In 1925 a Forest fire raced up Kephart Prong so intense it rendered the soil sterile. Then in 1929 a bad
storm came through and washed all the soil away and exposed the rock ridge you see today. Shortly after,
Horace Kephart led a team through this area to inspect the damage. A member of his team, Charlie Conner,
removed his shoe to reveal the nastiest, most swollen bunions, you will ever see. When Kephart saw this
he said “I am going to get this put on a government map for you”. Thus Charlies Bunion was born.
Charlies pain however is our gain because the views from Charlies bunion are some of the best in the
park. This is on the Up N’ Adam top 5 list of vista hikes in the park. Be warned that the hike is
strenuous and rocky with a round trip mileage of 8 and a total elevation gain of 1600 feet..
Additionally the bunion itself is highly exposed and poses some problems for people with a strong fear
of heights. While rare some careless people have plummeted to their death here. However if you stay on
trail the hike is safe with little chance of falling.
So if you are ready for an experience of a lifetime let's get started. It's time for Charlies Bunion with Up N’ Adam Adventures.
Location: The hike to Charlies Bunion Begins in the Newfound Gap parking lot. From Gatlinburg, drive into the park on 441. Once you pass the sugarlands visitor center, drive 18 miles and you will arrive at the Newfound Gap parking lot. The Trailhead is located next to the bathrooms where you will hike northbound on the Appalachian trail. Please note that the trail sign does not specifically mention Charlies bunion. Look for the sign that Says Appalachian Trail and list Sweat Heifer, Boulevard, and Katahdin Maine on the sign.
When out exploring in the outdoors please always remember to practice the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. Learn how at www.lnt.org
The trail starts out with a Moderate uphill grade and climbs through a series of wooden starts. The first ¼ mile is heavily trafficked as a lot of people like to walk a little ways up to say they walked a portion of the trail. Many turn back after a ½ mile however. The stairs quickly give way to rock and roots. These stairs will be a site for sore eyes on the way down as it signifies that you are almost done. At .75 miles you arrive at a ridgeback where you get your first view, and it's a good one looking at the North Carolina side of the smokies into the Oconaluftee valley. It is also a good location to see wildflowers in the spring and butterflies in the summer. Additionally Blackberries grow in this section in late summer. In the winter however this whole trail practically becomes a solid sheet of ice so please make sure you have traction devices.
At 1.7 miles you will arrive at the Sweat Heifer Trail Junction. I know, what a weird name for a trail. Do not take this trail but stay straight on the AT. At this junction however you get a little reprieve from the steep hiking as the trail plateaus out for a few 100 feet before hitting you with another uphill push. At about 2.2 miles the trail plateaus again and becomes a mossy green and lush forest.
Hike Description continued
At 3 miles you will arrive at the IceWater Spring Shelter. If you're a backpacker this is one of the most popular shelters in the park. It offers a good view of sunrise and is a short hike to both Charlies Bunion and the Jump off. Just past the IceWater Springs shelter is Ice water spring and a good spot to fill up water. As always, be sure to Treat your water before consumption. In our opinion the section from ice water springs to the bunion is one of the best most beautiful trail sections in the park. In the winter we nickname this spot Ice Water glacier. Not kidding it will be covered with thick ice, impassable without traction devices.
Eventually you will stop descending and begin a short ascend which means you are almost there. You will get some glimpse of the jagged rock that makes up Charlies bunion as you approach. At 4 miles you arrive at a trail split. At this split take a left to proceed to Charlies Bunion. You will arrive at the bunion 50 yards past this split. To the North is the Tennessee valley looking down into Greenbrier. To the North west you will notice a promonte peak which is Mt Leconte. To the west is the peak of Mt. Kephart. To the east you can see jagged peaks which are named the saw tooth. Congratulations and enjoy the view. Alway remember to practice, leave no trace while having your lunch and enjoying the outdoors and thanks for coming along on another Up N’ Adam Adventure.