This short (.4 miles) spur trail climbs moderately to High Rocks, a former fire tower site. At an elevation of 5,190 ft, the location provides outstanding southern views over Lake Fontana and beyond. Many consider the view from High Rocks among the best in GSMNP.
In summer the trail can become choked with chest-high wildflowers, and hikers may need to push through to stay on the trail. When the old stone steps appear hikers will know they are approaching High Rocks and the trail's terminus.
High Rocks is located in an extremely remote section of GSMNP. The High Rocks Trail is accessed via the Welch Ridge Trail
, which runs between the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Cold Spring Gap Trail
, although if High Rocks is your primary goal the most-direct route is to access the Welch Ridge Trail
via the Bear Creek Trail
. However you get there, the view and history are worth the effort.
The CCC built a 46' fire tower and caretaker's cabin at High Rocks in 1935-36. The tower was removed in the 1980's and only the concrete footings remain. The caretaker's cabin remains but has fallen into significant disrepair; a tarp covers the roof but the cabin is collapsing and is not safe to enter. The structure has historic significance, and the NPS has plans to renovate the cabin, although candidly this does not appear to be a priority with all the maintenance needs in GSMNP.
Reportedly in the 1980's you could camp in the cabin with advance reservations, but this is no longer allowed. There is no camping of any kind allowed at High Rocks; however, water is typically available in the old cabin's cistern but should be treated.
On my last visit to High Rocks, someone had placed the old swivel chair from the fire tower on the rocks, allowing a fun and unique perch to sit and soak up the outstanding views.