Come see Lake Martin like you’ve never seen it before! Originally built in 1939, the restored Smith Mountain Fire Tower was opened to the public on June 16, 2012. Visitors hike up the half-mile trail from the parking area to the tower where they can climb up to the cab. The view from the cab, which is 80 feet above the top of Smith Mountain, is spectacular and offers panoramic views of Lake Martin. The tower is surrounded by a native longleaf pine forest, large granite deposits and is open to the public sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association (CRATA) is working on developing additional hiking trails around Smith Mountain and along the shoreline.
In addition to being a good location for hiking, birding the area can prove quite productive. The woods along Smith Mountain Drive are a patchwork of mature pines (notably the stately Longleaf pine) and emergent second-growth pine and mixed pine-hardwood type. This is one of the better locations in the area for Bachman’s Sparrow, best found when singing its plaintive “heeere, kitty, kitty, kitty” song from March-June. The younger, patchy forest here provides excellent habitat for Prairie Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Field Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, and Common Yellowthroat. They are joined by Song, White-throated, and Fox Sparrows in winter, along with Ruby-crowned Kinglets (low) and Golden-crowned Kinglets in the tall pines. Watch for Pileated Woodpecker and Common Flicker; open patches may yield a few Common ground-doves, and Chuck-wills-widows call here at dusk and dawn. The common year-round hawk is Red-tailed. The area offers superb habitat for Great-horned Owls, and Eastern screech Owls hunt here, as well.