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Chimney Tops

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

     The Smoky Mountains are an excellent example of eastern vegetation, and one of the best ways to view the mountains' glory is on the Chimney Tops Trail. The trail climbs up to a height of 4,840 feet to a 360 degree view of the park, which has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve. For these reasons, this trail would have to be considered a favorite of the Natural Born Hikers.

     If you are planning a vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains, you are in luck, because the Chimney Tops are an all season destination, one that has much to offer the outdoor enthusiast regardless of the time of year in which they visit.

     Spring is a spectacular time in the Smoky Mountains, especially if you time your hike to coincide with the blooming of the rhododendron, azalea, and mountain laurel. In fact, we have hiked the Chimney Tops and the trail to Alum Cave Bluffs many times in the spring, right when the pink blooms of the rhododendron had fallen to blanket the trail with a carpet of petals. Not to be outdone, the bright orange blooms of the azalea and the delicate white blooms of the mountain laurel were also on display, providing the hiker with colorful scenery.

     Autumn brings its own special beauty to the Smokies, as it is the time when the trees change to their brilliant shades of fall, painting the mountains with red, yellow, and orange. If you hike in the autumn months, you will find that the trails are ablaze with colorful leaves that have gently floated to the ground on the wind, covering the quiet walkways with rustling debris.

     Winter and summer are equally beautiful, offering some extreme temperatures for the Great Smoky Mountains hiker—regardless of the season, you can be sure that you will have an unforgettable time in the Smokies.

     The hike to the summit of the Chimney Tops is accomplished in just a few miles, measuring in at just 2.0 miles one way, but it still presents quite a challenge. The first mile up is relatively easy, but the last mile, particularly the last section on the Chimneys themselves, can be taxing for some hikers—especially those with a fear of heights.

     In order to find the Chimney Tops Trailhead, look for the Chimney Tops parking lot, which is off Newfound Gap Road—from the parking lot, the trail leaves the road, crosses a stream, and begins to climb. For the most part, the trail consists of loose rocks, which makes it easy to twist an ankle or fall, so in order to help eliminate these possibilities it is important to wear proper shoes and mind your footing. The trail climbs up through the forest, following and crossing a cascading mountain stream via several bridges. The stream is a delight for hikers, especially in the warm months, because it flows forcefully over boulders forming pools that are perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot summer day. As mentioned before, the trail to the summit is 2 miles long, 4 miles roundtrip, and it climbs 1335 feet—it is considered a strenuous hike that requires caution and strength, so pace yourself.

     When you reach the halfway point of the trail, you will get your first view of the Chimney Tops proper—a rock outcrop that you must climb in order to reach the true summit and the best views. The trail to the base of the rock outcropping is a tangled web of roots, roots that are very easy to trip over, or get your foot caught in, so just be careful and don’t give up. On several occasions, we have seen hikers climb the root section, only to "chicken out" at the base of the rocks, since this last portion of the trail can be very intimidating. It is true, that the drop off from this part of the trail is very steep—it is not somewhere that you want to slip and fall, however, if you are brave enough, and cautious enough, you will make it to the top with no problems. Once on the summit, the panorama will take your breath away, this is also a great place for a picnic, so remember to bring some snacks to munch on while you rest and enjoy the well-deserved view!

     Many hikers share our love for this trail, and proof of this can be found on the summit where the rough exposed rock has been worn smooth by millions of hands and feet. Despite the treacherous nature of this trail, hundreds of people make this climb every year, and each one is a testament to the beauty and adventure found on not only the Chimney Tops Trail, but also everywhere you look in our Great Smoky Mountains National Park.



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