Near Hot Springs is the historic fire lookout tower on Rich Mountain (3,643 ft.), located in Madison Countyin the Pisgah National Forest. From the top of the tower, enjoy beautiful panoramic mountain views. You can access the tower by car or by hiking the Appalachian Trail. However you cannot climb it right now. The tower is slated for a full-scale restoration project in Spring 2018 through a partnership with the North Carolina Forest Fire Lookout Association, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and US Forest Service
To access the tower by car or foot, take US 25/70 east for 2.8 miles from Hot Springs. Look for the Appalachian bridge that crosses the highway at Tanyard Gap. Just past the bridge, turn left on a paved side road. Immediately, you have a choice to turn right or left.
Hike to Rich Mountain
Turn left for a small parking area just before road turns left over the highway. Take the Appalachian Trail north for 2.4 miles to Rich Mountain (don't cross the bridge over the highway - hike the opposite directions - look for white blazes). White blazes n the pavement lead you a few feet to the trailhead. The AT enters the forest at a small sign just beyond on the right. From Tanyard Gap, Hot Springs is a 5.9-mile hike downhill and Allen Gap is 8.8 miles (6.4 miles past Rich Mountain). You can also hike from the town of Hot Springs - it's 5.9 miles to Tanyard Gap with a 2,200+ foot in elevation gain. So it's a strenuous walk.
Drive All the Way
To drive to the top of Rich Mountain, turn right on and drive six miles up a gravel road (usually in good shape). There is very little traffic on this curvy, mountain road. Go slow! (After traveling five miles on this road, you will reach the Tennessee state line at Hurricane Gap. Turn left here to drive the last mile to Rich Mountain.)
The lookout tower was erected by the United States Forest Service in 1932. The tower is 30 feet high and capped by a 14-by-14-foot live-in cab. The tower was actively staffed until the 1990s, however, it ceased to be a live-in lookout in the 1970s.