Fall time is Indian Summer Time! Being new residents to Tennessee we just had to go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Southern Mecca of colorful trees. With more than 870 miles of trails every kind of hiker (beginner, intermediate and advanced) will find the perfect fit. Most sections are really lonely and offer an undisturbed experience in nature.
Nevertheless, there are also more frequented areas like the “Chimney Tops Trail”. Excited to have the opportunity to discover the Smoky Mountains first hand, we chose this trail as the destination for one of our Sunday trips. The first impression: disenchantment.
Well, after we hiked it and after we fell in love with it, I have to tell you this: we would have missed a wonderful experience if the one-hour traffic jam in popular Gatlinburg and the screaming teenagers at the trailhead would have discouraged us.
It was super crowed at the beginning. People with clothes, I would not even wear on a thirty minutes-walk on the river, passed and children in open sandals ran around us. Fortunately, after the first 0.5 mi it got really calm. A feeling of loneliness arose, although we still met a lot of people. The reason for that might be the way the trail develops. It’s an out-and-back trail what means you walk the half of it, take a break or enjoy the view (or both) and walk the same distance back. The Chimney Tops trail is no exception to that (2 miles in and 2 miles out), but an impressive staircase after 1 mi makes it quite special and, for some people, daunting. You have to climb more than 350 stone and wooden steps to overcome 960 ft of the 1371 ft in the last mile. The way I did it and actually every person we saw, was like this: contemplative, breathless, sweating and quietly cursing. Nevertheless, it felt so good to reach the top. Do you know the feeling when you finished a horrible workout? That’s it, that’s the feeling you’ll have when you’ve climbed this staircase in the middle of the woods.
The Chimney Tops, the actual peak is an amazing highlight and worth every single step (literally) you took. It’s a formation of some oddly shaped dark rocks. Gaps and grooves in the stone layers allow you to find your way up to the top. Despite the lack of ropes and double bottoms, this short but challenging section is super fun. When you’re focused (try to resist the desire to take a quick peek around and, even more important, back: it is quite steep), you’ll reach the top quickly. There you’ll have an amazing 360° panoramic view: mountainous landscapes, bright colors and impressive cloud formations.
The trail is classified as advanced on alltrails.com. If you’re willing, a bit trained or at least, motivated the challenge should rather provoke than deter. You don’t need to be super prepared or equipped, that’s really not necessary for this trail.
Good shoes and enough water, that’ll do. Is the weather good, you can hike it all day. With a total of three hours it’s the perfect hiking adventure for a sunny Sunday in October.
Even though the trail did not convince and almost depressed me at the beginning, I can highly recommend it after we hiked the whole distance. It’s a place to fall in love with and an amazing photo spot. The excitement to overcome the incline and take the rock wall by storm let all the negative feelings disappear. Chimney tops, stay the way you are: packed, exhausting and beautiful!
UPDATE: The area around Chimney Tops was badly damaged by devastating wildfires in fall 2016 (shortly after our trip). Thanks to generous donations, the trail has been renewed and is accessible to the public again. The trail was shortened to 1.75 mi (from two miles) and ends in a viewpoint from which you can admire the “Chimney Tops”, the pinnacle and the surrounding area. We are looking forward to exploring this great new highlight, and we are happy to stay behind the barrier to give nature the opportunity to recover from the dramatic events last year.