Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Shuckstack Fire Tower & Gregory Bald Loop via Twentymile Ranger Station, Robbinsville, North Carolina
Twentymile is the southwesternmost major access point to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and also one of the quietest. With nothing but a sleepy ranger station, small parking area, and trailhead, plus no significant destinations in close proximity, the Twentymile area remains little-visited compared to areas of the park like Cades Cove and Roaring Fork. Yet those who are willing to hike longer will find the Twentymile area quite interesting. The lengthy loop described here first follows the scenic cascades of Twentymile Creek before climbing to the Appalachian Trail and reaching the historic Shuckstack fire tower with its birds-eye view of Fontana Lake. The hike then heads deeper into the Smokies backcountry, traversing the Gregory Bald Trail - the eastern section of which near Doe Knob is one of the least-hiked trails in the park - before reaching the open grassy summit of Gregory Bald, featuring stunning 360-degree views. Even though both Shuckstack Tower and Gregory Bald can be reached via separate shorter hikes, it's hard to beat combining these two spectacular destinations into one large loop. This hike occurred on Saturday, October 6th, 2018. My plan was to initially hike the Twentymile Trail to the Appalachian Trail. After a side trip to Shuckstack, I would follow the AT north to Doe Knob. There, I'd pick up the Gregory Bald Trail and follow it all the way to Gregory Bald. On the other side of Gregory Bald, I would take the Wolf Ridge Trail and descend back to Twentymile. Although I completed this hike as a long day hike, you may find it more enjoyable as a two- or even three-day backpacking trip.
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