This is a popular route due to its proximity to Newfound Gap and the opportunity it provides for the visitor to get great views of the Smoky Mountains. This is also a popular way to access the Appalachian Trail (AT), so you probably won't be alone as you make your way along the crest of the Smokies. Expect heavy crowds, especially on the weekend, for the first .5 mile to mile of the trail, however, the crowds will thin some the further you get from Newfound Gap.
The Appalachian Trail (AT) in this section of the park is known for being icy in the winter and early spring months. Even if there is no snow or ice when you start the trip, there may be shaded sections of the trail that don't get enough sunlight to melt ice that forms overnight. Traction devices, like microspikes, are advised if attempting this trail during this time period.
If you need to refill your water at Icewater Spring, make sure you have a purification system to sterilize the water.
Climbing around Charlies Bunion
can be dangerous, so be careful exploring the area.
The trailhead is at the Newfound Gap Parking Lot.
The trail begins climbing from Newfound Gap through a cool and shady forest. Within a half mile, most of the fair-weather visitors have turned around and returned to their cars. The Fraser firs in this section of the trail have either been killed by the balsam woolly adelgid or by strong winds that tore through the area in 1995. The forest is recovering though as new plants are taking their place, revitalizing the area. Through the canopy of trees, you get brief views of the surrounding mountains. At .7 mile, you get views of the southern slope of Mt. LeConte. By 1.5 miles, you'll find evidence of wild hog damage in the area. Wild hogs turn up the ground looking for food and damage the native plants. You may see some traps off in the woods.
The Sweat Heifer Creek Trail
joins the Appalachian Trail (AT) at a gap around 1.7 miles into the trail. You can head out that direction a little bit to get views of the NC side of the Smokies. This trail continues to climb, more steeply now, to the top of Mount Ambler. At mile 2.7, you meet the Boulevard Trail
on the left, a trail to the summit of Mount LeConte. Our journey takes us off to the right for another .3 mile where Icewater Spring and shelter provide a great place for a break and snack. It's a popular shelter, so make sure you have reservations before planning on staying there overnight.
The trail now begins to descend through a gully created by the rain that this area receives and the foot traffic along the Appalachian Trail (AT). You'll pass a pipe with spring water (Icewater Spring) pouring out onto the trail, just make sure you treat it before you drink. The trail levels out at Masa Knob and then swings around Mt. Kephart to offer a spectacular view of the destination, Charlies Bunion
A little way further at mile 4.0, a narrow foot trail leads out to the craggy face of Charlies Bunion
. It's a great place to explore, enjoy views of the Smokies and surrounding area, and take a break before returning to your car and the crowds at Newfound Gap.
Sidetrip: If you have time, head back to the Boulevard Trail
and take the short side trip to the Jump Off. The way is only one mile roundtrip, but provides spectacular views from the rock outcrop.
is a popular destination, especially on the weekends, due to its proximity to Newfound Gap. It offers great views of the Smokies (Mount LeConte, Porters Mountain, Laurel Top, Mt. Sequoyah, Mt. Chapman, and Mt. Guyot), especially in the fall when the colors of the trees put on their annual display of color. The trail can be slippery in the winter and early spring months, so make sure the you have appropriate traction devices. Though it takes a bit of extra effort, the views of Smokies covered in snow are amazing and worth the trip.
This part of the Appalachian Trail (AT) was built in the fall of 1932. The work was done by a crew using pick axes and shovels between the months of September 5 and October 6.
Charlie's Bunion is the result of human actions and nature. In the 1920s, the area was heavily logged and the lumber companies left piles of brush scattered all over the area. A massive forest fire in 1925 blazed up Kephart Prong and crossed the Sawteeth Mountains into TN. The fire was so hot that it rendered the soil sterile, making it so nothing would grow. When a torrential rain storm hit in 1929, it washed away a lot of the soil, leaving behind the geologic formation that would be known as Charlie's Bunion.
Legend has it that Horace Kephart named it "Charlie's Bunion" after seeing mountain guide Charlie Corner's badly swollen foot during a trip to inspect the damage from the storm.