Great Smoky Mountains & Vicinity
Mileages are listed one way; double the distance for round trip length. Various routes are listed, depending on the hiker’s desire as to length of trip. Many can be incorporated into loops or shuttle hikes. Any of the routes are acceptable to meet the Challenge requirement. For some towers, other routes are possible but must meet mileage requirements. Check with the Challenge Committee to confirm other routes in question.
A Public Works Administration effort completed in 1934, the Shuckstack lookout tower had a bird’s eye view of the start to finish construction of Fontana Dam, just 2 miles south, from 1941 to 1944. The tallest dam in the eastern United States was finished in just three years using work shifts encompassing 24 hours per day as an war effort project during World War II. Shuckstack also witness the subsequent flooding of the Little Tennessee River and creation of the 35 mile long Fontana Lake – one of, if not the most, dramatic landscape changes ever seen in western North Carolina. Incorporated into the route of the Appalachian Trail in 1946-47, Shuckstack offers the first glimpse of the massive Great Smoky Mountains range soon to be traversed for northbound thru-hikers. Standing 60 ft. tall, this steel tower has suffered grave structural deterioration and is in desperate need of restoration.
AT from Fontana Dam (3.5)
Twentymile Creek Trail (5.5)
Lakeshore & Lost Cove Trail (8.5)
Lakeshore & AT Loop (12.0)
At 6,643 ft., Clingmans Dome stands as the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the state of Tennessee, as well as on the entire 2,100+ mile Appalachian Trail. An abstract concrete observation tower crowns the summit after replacing an earlier wooden surveyor tower in the 1920s and a wooden observation tower in the 1930s. Built in 1959 as part of the National Park Service “Mission 66” initiative, Clingmans Dome receives over 4 million visitors each year, the highest among all state high points. A 375 ft. ramp leads to the top of the 45 ft. tower for the most all-encompassing view of the wild and rugged Great Smoky Mountains.
Clingmans Dome Summit Trail (0.5)
Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail (1.0)
Clingmans Dome Summit Loop (1.5)
AT From Collins Gap (1.7)
More resembling a lighthouse or castle turret, Mt. Cammerer lookout tower is perched perilously on a rocky promontory at the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains range. An octagonal stone lookout house, completed in 1939 by the CCC, has become one of the most endearing symbols of the Great Smokies following its 1995 restoration. Two decades of deterioration followed its decommissioning in the 1970s until the 1970s until a restoration effort restored it to its former glory in the 1990s. The project was the first undertaking of the group that soon became the Friends of the Smokies, the national park’s leading fundraising organization. Formerly known as White Rock, Mt. Cammerer is often debated as the best view in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is located just a half mile off of the Appalachian Trail.
Low Gap Trail & AT (5.6)
Big Creek Loop (16.9)
Lower Cammerer Loop (15.0)
AT from Davenport Gap (5.2)
Another CCC lookout in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this 60 ft. steel tower stands at the highest elevation of any true fire tower remaining in the eastern United States. Built in 1935, the tower overlooks the Cataloochee Valley, the location of the recent reintroduction of elk to western North Carolina. Known as the Devil’s Bedchamber to early Cherokee hunters, Mt. Sterling can be reached with a three mile hike via its former jeep access road or a six mile epic ascent on the Baxter Creek Trail, debated as the most strenuous and demanding trails in the southeast. Because of a backcountry campsite located at the tower base, hardy backpackers can enjoy the sunrises and sunsets from the top of the tower following a night camped atop the 5,842 ft. summit. Mt. Sterling lookout boasts the highest elevation of any remaining true fire lookout in the eastern United States.
Mt. Sterling Trail (2.7)
Baxter Creek Trail (6.1)
Pretty Hollow Gap & Mt. Sterling Ridge Trails (7.4)
Another fire tower on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, this lookout is just a half mile off of the Blue Ridge Parkway and overlooks both Cherokee, NC and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Built in 1932 by the CCC, this 60 ft. tower was manned for fire detection until 2004. The lookout and its breathtaking views of the Plott Balsams and the Great Smoky Mountains may be incorporated into the 700 mile North Carolina Mountains-To-Sea Trail in the future. Accompanied by a watchman’s cabin, Barnett Knob is reached with just a half mile hike off of the Blue Ridge Parkway between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Maggie Valley.
Barnett Fire Tower Access Road (0.6)
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