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Hiking to Shuckstack Lookout Tower in the Smokies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the spring, when the wildflowers are at their peak and the temps are on the cooler side, we take every opportunity to get out on the trail. This Mother’s Day we headed for Shuckstack Lookout Tower  in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our jumping off point was Lakeshore trailhead near the massive Fontana Dam.

For many years the forests of our country were monitored for fires from tall towers built expressly for the purpose, many atop lonely outcrops of rock. Most such towers have disappeared as more modern approaches to fire control have taken over, but a small number remain in the Southern Appalachians. You can still climb the steep steps and enter the glass-enclosed lookout box that gently sways with the wind atop the Shuckstack Tower. On this day, the sky was blue and the breeze light. The view made the climb worth it: Fontana Lake and the dam itself, ridge ridge after blue ridge as far as the eye could see, and directly below us the scant remains of the fire ranger’s cabin, with the chimney still standing.

Our seven-mile, out-and-back hike took about four hours, including a 30- to 45-minute stop at the tower. On the way, pink and yellow lady slippers bloomed, along with phacelia and trillium. Pretty perfect for Mother’s Day.

For maps and directions regarding this hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, see p. 67 of Jim Parham’s  Backpacking Overnights: North Carolina  Mountains & South Carolina Upstate. It’s also included in our Great Hikes mobile app. The hike can be done as a 13-mile overnight, or as a shorter day excursion.

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