Hike to the Mount Cammerer Lookout Tower
Tennessee › Low Gap Trailhead
Added by Robin Pfeifer
Hike along the Appalachian Trail to the historic Mt. Cammerer fire tower with 360-degree views of Tennessee and North Carolina from the summit.
Most visitors have a vision of how they'd like to see Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it typically involves climbing to the top of a mountain like 4,928-foot Mount Cammerer. This is a very strenuous hike involving a breathtaking amount of elevation gain along the rugged Low Gap and Appalachian trails.
Get an early start because this 15-mile round-trip hike takes approximately six to eight hours to complete. Plus, you'll want to have plenty of time to explore the historic fire tower located atop Mount Cammerer.
To get there, make your way through the Cosby Campground toward Cosby Creek and pick up the Low Gap Trail. Follow the well-defined path through the dense hardwood forest running parallel to the creek. The Low Gap Trail climbs up and out of the Cosby Creek Valley for the first three miles. Each step forward is also a step up over uneven tree roots and rocks. Around the three-mile mark, you'll come to a clearing in the woods and see a small wooden sign marking the Appalachian Trail. At this point, you will have already climbed more than 2,000 feet.
The hike gets easier once you’re on the A.T. The path begins to level off around mile four, and sporadic breaks in the foliage reveal incredible views of the Cosby and Toms Creek valleys below. Roughly five miles in, you will follow a short side trail to the summit of Mount Cammerer. The last half-mile forces you to scramble over large boulders and follow a series of disorientating switchbacks. But your efforts are rewarded the moment you set eyes on the wooden fire tower built high on a base of granite boulders.
Local laborers and the Civilian Conservation Corp built the fire tower in the 1930s. Each year between February 15th and May 15th, then again from October 15th through December 15th, the structure was manned by lookouts who lived on the premises for two weeks. This system was replaced in the 1960s by more modern fire detection methods.
Views from the wooden platform lining the perimeter of the tower are breathtaking. Before you is an endless expanse of undulating forest stretching to the horizon. Mountains rise gracefully from the forest floor. Clouds float swiftly below, momentarily obscuring the unparalleled beauty surrounding you. This is the view of Great Smoky Mountains National Park you came to see.
- Rain gear (unpredictable, rapidly changing weather)
- Sturdy, waterproof boots (uneven, slippery terrain)
- Warm layers
- Trail map
- Lightweight, waterproof camera
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The round rock structure of the tower and 360 degree views from its porch make Mt Cammerer an awesome place to hike to. Unfortunately it was quite hazy when we were there due to wildfires, but a great view nonetheless. Continuing north along the AT and taking a left onto the Lower Mount Cammerer trail allows you to do this hike as a 16-mile loop, for a challenging day hike. Or for an overnight, camp at backcountry site 35. It's huge! Don't be fooled by the first small site you come to. On the other side of the trail are sites 35B, C, and D. Very flat, tons of space, and you may even have it all to yourself. Lower Mount Cammerer stays mostly wooded, so not a lot of views of the valley below, but it offers really nice solitude.
Good climb but the view is so worth it
This is a really awesome hike, one of the best in the Eastern Smokies. However, it is not for the faint of heart. Although it is not particularly steep or challenging at any specific point in time, it is almost 100% uphill for the entire climb up (covering over 2,600 feet of elevation gain). I think the key here is a good warm-up and a steady hiking pace. You start the trail from the Crosby campground and cross the Crosby creek shortly after. Within the first quarter mile, you will follow along a small ridge above another creek. You will quickly lose sight of this creek as you climb higher and higher. One indicator of how much elevation gain you have covered is how many Mountain Laurel trees line the trail. After you get above about 3,000 feet above sea level, you will start seeing them and they increase until they almost cover both sides of the trail near the summit. These short trees look similar to a Magnolia tree but in bush form and they bloom beautiful flowers in early summer. As far as time of year, I thought this hike was spectacular when I did it in the fall. The leaves all around were incredibly colored and the fire tower at the summit provided views of the surrounding smokies with even more impressive color displays. Given this incredible beauty, we were certainly not alone on the hike. Although the eastern smokies are much less frequented than the western part of the park, this trail still had a good amount of trail traffic. The fire tower got pretty crowded with everyone taking their lunch breaks at the top. The trip down may seem appealing when you are heaving heavy breaths during the climb, but the continual descent for over 5 miles will have your knees aching and quads burning. I would have really loved some good trekking poles!
I have been hiking the Mt. Caterer trail since my middle school days. It was always a favorite hike for my dad and I to do during the summer and even a couple times during the colder months. The trail itself is not extremely difficult but possibly challenging for novice hikers. It can become rocky at times during its ascent. Once you reach the top and climb into the historic fire lookout tower, the views are incredible with mountains for as far as the eye can see on a clear day. If you are in the Newport/Cosby area of East Tennessee this is a hike I definitely encourage you to check out!
No View, No Problem
Had true Smoky weather on this fall hike- fog, rain, and wind. Regardless, it was a gorgeous hike and even in the clouds the leaves were stunning and the fire tower was the perfect amount of spooky in the early evening mist. Had a hot meal inside before heading on to the shelter. Certainly will be back again, and maybe with a view!
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