Finally after what seemed like a year of trying to fit it in our schedule, my son and I were able to take a trip out to Great Smoky Mountain National Park for a hike on one of its scenic trails. Considering that the only hike I had done there previously was the Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte, I decided to post a poll in the Facebook Group “Hike The Smokies” to see what the consensus was on whether we should hike to Charlie’s Bunion, Mt. Cammerer, or Chimney Tops… all trails that I had heard positive reviews of. Surprisingly to me, the response was overwhelmingly Charlie’s Bunion. So, after scheduling a day off of work we took to the road from the Nashville area at roughly 4am.
Arriving at the park nice and early we made our way past the Sugarlands Visitor Center for roughly 13 miles to the Newfound Gap parking area with only a quick stop to take in the view at the Carlos C. Campbell Overlook. The weather reports for the week had been a bit dicey so we were excited to see that the day was shaping up well with the mornings overcast burning away.
At roughly 8:30am, the Newfound Gap parking lot was relatively devoid of people. We parked, threw on our packs and made our way to the trailhead. The hike to Charlies Bunions travels east along the Appalachian Trail and includes a steady climb over the first two miles. From this point, Mt. Katahdin in Maine is only 1,972 miles north… though we weren’t quite ready for that hike.
Around 2/3 of a mile along the trail, views of the North Carolina Smokies can be seen providing an early reward for your efforts. Along the way, a variety of wildflowers can be seen that bloom at these elevations (roughly 6,000 ft) during the spring and early summer.
As the trail leveled out and became less steep, we took a moment to stop and take advantage of the beautiful beams of sun shining through the trees since it was early morning and there was a great deal of moisture still in the air.
On several areas along the hike, it becomes evident that you are walking on a narrow ridge along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains with stunning views on either side of the trail.
Further down the trail, you can take the short detour to see the Icewater Spring Shelter which is named after the nearby spring that flows from a pipe onto the Appalachian Trail and acts as a water source for through hikers taking refuge at the shelter for the night. The water does need to be treated before drinking.
Not much further beyond the shelter was our main destination, Charlies Bunion, which is a rock outcropping that was originally known as Fodderstack. Apparently its current name was derived when Charlie Conner went hiking with Horace Kephart who was one of the early proponents for making a national park in the Smokies. The story is that they paused to rest on the rocks and when Connor took his boots and socks off, he exposed a bunion that resembled the surrounding rocks. Kephart remarked “Charlie, I’m going to get this place put on a government map for you”, and so he did.
Charlies Bunion has one of the most stunning views in the Smoky Mountains with Mt. Kephart and the Jump Off to the west, and Mount Guyot towards the east. There are extremely steep drop offs so I highly recommend extreme caution, especially with children.
At this point we took the opportunity to grab some lunch and then started on our trek back to the Newfound Gap parking area via the way we came. The whole trip took 4 hours almost to the minute at a decent pace. For my son who is 13, it was the longest hike that he has been on at 9 miles roundtrip and I was proud of him and psyched to know that he’ll be able to handle future hikes to Mt. Cammerer and Rocky Top which are some of the next on our list!
Of note, we recently took a trip to Wilderness at the Smokies, an amazing waterpark resort in Sevierville, not far from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you are in the area for vacation I highly recommend checking it out as it gives a great option in case of inclement weather so that you can still relax at the waterpark! Our stay there was provided by Wilderness at the Smokies for our honest review of which was provided in last week’s post. Check it out.