Dotting the landscape of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are a few fire towers and observation towers perched high above the trees with excellent mountain views.
But where did these lookout towers come from?
Some used to serve as watch towers for detecting wildfires, while others were built as observation platforms to give visitors a nice panoramic vista. These unique destinations Smokies are also architecturally and historically interesting sights to see during your trip!
To start planning your visit to these beautiful destinations in the Smokies, use this guide to the 5 fire towers and observation towers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
1. Clingmans Dome Tower
This impressive tower was built in 1959 by the National Park Service and it has recently undergone some updates to preserve it for future use.
Located on the tallest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you'll find the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower that sits at an elevation of 6,643 feet!
On a clear day, this 54-ft tall observation tower provides visitors with views that stretch on for 100 miles, however because of hazy skies visibility is typically around 20 miles.
From the top, you can easily see nearby mountains like Mt. LeConte and other sites in the national park like Cades Cove. The tower also provides a nice view of the Spruce-fir forest that dominates the high peaks of the Smokies.
Since it is only a 0.5-mile hike away from the Clingmans Dome parking area, this tower is probably the most visited tower in the Smoky Mountains.
The tower on Clingmans Dome is open year-round; however the 7-mile Clingmans Dome Road that leads to the tower is closed during winter.
How To Get There
From Newfound Gap take the 7-mile Clingman's Dome Road to the Clingman's Dome Parking area. At the end of the parking lot near the Ranger Station, you'll find the trailhead for the 0.5-mile Clingman's Dome Trail that leads to the observation tower.
2. Mt Cammerer Fire Tower
The fire tower on Mt. Cammerer in the Cosby region of the Smoky Mountains National Park is arguably one of the most picturesque fire towers in the Eastern United States.
This historic lookout tower is known as a "western style" fire tower, since it is built much closer to the ridge than other fire towers in the Appalachian mountains.
A western style fire tower is shorter, but since it is nestled on a high, exposed ridge it provides an excellent view. This type of makes the Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower stand out from other lookout towers in Appalachia, which are usually built much taller to see above the trees.
The CCC constructed this fire tower in 1937 with large stone blocks that were hauled about 100 yards from a nearby quarry. Until the 1960s, this tower was manned by a fire ranger who scanned the forests for signs of a wildfire.
Once modern fire detection techniques were detected, this fire tower fell into disrepair. In 1996, it underwent major restorations and it is now open to the public.
This tower offers a panoramic view of the northeastern portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park including the Pigeon River Gorge, Mt. Sterling, and Cosby Valley.
How To Get There
Enter the Cosby area of the national park and hike the Low Gap Trail for 3 miles to reach the Appalachian Trail. Take a left on the Appalachian Trail and hike another 2 miles to reach a 0.6-mile spur trail that leads to the fire tower.
3. Mt. Sterling Fire Tower
This historic fire tower sits atop the 5,842 Ft Mt. Sterling in the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
To reach it, you'll have to take a long hiking trail that climbs nearly 2,000 feet from Mt. Sterling Gap near the Deep Creek region of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, this effort is well worth the reward. Along the way, you'll be treated to beautiful old growth forests, including Red Spruce and Fraser Firs.
Near the summit, you'll find the 60-foot tall Mt. Sterling Fire Tower that peers above the trees. Built in 1935 to aid in forest fire detection, this fire tower offers a stunning view of the North Carolina Smokies.
How To Get There
Enter into the Deep Creek area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to take the Old Cataloochee Turnpike to Mt. Sterling Gap. This trailhead can also be reached via the Deep Creek Campground on the same road. After 2.3 miles on the Mt. Sterling Trail, you'll reach the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail. Turn right on this trail and hike another 0.5 miles to reach the tower on the summit of Mt. Sterling.
4. Look Rock Tower
Located just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Look Rock Observation Tower sits on the highest point of the Foothills Parkway at an elevation of 2,650 feet.
This scenic road follows a ridge line that runs just outside of the national park. Although this road isn't inside of the park boundaries, it does provide an excellent view of the main ridge of the Smokies.
Built in the 1960s, the Look Rock tower is located on the section of the parkway between Walland and Chilhowee lake.
To reach the tower, there's a 0.9-mile hike, but there's also a nice observation point located at the Look Rock parking area if you are unable to make the hike.
To the west, this tower provides visitors with a great view of the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including Thunderhead, Mt. LeCount, and Gregory's Bald, while the view east features Blount County including Maryville and Alcoa.
Though this destination is less visited than other areas of the park, it is more accessible than many other towers in the Smokies which can require long hikes to visit.
How To Get There
Beginning in Walland, TN or Chilhowee and drive access the Foothills Parkway. After a few miles, you'll reach the parking area for Look Rock. On the forested side of the road, a short 0.9-mile trail leads to the Look Rock Observation Tower.
5. Shuckstack Fire Tower
Shuckstack Fire Tower is perched in the southern region of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the famous Appalachian Trail.
Built in 1934 by the Public Works Administration, this fire tower stands 60 ft tall and boasts a stunning view of Fontana Lake and the Unicoi, Snowbird, and Nantahala Mountains.
To reach this tower, you'll have to hike 3.5 miles and climb a strenuous 2,100 ft to make it to the tower. Once at the top, you may notice that the tower moves a little due to the wind. Because of high winds, the tower structure was designed to give a little.
Additionally, you should know that this tower is not well maintained and there are missing rails and loose steps at the top. In fact, this tower may be disassembled in the future if it becomes a safety hazard.
How To Get There
From Fontana Dam, Take the Appalachian Trail northbound 3.5 miles to reach a 3-way trail intersection. To continue to the tower, take a right and follow the path 0.1 miles.
Map of Towers in the Smoky Mountains
These are the only fire towers and observation towers that are currently open to visitors in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
There are a couple of fire towers that are no longer open to the public. For example, there is a fire tower on Cove Mountain Near Wears Valley, but the top of this tower is closed to visitors.
We'd love to know, have you been to any of these lookout towers in the Smoky Mountains? Which was your favorite? We'd love to hear your thoughts in our comments section!
Written by Hayden Brown