Smith Mountain Fire Tower is easily one of the most iconic attractions at Lake Martin! Located in Dadeville, AL the tower itself is surrounded by history and epic views, making this one bucket list item you won’t want to miss.
The presence of the Smith Mountain Fire Tower has been a part of the local history of Lake Martin since the lake’s conception.
Smith Mountain itself is the highest point of elevation at Lake Martin. Long before the dam was built or the waters of Lake Martin itself existed, the surrounding area of land where the tower sits had been cleared of its valuable timber and was no more than a desolate region of eroding soil. However, it wasn’t until after 1929 when Lake Martin was filled in, that this became a measurable problem, and Alabama Power took notice. The eroding soil began to dump into the lake waters at a significant rate, thus creating a concern that the additional soil would eventually impact the capacity of the hydroelectric plant and ultimately affect its lifespan altogether.
To battle this erosion, Alabama Power Company partnered with Alabama Extension, the Soil Conservation Service, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to reforest the land. During the 1930’s, millions of trees were planted around the lake to control the erosion, thus leading us to the creation of forest fire prevention measures and the Smith Mountain Fire Tower.
Standing at over 90 feet tall, the tower was created by Alabama Power as one of six towers that were designed as a fire detection network to safeguard the millions of newly planted trees. Smith Mountain was the location of the first fire tower as well as the district office of the Alabama Division of Forestry. Guests can still see the remains of this building at the fire tower site.
The Smith Mountain Fire Tower officially opened in April 1939, and over the next four decades it would serve as a hub for watchmen to stand guard over the forest and signal to fire-fighting crews through a hand-cranked telephone system. In the 1970’s, these methods were replaced with aerial patrols and increased availability of telephone systems, no longer needing fire towers as the main source of fire detection. In the 1980’s, the Alabama Forestry Service closed the tower, ultimately sealing the fate for the site to become a dumping ground as the tower deteriorated into a hazardous condition.
But that’s not where the story ends. In 2010, the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association, also known as CRATA, obtained the title to the tower and revived it back to life. With the help of volunteers and donors, the Smith Mountain Fire Tower has been fully restored into what is now one of Lake Martin’s most prized attractions for all to enjoy.
Getting to the Tower
The Smith Mountain Fire Tower can be accessed by both boat and car. If you are driving, there is a parking lot at the base of the mountain with plenty of parking opportunities as well as trail heads to start a hiking adventure. You can go to CRATA.org for directions to the Smith Mountain trails, as well as all of the other CRATA trails.
If coming by boat, there is a small slough with wooden pillars that you can tie your boat up to near the “Island Hop Trail”. However, there is really only room enough for two – maybe three – boats to tie up here at a time. You also need to be willing to jump into the lake and wade through waist deep water to access the steps up onto the trail. You can see arriving by boat in this video. Guests will then follow the trails through the woods for a small hike up to the tower. Come prepared with comfy hiking or tennis shoes – flip flops are not recommended!
Regardless of which method you choose to arrive, all guests wanting to see the fire tower will have to trek a steep driveway leading up to the historic site. This is the “Walker Bynum Smith Mountain Tower Trail”, a steep 0.4 mile climb up to the base of the tower that is only accessible by foot. It is at a bit of an incline, but the hike to the top is worth it!
The Hiking Trails
“Walker Bynum Smith Mountain Tower Trail”
This is the main trail from the parking lot that leads to the base of the tower. It is a steep 0.4 mile climb to the top and closed off to vehicles, leaving it only accessible by foot. It is a rugged trek – so come prepared with comfy shoes and a bottle of water. However, you will be happily rewarded at the top with stunning views and of course, the Tower itself.
This trail is a total of 2.4 miles in length, and winds gently throughout the pines and forest, bringing its hikers for a scenic trip along the shoreline of Lake Martin.
“David M. Forker Island Hop/Boat Dock Trail”
From the Parking Lot, this trail is approximately 1.4 miles to the boat dock. During the winter months, this trail gets the name “Island Hop Trail”. This is due to a series of islands that appear as the lake water levels fall during the winter, exposing an additional quarter mile of the trail that cannot be accessed during full pool. As this is only accessible one time a year, we highly recommend taking advantage of this rare opportunity during your visit!
“Little Smith Mountain Loop Trail”
This trail comes with a warning! Though it is easily the most scenic trail at Smith Mountain with it’s spectacular views and rock formations, this is also the most dangerous trail of all. Many places along the trail have steep drop offs and sheer cliffs, where a single misstep could have extreme consequences. This trail is reserved for the experienced hikers and not recommended for kids.
That being said, if you are looking for an extreme hike at Lake Martin with big rewards, this is a must do to add to your bucket list!
The Lake Martin Hiking Challenge
The trails surrounding the Smith Mountain Fire Tower are a part of the Lake Martin Hiking Challenge! Don’t forget to download the hiking log and mark these beautiful trails off your list. Read more about the hiking challenge here: Lake Martin Hiking Challenge.
Climbing the Tower
At the base of the Smith Mountain Fire Tower, guests are welcomed by beautiful wooded views, a picnic area, and educational exhibits located throughout the area. These stunning exhibits were made possible by a grant from ADECA and designed to help guests better understand the natural history, ecosystems, hiking trails, and historical cultural landscapes surrounding Smith Mountain. Guests can also see the structure remains of the original district office of the Alabama Division of Forestry.
The tower itself is a 90-foot, steel structure that is open to the public to climb. As the slender steps wind up to the top, guests have the opportunity to stop every 10 feet or so at a platform to take in the sweeping views and learn an educational fact about the surrounding area.
One of the more iconic sights guests will see during the climb is the mountainous ridge referred to as “The Devil’s Backbone” – a strong, quartzite rock outcropping that looks to be the ridged backbone jutting up from the ground.
At the top, guests climb up into what’s referred to as the “cabin” of the tower and are met with stunning panoramic views that stretch for miles over the beautiful Lake Martin waters and surrounding areas. The cabin also houses signage that notes significant state landmarks in the distance, including the mountains of the Talladega National Forest.
After taking in the views, don’t forget to sign the register at the base of the tower and mark your incredible experience at the Smith Mountain Fire Tower!
To get the full experience of climbing Smith Mountain Fire Tower, check out this video by Pelican Point Expeditions: 900 Feet Up: Climbing the Smith Mountain Fire Tower.