Chimney Tops Trail
|Trail Features:||Outstanding views|
|Trail Location:||Newfound Gap Road|
|Roundtrip Length:||4.0 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||1350 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||675 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||4677 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||6.70 (moderate)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||35.63538|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-83.46979|
Directions to Trailhead:
The trailhead for Chimney Tops is located roughly 6.9 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center (between the lower tunnel and "the loop" on Newfound Gap Road).
The Chimney Tops Trail is one of the most popular trails along Newfound Gap Road. The trail owes much of its popularity to its relatively short length, and its outstanding panoramic views from the pinnacles. Its length, only 2 miles, however, makes for a very steep hike - so much so that many hikers don't even reach the top. The first half of the trail is fairly tame. However, to reach the summit, hikers have to climb more than 830 feet over the course of the last mile! This is similar to the kind of elevation gain you see on some of the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado.
In 2012 the Trails Forever program launched a multi-year project to rehabilitate this extremely popular trail. The combination of heavy use, abundant rainfall, and steep terrain had turned the Chimney Tops Trail into a badly eroded obstacle course of slick, broken rock, exposed tree roots and mud. These hazards encouraged hikers to pick their way across uneven surfaces, or divert them off the edges of the trail, resulting in extensive erosion and resource damage.
Reconstruction efforts by Trails Forever crews included construction of rock steps, redefining sections of trail that were unsafe or difficult to navigate, improving drainage by modifying water bars or constructing other types of drainage structures that carried the trail across wetland areas, and construction of raised turnpike structures to prevent further erosion.
The first section of trail more or less follows the Road Prong Creek, and crosses several footbridges along the one-mile route to Beech Flats. If you're hiking this trail during the spring or early summer, be on the lookout for rhododendron and many other wildflowers that bloom in this area during this timeframe. Beech Flats marks the approximate half-way point along the trail. There's also a trail junction here. The Road Prong Trail branches off to the left towards the Appalachian Trail at Indian Gap, roughly 2.4 miles away. The Road Prong Trail, which continues to follow the stream of the same name, is one of the oldest trails in the Smokies. In the 18th and 19th centuries this ancient path was commonly known as the Indian Gap Trail.
To reach the Chimney Tops you'll have to stay on the trail that veers towards the right.
Now the fun begins - that is if you enjoy hiking in steep terrain. From the junction the trail begins a westerly course and climbs roughly 660 feet over the next two-thirds of a mile, before swinging northward to climb the ridge leading to the summit.
Chimney Tops is one of the few mountains in the Smokies with a bare rock summit.
Near the top are National Park Service signs that remind hikers to exercise caution and not to stray beyond the peak area. While no technical gear is needed, it should be noted that a short scramble is necessary to reach the very top of the capstones. Many injuries have occurred in this area, so take proper precautions to keep yourself and your companions safe. If you're not up to the challenge you'll still have some outstanding views without having to climb the pinnacles.
From the summit of the 4677-foot mountain, 6593-foot Mount LeConte and 6217-foot Mount Kephart will dominate the views towards the east, while Sugarland Mountain dominates the view towards the west. On a clear day the Sugarlands valley is visible looking towards the northwest.
The Cherokee Indian name for Chimney Tops is Duniskwalgunyi, which means "forked antler", which is a reference to the mountain's resemblance to the antlers of a deer.