A favorite Smokies adventure is this loop that starts near Fontana Dam and follows the Appalachian Trail up for 3.7 miles. It’s a steady climb, never grueling and the pay off — if you dare — is a climb up the rickety fire tower atop 4,020-foot Shuckstack Mountain. Here, at Sassafras Gap, you depart the AT on Lost Cove Trail, which explores what feels like one of the loneliest spots in the Smokies, an area that’s escaped the imprimatur of the National Park Service. Before long, you’re on the Lakeshore Trail, which you might think, it being along a lake shore and all, would be flat. And you would be wrong: There’s plenty of up and down on your return to the trailhead.

More info: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 865.436.1200; “Backpacking North Carolina,” Trip No. 21.

Map: “Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina, Trails Illustrated,” National Geographic.

Map of trailhead here.
View 20 Classic North Carolina Hikes: Shuckstack Loop/Smokies in a larger map

Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Nearest town: Fontana Village
Latitude: N35 27.479
Longitude: W83 31.479
Difficulty: Hard
Distance: 11.6 miles
Loop/one-way: Loop
Time to complete: 5-8 hours