Shuckstack Fire Tower from Fontana DamDifficult

Fontana Dam / Fontana

Shuckstack Fire Tower from Fontana Dam

Distance (One Way)

4.6 miles

Elevation Gain

2,400 feet


Fontana Dam



Trail Description Written by Caroline Sullivan

Shuckstack Fire Tower can be reached a number of ways, but the shortest route is on the Appalachian Trail beginning at Fontana Dam and hiking for about 4.6 miles. Hiking this portion of the AT out and back makes for a 9.2 mile roundtrip hike.

Starting at the Fontana Dam Visitor Center, you will walk across the dam to reach the proper trailhead. All of this is technically part of the Appalachian Trail. After going over the dam, the road splits. Veer toward the right and you will see a sign marking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Continue down this road until you see an information sign next to a trailhead marker for the AT. From the visitor center to this point is about 1.1 miles. Continue up the steep terrain on the Appalachian Trail for 3.5 miles to reach Shuckstack fire tower.

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.

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 route takes a short dip downhill before reaching a flat intersection where the trail forks. There is no sign marking the spur trail to reach the fire tower. The Appalachian Trail continues to the left. To reach Shuckstack, continue uphill to the right. The final 0.4 of a mile is the steepest part.

Shuckstack Fire Tower sits on the rocky peak of Shuckstack Mountain. Beside it are the remains of the old tower keeper's lodge: a chimney and cistern near the base of the tower. The tower was built in 1934 and consists of 6 stories and 78 steps. The higher you go, the better the views are. From the top you can see Fontana Lake and the Nantahala Mountains to the south, the Blue Ridge Mountains to the southeast, the Unicoi Mountains including Hangover to the west, and the Smoky Mountains skyline to the north.

Author's Note: This is one of three remaining fire towers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The traditional metal structure is most comparable to the one atop Mt. Sterling; out of the two, I am most comfortable with Shuckstack. I'm not sure if it's just because I've had good luck on non-windy days here, but I find the ascent up Sterling much scarier.

As of November 2023, the first flight of stairs up the tower lacks a railing on the right side, but the rest of them are fine. There is a brace missing on the left just before entering the cabin at the top, but overall, the structure is in pretty good shape.

Another way to reach Shuckstack fire tower is via Twentymile trail (5.0 miles long) from the Twentymile Ranger station just west of Fontana Dam. You can combine it with Twentymile Loop trail and Wolf Ridge Trail to make a 12.2 mile loop hike.

Shuckstack gets its name from its appearance: it resembles a stack of dried cattle feed stockpiled for winter.

#appalachian trail

Shuckstack Fire Tower from Fontana Dam Elevation Profile

Shuckstack Fire Tower from Fontana Dam Elevation Profile

Trail Difficulty Scales Explained

Elevation Grade


Fairly Steep

Paul Petzoldt Scale






Shenandoah Scale


Moderately Strenuous




Photo Gallery (25)

The above list of hiking trails in the Smokies is incomplete and constantly being updated. If you have information or photos you would like to contribute, please contact [email protected].

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