Back in 2015, my friend, Brad Adams, posted a photo of a hike he did with the caption, “this hike wasn’t for the faint of heart but was worth it!” That was all it took for me to want to hike the Chimney Tops Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I just thought I needed to wait until I was in better shape before I tried to hike this trail since it was rated as difficult. My wait turned into longer than I expected.
In November of 2016, the Chimney Tops 2 fire began, burning on this particular trail. Utter devastation is the best that I can do to describe the destruction and loss. It wasn’t until October of 2017 that the trail was reopened with a newly constructed observation deck. The park service also placed a gate approximately a quarter of a mile from the true summit, and this section of the trail is off limits until the area has time to recover. With the attention the trail got, and the fact that it is one of the shortest hikes in the park with an amazing view, people swarmed back to the trail after it opened. There’s also the issue that for every trail I mark off my bucket list, I’m always adding three more trails that I want to do to the list. This trail kept getting bumped back on my list.
We’ve had an unusually warmer December, especially in higher elevations this year. On this particular day, I was originally going to meet a friend and do a point-to-point hike on another trail, but at the last minute my friend was not able to go. I decided that in shape or not, it was the perfect day for the Chimney Tops trail challenge. I pulled into the parking area at the trailhead early that morning with only one other vehicle already there. As I took my key out of the ignition, it broke. There I sat alone, with no cell service, wondering if I was going to be stuck at the trailhead for a while. I got out the vehicle, put on my backpack, and starting hiking. I’d worry about the key issue when I finished the trail.
It was a chilly morning, with temperatures a few degrees above freezing. I was less than a quarter of a mile into the hike when I stopped to take some photos and a video. At this point, you could still hear the water rushing by the trail. I had my back to the trail and didn’t hear the man coming up the trail behind me. When he got to about an arm’s length from me, he said, “How are you doing?” Talk about almost jumping out of my shoes. I think it kind of caught the man off guard that he scared me, but we both had a good laugh out of it!
After hiking approximately 0.9 miles, you will pass the junction with Road Prong Trail. Continue to the right to stay on Chimney Tops Trail. This is where the trail gets steeper, and it’s also where the many steps begin. The Trails Forever crew installed a total of 367 stone steps, and this does not include the steps that were built with landscaping timbers and packed dirt. After 0.85 miles from the Road Prong Trail junction, you will reach the observation deck where the views will take your breath away. The trail turns to the left for a little way beyond the observation deck, and from here you can see the summit of Chimney Tops. Please be respectful of the park service sign and do not go beyond the gate. I met several friendly people out on the trail and shared some good conversation and laughter. It was such a good day!
The trailhead is located 6.7 miles south from Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road. The total out-and-back hike is 3.5 miles with an elevation gain of approximately 1,400 feet. This trail is rated as difficult, but do not let that discourage you from hiking it. I’m pleased to tell you that I did not get stuck at the trailhead. I was able to stick part of the broken key into the ignition and rig up something to turn it to start the car and make it home. I wish you all many blessings and a new year filled with lots of great adventures! Until next time, be safe, have fun, and I’ll see you on the trail!