 miles. We did not realize that, of course, when we started, therefore, we were hiking out the last couple of miles after dark....not good. Please make sure to allow enough daylight hours, accounting for some rest time because of the strenuous nature of the trail. I would definitely do it again though. Great photos from our hikes. :)

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Much longer and more difficult than I anticipated. Don't start this trail at mid day.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The trail, one way, is 6.4 miles according to my GPS. I stayed on the Yellow Mountain trail the entire time even though there are a few other trails that branch off or intersect it. The trail has spots of tree roots and rocks but for the most part, is well maintained except for some trees covering the trail. The view at the top is great for a North Carolina hike. It is a trail that is equally difficult coming back as it was going up because you are strained from the trek to the top and you must still ascend the same mountains that you climbed going to Yellow Mountain. This can be verified by my Fitbit and I burned almost the same amount of calories coming back. Overall, if you want to be alone and you want a good workout, go on a weekday and you may not see anyone else the entire time.

Monday, April 03, 2017

It was a good hike, I went when it was foggy in hopes to see the fog and mist over the mountains, but I saw nothing because the fog was so dense at the top that I saw nothing. But it technically was a 5 star hike, just I had a poor-ish experience.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Great although misleading long. the trailhead and most places indicate that it is only 10.4 however the northernmost part of the loop is closed (or overgrown at the very least). So its closer to 13 miles from what I can tell. Fitbit says 16, but it wasnt that long for sure. There is a lot of elevation changes and long uphills/downhills. The top is well worth the hike and definitely worth exploring up there for a while.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The up downs are no joke.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

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.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

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.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Cole Gap Trailhead is located at the intersection of Buck Creek Road and NF4535.
35.104520, -83.203950

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.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

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°.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

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.

Monday, September 05, 2016

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.

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