Hiking Fontana Dam to the Shuckstack Fire Tower

by | Jul 17, 2021

I love hiking. One of the joys of our RV lifestyle is the trips into the mountains and the opportunity to make the occasional day hike. I’m a big fan of the lower Appalachian Mountains and have been fortunate to make a number of memorable hikes in North Georgia and North Carolina. On this warm summer day, our son Joel joined me to take a day hike in the Smoky Mountains from Fontana Dam to the Shuckstack fire tower. The hike was amazing. Need directions? Click “More Options” in the supplied Google Map.

Shuckstack Fire Tower Trail

This part of the trail is also a section along the Appalachian Trail. There are two starts to consider for the trail to Shuckstack Fire Tower. There is a paved road into the Smoky Mountain National Park across Fontana Dam that takes you to the beginning of the trail head. The other option, which Joel and I took, is to park at the Fontana Lake Visitor Center and walk across the dam. This adds 2 miles to the hike, going and returning from the trail, but was worth the extra effort to soak in views of the lake, valley and hills surrounding the dam.

Shuckstack Fire Tower TrailI use hikingproject.com to find our trails, obtain directions, and download GPX maps for guidance. We have found the website to be invaluable with trail information containing pictures and comments. It also gives hike distances, elevations, average and max grades, and a suggested difficulty rating.

Hikingproject.com rated this hike as difficult and it was definitely one of the more challenging hikes I’ve made in sometime. From the start of the trail to the end is a constant upward climb. From the parking lot to base of the fire tower, the trail increased 2,200 feet in elevation. Hiking in the summer limits the views of the hills from the trail due to heavy foliage, but this gave the trail some interesting character. Something we didn’t expect was finding blooming mountain laurel and spring meadow flowers at the higher elevation, but at 3,330 foot plus elevations, it felt more like late spring vs. the height of summer.

Views from the Fire Tower

Reaching the top of the trail at the Shuckstack Fire Tower requires one last 100 yard climb. Rocky, steep, but worth every step for the awaiting views, but those views won’t be seen from the ground. Trees and surrounding vegetation limit the views during the summer months and the only option is climbing the steps up the old fire tower. Not for the weak of heart, the fire tower is an old metal structure that has very steep steps and small mid span platforms to reach the top. Some railing was missing, it felt solid, and thanks to the trail maintainers, new step and platform treads had been added.

With the mid span platforms, one does not have to go up but one or two flights of steps to see the mountain ranges. The more adventurous can climb to the top observation deck. Regardless of the level reached, the views are spectacular. We took a few extra minutes to capture the visual experience from the tower in the video below. As often shared at iloveRVlife: “It’s some kinda pretty!”

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