Carved from stone and hewn from local materials by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, the lookout tower on Mt. Cammerer is truly a work of art. With access from multiple trailheads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a tableau summit view, Mt. Cammerer is the place to be for a glorious summit experience.
It's a burly 5.5. miles before you reach the lookout tower, which begins with three miles of steep switchbacks on the Low Gap Trail, ascending 2,000 feet before intersecting with the Appalachian Trail.
Your journey to the top of Cammerer will begin on the Chestnut Branch Trail. The Chestnut Branch trail runs beside a picturesque creek that plunges its way through a rhododendron filled holler for the first mile and half. You will share this section of trail with a group of stoic, old-growth, oak trees which were lucky enough to survive the pre-park logging rush of the 1930’s. Turning right, and leaving the Creekside, the trail begins to gain elevation towards the ridge line and its intersection with the Appalachian Trail.
What Makes It Great
This intersection is clearly signed and from here you will follow the AT south for three miles to the Mt. Camerer spur trail. After two miles on the AT you will come to a photo worthy rock outcropping on your left that overlooks the Big Creek water shed. From here you will continue to climb through a fragrant grove of large Hemlocks and Balsam Fir. Upon gaining the ridge line hikers will see a clearly marked intersection for the spur trail that leads to the summit of Mt. Cammerer and the lookout tower. Take your time and relish the last .6 miles of easy trail to the summit as you capture sneak peeks of the views through a tunnel of mountain laurel. A short scramble up an easy rocky section allows your first glimpse of the lookout tower and its 360 degree views.
Who is Going to Love It
Hiking to the lookout tower at Mt. Cammerer is for people who like burly climbs and big views.
What to Bring:
Trekking Poles: The “Smokies” are notorious for rocky terrain that is perpetually slick from the area’s rain forest like climate. Throughout your hike your eyes will wander from the beautiful flora to the long range views… bring your “sticks” to avoid a slip whilst distracted by such beauty.
Time Lapse Camera: The lookout tower was positioned to have expansive views of the area. A clear view to the east and west make this a prime location for sunrises and sunsets.
One Extra Hour: Start your trip a little early, pack a quality lunch, and take your time to drink in the views from this airy perch.
Tips from a Local:
Climbing Cammerer during the weekdays or in the winter months will give you a chance at solitude on the summit of this highly visited peak.
The giant Hemlocks of Appalachia are quickly disappearing due to climate change and an invasive species known as the wooly adelgid. Several large, healthy trees are still living along this trail. Go give one a hug and take a picture; so one day you can show your grand-kids how magnificent these trees once were.
From Asheville, drive west on Interstate 40 to the North Carolina/Tennessee line and take exit 451 for Waterville. At the stop sign take a left, cross the large concrete bridge over the Pigeon River and veer left onto Waterville Rd.
Enjoy the close up views of the Pigeon River and be entertained by throngs of rafters, in the summer months, as you drive on Waterville Rd for two miles towards a 4-way stop.
Follow the signs for Big Creek as you continue straight through this intersection. In .2 miles the Big Creek Ranger Station and your trailhead will be on your right.
Bathroom facilities, trail maps ($1 donation), and overnight permits are available at the Big Creek Ranger Station.