Hike to stunning summit views and the iconic, historic fire lookout tower on the summit of Mt Cammerer, following the Chestnut Branch and Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
LOCATION:Great Smoky Mountains National Park (maps & directions)
Scaling to just under 5,000 feet, Mt Cammerer is one of the more iconic summits on the Appalachian Trail’s meandering journey through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The hike to the summit is a moderately difficult one, following the Chestnut Branch Trail and the AT on a 3200-foot climb through scenic forest. Spanning over twelve miles, round trip, this adventure makes for a lengthy day hike or a fantastic overnight backpacking journey.
A historic, western-style fire lookout tower crowns the Mt Cammerer summit, offering outstanding 360-degree views of the surrounding Smokies and the nearby town of Gatlinburg. It’s a fantastic hike in every season, but exceptionally beautiful in the summertime when the trail’s abundant rhododendron explode into bloom, and in autumn when fall’s colorful beauty paints the rolling peaks of the Smoky Mountains.
Mt Cammerer: the hike
The adventure begins at the Cosby Creek Campground entrance via the Low Gap access on the northern flank of the Smokies (view maps and driving directions). The trailhead is located just past the intersection of Mount Sterling Road with Waterville Road: the turn-off for the trailhead is across from the ranger station on the right. From the Chestnut Ridge Trailhead parking area, at 1,658 feet, the hike follows the gravel road for approximately 100 meters and turns right, through horse gates, and begins following the Chestnut Branch. Welcome to the first pitch of incline and the general trend of the hike’s journey to the Cammerer summit.
The trail’s single track beautifully winds its way up along Chestnut Branch. A plethora of moss-covered granite and schist careen water down toward Big Creek and the Pigeon River to the north. This section of the trail offers a mixed-bag of steep ascent and mellow traverse up to its convergence with the Appalachian Trail at 2.25 miles. The hike ascends just under 1,200 feet in this distance, which accounts for a little over a third of its total elevation gain to the summit. Upon reaching the AT, a two-way sign indicates the Cammerer summit spur trail lies to the south, and the hike turns left to follow the AT southbound.
The Appalachian Trail winds its way through several tunnels of rhododendron, checkered by mountain views to the East through the thinning tree line. Stairs are bountiful here, leading to the first summit views of the mountain around 4.3 miles, as the trail winds westward below the summit. Though the summit appears near, the distance can be deceiving: a grand ascent is ahead, just under two miles to the summit and tower. Groves of mountain maple, American beech, and basswood begin to give way to spruce-fir. Several springs on the trail’s right offer the opportunity for water prior to summit (please remember to purify backcountry water with a filter like the Sawyer Mini).
The trail begins a precipitous path with a stone wall dominating the trail’s left side, with vertical rock faces to the right. The hike departs the AT at 5.4 miles, making a sharp turn northbound to the summit and following the summit spur trail.
Six-tenths of a mile of rock-laden, mucky single track trail makes a direct path to the Mt Cammerer summit and historic fire lookout tower. 360-degree panoramic views extend to the Pigeon River Valley to the northeast and Gatlinburg to the west. Mid-week hikes in the off-season usually score some solitude on the summit, but high-traffic hiking season can lead to crowded conditions at this iconic fire tower. (If you’re overnighting on the mountain in peak season or on the weekend, be prepared for a potential short traverse back to the AT for tent-able flat ground.)
Departing the summit, the return hike retraces its outbound steps to the trailhead. It’s a hiker’s delight, descending gradually to the AT, and then making a right turn on the Chestnut Branch Trail at 9.75 miles. The hike reaches the trailhead at 12 miles, completing the adventure.
Mount Cammerer Map, Directions & Details
35.759850, -83.105600 // N35 45.591 W83 06.336
Nick is a freelance photojournalist, based in Atlanta, Georgia with professional affiliations to several media and photographic production firms. Follow him on Instagram: @_shootnick_
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