How to Hike to Shuckstack Fire Tower

How to Hike to Shuckstack Fire Tower

By Olivia Williams

Immerse yourself in the spirit of adventure with our guide on hiking to the Shookstack Fire Tower. We will inspire you to conquer the hike and surprise you with the challenge and stunning views.

A journey deep into the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains is an adventure of a lifetime filled with stunning views and a deep nature connection. One of the precious hidden beauties that has not been discovered yet is the Shukstack Fire Tower. It is a classic vertical structure that rises above the vibrant green background of the area.

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Hike to the Shuckstack Fire Tower is the best in Western North Carolina. It gives you unique views of the Unikoi, Nantahala, and Snowbird mountains and great views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Lake Fontana.

Your trip to the top will be at Fontana Dam, Bryson City, North Carolina, located west of Bryson City. As the tallest dam east of the Rockies, the power plant and dam itself are a must-see marvel of engineering.

This will be the last place to find a bathroom and refill your water, so be sure to do so. In the next sections, we’ll share the secrets to reaching this outstanding peak and reveal why it should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Shuckstack Fire Tower and Hiking Route Overview

The word “shuckstack” comes from the way it looks—it looks like a mound of dried cattle feed stored for the winter. There are several ways to get to Shuckstack Fire Tower, but the easiest one is to hike 4.6 miles on the Appalachian Trail, starting near Fontana Dam. Hiking this section of the AT out and back is a 9.2-mile round-trip journey.

Navigating From Fontana Dam to the Shuckstack Tower

Road across Fontana Dam in North Carolina
Road across Fontana Dam in North Carolina on the way to hike to Shuckstack Fire Tower

To get to the correct trailhead, start at the Fontana Dam Visitor Center and go across the dam. Technically, the Appalachian Trail passes through all of this. Once the dam is crossed, the road splits. There will be a sign indicating the Great Smoky Mountains National Park if you veer to the right. Proceed along this road until you come upon an information sign adjacent to an AT trailhead marker. It is approximately 1.1 miles from the visitor center to this location. To reach the Shuckstack fire tower, continue hiking the Appalachian Trail for 3.5 kilometers up a rough terrain.

This part of the AT is very steep. The first two miles from the trailhead sign are a fairly relentless incline of about 1500 feet. In the late fall and winter, there are many opportunities to see Fontana Lake through the trees.

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As you ascend, the views of the surrounding mountains get better and better. Around the 2.6-mile marker (or 3.7 from Fontana Dam), the trail graciously levels out for just under a half mile. The best views are right around the 2.9-mile marker (or 4 from Fontana Dam), where a bare, rocky outcropping reveals some incredible mountain vistas.

This path descends slightly before coming to a level crossroad where the trail splits. The spur route leading to the Shuckstack fire tower is not marked with a sign. To the left, the Appalachian Trail goes on. Proceed right and uphill to Shuckstack. This is the steepest portion is the last 0.4 mile.

The Summit Experience of Shuckstack Tower and Routes

The Shuckstack Fire Tower
The Shuckstack Fire Tower

The rugged summit of Shuckstack Mountain is home to the Shuckstack Fire Tower. Next to it are the remnants of the old tower keeper’s lodge, which include a cistern close to the tower’s base and a chimney. Constructed in 1934, the tower has 78 stairs and 6 floors. The sights get better as you get higher. Views of the Unicoi Mountains, including Hangover, to the west, Fontana Lake, and the Nantahala Mountains to the south, the Blue Ridge Mountains to the southeast, and the Smoky Mountains skyline to the north are all visible from the summit.

Fontana Lake view from Inside The Shuckstack Fire Tower
Fontana Lake view from Inside The Shuckstack Fire Tower

The structure is in quite decent form overall, with the exception of a missing brace on the left-right before entering the cabin at the top.

The Twentymile trail, which is 5.0 miles long and starts at the Twentymile Ranger station immediately west of Fontana Dam, offers an additional route to the Shuckstack fire tower. It can be combined with Wolf Ridge Trail and Twentymile Loop Trail to create a 12.2-mile loop trip. 

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Best Time to Visit Shuckstack Fire Tower

The best time to visit the Shuckstack Fire Tower trail is between April and October, especially on dry days. 

The following are some of the reasons for this specific time: 

This season’s weather is relatively mild from April to May, and wildflowers bloom while strolling through the path. This makes hiking enjoyable because it allows one to walk without worrying about rain showers. Moreover, the days are cool with low temperatures, hence reducing the chances of experiencing rain on the trail. 

June to August, when the daytime is prolonged, gives the hikers adequate time to ascend to Shuckstack Fire Tower and offer a clear view of the wider range. Moroso, the days are relatively safer with the dry conditions that make the trail smooth and easily accessed points. In that period, strong rainfall occurs late in the afternoon. Hence, I recommend visiting the Shuckstack Fire Tower early enough. 

The rest of September to October is the best time for exploration as the area gives shades of colorful tapestries of red, orange, and yellow. The trail is comfortable because the months are characterized by dryness and mild Days. 

Winter: this season receives moderate amounts of snow, but the trail is not recommendable due to the icy conditions; hence poses a high-risk factor that could lead to fatal accidents. Dry condition in the Shuckstack Fire Tower ensures widely stable paths and reduced chances of slipping. The hilly conditions and rocky terrain may slip when they come into contact with rain. Hiking from April to October ensures this obstacle is avoided since there is no water-dropping rain.

Hiking to Shuckstack Fire Tower

Hiking to Shuckstack Fire Tower in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Safety Tips for Hiking to Shuckstack Fire Tower

Before you start your route, consider a couple of hiking safety tips:

  • The day before the activity, see a local park or forest ranger to learn about any threats and the situation regarding the route’s condition. Additionally, inquire about whether any bear or other predators have been there before you to be prepared for the walk.
  • If you’re with kids, be sure you can see them at all times.
  • Tell a friend or family member of your trekking route and when you expect to return.
  • If you start early, you will have plenty of time to finish your hike. Also, returning will give you plenty of time to get back before dark.
  • Stay on the trail at all times.
  • Bring water, particularly during the summer.
  • Check the local weather forecast before you leave.
  • Use the map to measure your progress and ensure you always know where you are.
  • Carry a first aid kit and learn the necessary first aid procedures.
  • Wear sunglasses for the entire year, particularly at higher levels.
  • Wear footwear with support for your ankle.
  • Always have a waterproof match or a lighter and match/amplified emergency fire starter with you.
  • Don’t take too many things with you. Don’t burden yourself with items you don’t need.
  • Carry a headlamp or tiny flashlight. Nightfall arrives much faster in the mountains.

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Are You Ready to Hike Shuckstack Fire Tower?

The adventure to the top of the Shuckstack Fire Tower includes beautiful natural scenery, physical experiences, and a heightened sense of being closely connected with nature.

The Shukstack Fire Tower attracts both newcomers and experienced hikers who love to stay connected to the Great Smoky Mountains. So tie your boots, pack your essentials, and get ready for a mesmerizing hike to the summit of the Shookstack Fire Tower, a short walk that will leave you with wonderful memories of a natural wonder.

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