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Bullhead Trail

Trail Features: Views, Interesting Geology bullhead trail
Trail Location: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roundtrip Length: 5.9 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1607 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 545 Feet
Highest Elevation: 4217 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 9.11 (moderate)
Parking Lot Latitude 35.67582
Parking Lot Longitude -83.48527

Important notice: As a result of the November 2016 wildfire, the Bullhead Trail is currently closed, and is likely to remain closed for an extended period. On November 23, 2016 two juvenile arsonists started a wildfire near the Chimney Tops summit. By November 28th the fire grew to 500 acres. After several months of exceptional drought conditions, and winds gusts reaching more than 80 mph that afternoon, the fire literally exploded. Over the next several hours it burned almost 18,000 acres, including 11,410 acres within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From Chimney Tops the fire raced north, passing around the edges of downtown Gatlinburg and reaching the outskirts of Pigeon Forge. Before it was brought under control the fire killed 14 people, injured more than 176 people, and damaged or destroyed at least 2460 structures at a cost of more than $500 million. For the most up-to-date information on trail closures in the park, please visit this park page.

Directions to Trailhead:

Starting from Light 8 in Gatlinburg, turn onto Historic Nature Trail / Airport Road. After driving 0.7 miles veer right onto Cherokee Orchard Road, upon which you'll enter into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. After driving another 2.2 miles you'll enter the one-way Cherokee Orchard Loop Road. After driving roughly 0.6 miles on the loop, the Bullhead Trailhead will be located on your right. (If this parking lot is full, there's an auxiliary parking area about a tenth-of-a-mile further down the road)

Trail Description:

Just before turning into the parking lot you may have noticed a locked gate blocking an old gravel road. This gate marks the trailhead for the Bullhead Trail. Hikers will have to follow this gravel road, which is actually the Old Sugarlands Trail, for approximately four-tenths of mile before turning left onto the Bullhead Trail.

balsam pointAt just over a mile from the parking lot the trail begins to ascend more rapidly as you climb the Bullhead, a heath-covered bald extending off Balsam Point. Standing at an elevation of roughly 4300 feet, the bald received its name due to its supposed resemblance to a bulls head from a distance. Over the next mile or so you'll pass several rock cliff faces, and at roughly 1.5 miles from the trailhead, will pass two small caves created by overhanging slabs of rock.

After climbing up to the backside of Bullhead the trail begins to level off and you'll begin to catch a few glimpses of the surrounding mountains. Balsam Point will come into view almost directly in front you (see photo on the left). If you were to choose ccc-cairnto hike another 4.2 miles, and proceed all the way to the summit of Mt. LeConte, the trail would take you up the north face of Balsam Point, before exiting onto the ridge to the right of the mountain. Another option, if you still have the energy, is to hike another two miles to this same ridge, which affords some fairly decent views on either side of it.

However, if your goals aren't quite as lofty this day, you could end your hike at the rock cairn located almost three miles from the trailhead. This cairn, or table of rocks (see photo on right), was likely built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930's - for what reason or purpose, I'm not really sure. By standing on it, however, you'll have some fairly good views of the mountains towards the east and northeast, including Brushy Mountain and the Greenbrier Valley.