Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Trail Review: Chimney Tops Trail, GSMNP

Chimney Tops Trail, Smoky Mountains
Trail: Chimney Tops Trail - GSMNP
Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Newfound Gap Rd, TN
Trail Length: 3.8 miles round trip (out and back)
Difficulty: Strenuous (but short)
Solitude: Frequently crowded

The Chimney Tops trail is one of the more popular hikes in all of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is for good reason. The trail packs a lot into only 1.9 miles (3.8 round trip.) One of those things is elevation gain. This trail meanders through some lower sections of the park and a few beautiful stream crossings before sending hikers practically straight up the mountain. The total elevation gain on this short trail is 1,487 feet. The trek ends at a rocky summit that offers panoramic views of the park. Or, if you don’t quite get to the VERY top of the summit like this author (more on that later), you still get great views. If you’re just passing through the park and don’t have a ton of time to explore, this trail is especially rewarding (I also recommend the Clingman’s Dome to Andrews Bald hike for those with limited time to explore the park.) Here’s a quick overview of the Chimney Tops trail and some more photographs.

Mountain stream, Smoky Mountains
Road Prong Creek
The hike begins along Road Prong Creek and involves several crossing over sturdy footbridges. This is a beautiful mountain stream and immediately one feels immersed in the wildness of the mountains. After this first mile or so in the flatlands, the ascent begins. The trek climbs over 700 feet very quickly, but the immersion in the forest is profound. Huge trees, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and boulders are everywhere. Eventually, you will reach a small ridge where the exposed rock Chimney Top summit awaits. The pinnacle is roughly 50 feet from the base of the ridge and is not necessarily for the faint of heart. I am mildly embarrassed to admit that I only made it about three-quarters up before I decided that I have zero rock-climbing experience and that my footholds began to feel less and less secure the more steep the rock face became. A sign was placed at the top of the hike indicating that an alternative route to the summit, along the side of the rock rather than straight up the face, was closed. I wondered if this route was easier, if for no other reason than to rationalize the fear that prevented me from reaching the very top. Whether your level of skill and courage compels you straight up the rock or leaves you humbly clinging to its base, always be extremely careful. Many injuries have been reported from this summit. Sometimes, caution is the better part of valor! With that caveat, however, this is a great little trail with a big payoff for such a short (but strenuous) trail.

Rushing water, mountain creek
Another shot of the rushing waters in Road Prong Creek
small wildflowers in bloom, mountain trail
Small wildflowers were everywhere on the beginning lower sections of this trail.
Chimney Tops summit view
Not my best photograph, but a quick "snapshot" taken from the summit face, just before I chickened out.
Trail closing sign
I'm gonna blame my not summitting on this closure (whether accurate or not!)

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  1. Nice photos... I can almost feel the bug bites!

  2. Ha!!!! Actually, this one was from early May and the bugs weren't out in force yet.