Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion is a 8.7 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Gatlinburg, Tennessee that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible from March until November.
Nice hike along the summit of the Smokies, with views of Charles Bunion. The trail starts off with a gradual ascent of about 300 feet in the first mile. For the most part, the trail is tree covered, but there are a few views on the way to the Ice Water Spring-AT shelter. The shelter is one of the nicer structures along the AT in North Carolina. It sleeps 12, but a permit and reservation are required through the Park Service. Some of the comments in the AT logbook note that Elk have been seen in this area. The trail continues onto a side trail about a mile north of the shelter. This trail is well marked and goes left to Charles Bunion. This is a large rock out cropping created years ago by a fire, rain and subsequent landslide.
This was our first visit to the great smoky mountains and this trail was perfect for
a way to experience the park for visitors. We hiked in November on a busy holiday weekend but it was easy to find, navigate, not too difficult with regular walking shoes, jacket, and water. We brought some granola bars for snacks. There are some rocky areas and if there is moisture also some slippery areas but all in all a breathtaking view at the end.
Very well marked and maintained trail with plenty of challenge without being too difficult. Lots of beautiful vistas along the way. Definitely go early if you want to enjoy Charlies Bunion without a crowd.
I recommend taking the short detour up to The Jump Off on your way to Charlies Bunion. It's only about 0.4 miles round trip to a cliff overlook. It is a little more rugged than the main trail, but well worth the effort.
Very cold at the peak with snow covered trees and an icy wind but gorgeous view to take in!
An edit to the post below: the Jump Off is only a 0.5 mile addition to the trail. TO GET TO THE JUMP-OFF: At just over 2.7 miles from the trailhead you'll arrive at the Boulevard Trail junction. Hikers should turn left here.
Less than a tenth-of-a-mile after turning onto the Boulevard Trail you'll reach the junction for the Jump-Off. Although this side trail is not an official national park trail, it is marked with a sign. And though it has a few rugged sections, the route is easy to follow.
This view is soooo worth it!! You shouldn't do JUST Charlie's Bunion without adding this short side trail. This is a 1,200 feet drop off the side of a cliff overlooking mountains. A cool fact about this side trail is that if you take this trail, you have officially summited Mt. Kephart on the way to the Jump Off! You will be over 6,000 feet up in elevation.
So much fun: starting from the New Found Gap Parking lot -- there is a "slight" incline (the elderly seemed to have an easy time whipping up and down the first section, although there are some large rocks you will come across along the way) till you come to the intersection for Charles Bunion and the -- pardon me if I say this wrong -- Jump Off (which the Jump Off is 5 miles from the intersection).
The Charles Bunion however is down hill once you are passing the shelter (I have no idea what the terrain is like towards the Jump Off.
Making it back up the decline towards the Charles Bunion opening from the shelter was really the only "difficult" section, otherwise it is a great day hike, that is available to almost anyone.
Great signage along the way and plenty of friendly people to chat with -- if you prefer isolation then just pass or let the chatty Kathy's pass you and you will then have DEAD silence -- there is a large amount of puff tall moss on all sides, that what I believe cushions any falling debris (hence why it is so quiet up there).
Saw a deer and large -- what I think was -- a quail on the way back.
Parking GET THERE EARLY -- I had to loop around the parking lot nearly 4 times before I had to aggressively stand my ground for a parking space (plus you will have a mountain on your right on the way from the parking lot while hiking and on your left on the way back (sunlight can be blocked, but you will have more than enough sun to light your way from and to.
- Seth W.
We hiked here for our 5 year anniversary and wow, I can't imagine a better way to spend it! There were two other people at the Bunion, and we waited a while and then had it to ourselves for the time we spent there. It is not an easy hike. There are quite a few steep parts. It is crucial to eat well, lots of carbs and protein, no greasy junk food- and hydrate adequately not only during but also BEFORE hiking. If not, this hike will be gruesome and not so enjoyable! Charlie's bunion was gorgeous, and afterwards, with the small amount of energy we had left, we did the side trail to the Jump Off/ Mt. Kephart summit. It was a HUGE drop off (1,200 ft) and the views are second to none that we have ever seen. If you have binoculars and/or very good vision, you can see way across the overlook to where you were earlier at Charlie's bunion. The people there looked like microscopic organisms, but you could see faintly them! The Ice water spring shelter is very cool. It is just a short 30 second hike off the main trail, and next time we hike here we definitely want to camp out in it. It requires reservations and a permit from the park service. Hope this helps anyone who has never hiked here before!