Chimney Tops Trail

Chimney Tops Hiking Trail
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Don't be fooled by the short out-and-back distance– Chimney Tops is a strenuous hike. Expect a steep trail (without any switchbacks to ease the rapid elevation gain) that culminates in a challenging rock scramble. Your reward at the summit: one of the most spectacular panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains.

- The Local Expert Team

Start your hike at the main parking area and descend over the Bridge at Walker Camp Prong. Gazing downstream from the bridge, you’ll see the confluence of Walker Camp Prong and Road Prong, where the two creeks form the West Prong Little Pigeon River. Follow the trail across the Road Prong where it swings left and begin a steep ascent, before crossing the Road Prong for a second time. Continue ascending and cross the Road Prong for a third and final time. After this third crossing, the trail opens up into an area known as “Beech Flats”. Stay right when the trail forks to continue to the Chimney Tops overview.

Begin a moderate ascent that leads to a metal culvert across the trail. Take a moment to pause here for a quick hydration stop and rest; you’ll need your energy for the coming ascent! For the next several hundred yards, the climb is extremely steep and challenging up the drainage. The trail is without switchbacks until the very end of the elevation gain; at this point, however, the majority of the elevation gain is already behind you. Following the switchback, the trail will moderate and level off on a narrow ridge. Now the fun really begins!

A sign at this point will warn you against venturing further. Take note and consider whether the view is worth the very legitimate risk of slipping into the ravine. If you’re prepared to venture onwards, secure all lose objects and be ready to use both hands for the rock scramble. Scramble up the rocky ridge directly in front of you. Do not go to the right: heavy erosion has damaged the trail here and made scrambling extremely dangerous.

Once you’ve reached the top, enjoy the view of a lifetime. Imposing Mount LeConte stands to the northeast. To the right of LeConte is the narrow ridgeline called “The Boulevard”. Mount Mingus is to the southeast. In winter and early spring, “the Loop” on Newfound Gap Road will be visible just to the left of Mount Mingus. Sugarland Mountain is to the west, with Cove Mountain in the distance to the northwest.

Retrace your steps to return to the trailhead. For a longer hike, follow the Road Prong Trail at the Beech Flats trail junction. Since you’ll be returning to a different trailhead, plan ahead and leave a second vehicle in the other parking area.

Along the Chimney Tops trail, you’ll see lush plant life and plenty of wildlife, including squirrels eager for handouts (remember it’s against park rules to feed wild animals). Due to the trail’s popularity, expect to encounter plenty of human company, too, which can make for slower going during peak weekend times. Photo opportunities are ample along the trail, although the best views are to be had at the top.

If you choose to hike this trail with young children, be especially mindful of where they are at all times. All it takes is a single misstep to fall from the rock scramble and summit.

Insider Tips:
-Despite the steep, strenuous trail, the Chimney Tops trail is one of the most popular hikes in the park during spring, summer and fall. Be prepared for plenty of company on the trail. The trailhead lots fill up quickly throughout the year, so plan to arrive early (before 9am) or try your luck late in the afternoon.
-If you hike to the top for sunset, plan to descend from the rock scramble before twilight fades. Bring a headlamp for a safer descent.
-There are few hikers in winter when the snow and ice can make it too dangerous to summit the rock scramble.

From downtown Gatlinburg, drive towards the National Park. The Chimney Tops parking area is located off Newfound Gap Road, approximately 6.8 miles south of the Sugarland Visitor Center. The Chimney Picnic Area is located 2.4 miles north of the trailhead.