By Ben Anderson, author of Smokies Chronicle
The western half of Great Smoky Mountains National Park – roughly west of Newfound Gap Road – will be in the path of the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21: http://bit.ly/2flLLHm. If you’re adventurous and the weather seems promising that day, following are a couple of suggested hikes from Smokies Chronicle that will lead to exceptional vantage points. Be sure to take a reliable flashlight, always a trail essential.
Noland Divide Trail (Hike 10) – In the Deep Creek section near Bryson City, park in a large parking area to the left just inside the park boundary. Hike slightly less than four miles to a short side trail on the left that takes you to the spectacular Lonesome Pine Overlook, where the views are unobstructed from a rock outcrop. Or stop just short of the Lonesome Pine side trail on Noland Divide Trail itself and position yourself along a narrow, rocky ridge with sweeping views. You will gain more than 2,000 feet in elevation on this hike, from about 1,800 feet at the trailhead to above 4,000 feet at the destination.
Appalachian Trail to Shuckstack Fire Tower (Hike 26) – I recommend this hike only for those willing to climb an 80-year-old, 60-foot-high steel fire tower to one of the most magnificent lookouts in the entire Smokies park – and then be enveloped in darkness. Drive across the top of Fontana Dam to a parking area where the road ends slightly more than one-half mile north of the dam. Walk north on the Appalachian Trail for not quite four miles and turn right on a steep, rocky side trail that leads about 150 yards to Shuckstack Fire Tower. A hand rail along the steps leading to the first of five landings is missing, but otherwise the steel structure is relatively easy to ascend. Shuckstack’s elevation barely surpasses 4,000 feet, but the views from anywhere on the tower above the tree canopy are nothing short of remarkable on a reasonably clear day. Because the trailhead’s elevation is only about 1,800 feet, you will gain more than 2,000 feet in elevation to reach Shuckstack.
For more information, see our review of Anderson’s book, “Local author chronicles a year of hiking in the Smokies.”