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A beautiful and challenging run with rewarding views in one of the most historic sections of the Appalachian Trail.

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6,625' 2,019 m


1,701' 518 m


22,301' 6,797 m


22,017' 6,711 m



Avg Grade (5°)


Max Grade (26°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Birding · Commonly Backpacked · Fall Colors · Lake · Spring · Views · Wildflowers

Check the GSMNP website for road and trail closures as well as bear activity warnings. It is not uncommon for shelters along the trail to be closed due to bear activity.

Section Of

Need to Know

There are some tough climbs with great views. Prepare for unexpected weather and keep an eye out for bears. Check the AT Thru-Hikers Companion for more details on trail necessities.


This trail is for the serious runner that wants to spend multiple days in the park experiencing some of the best it has to offer.

Beginning in the south at Fontana Dam, you begin with a steep climb up to the ridgeline that will check your fitness for the rest of the run. But you are quickly rewarded with a break and a view at Shuckstack Fire Tower a little over 4 miles in. Climb the tower, one of four fire towers in the park, for spectacular views of Fontana Lake to the south.

Continue your ascent over the rest of your day to either Mollies Ridge Shelter (10.7 miles in), Russell Field Shelter (13.5 miles in), or Spence Field Shelter (16.4 miles in). Don't be surprised to encounter a bear or two in this area, especially around Spence Field—a real and beautiful field where I had my first talk with a bear who was pretty unhappy; I was attempting to use the same bush he was eating from to take care of business... Needless to say I found a different spot.

Leaving Spence Field brings you to a sequence of vistas, the most famous and incredible of which is Rocky Top. On a clear day, the 360-degree view stretches on for miles. On a more typical Smoky Mountain morning covered in dense fog, you feel as though you have found a secret passage up into the clouds as you emerge from a tunnel of mountain laurel onto the bare and rocky peak. Following Rocky Top are many more balds, gaps, and other viewpoints worth taking a short break at to soak in the view.

Leaving the gaps and a string of well-built shelters brings you to perhaps the most iconic part of the trail as well as the highest point of the AT—Clingman's Dome. Pray for the typical mountain fog to clear as you climb the observation tower (along with the better-smelling visitors who parked a mile away) for spectacular views. Descend among the firs into a beautiful old growth forest before coming to Newfound Gap, the easiest place to hitchhike to Tennessean or Carolinian civilization.

The shorter northern half of the park offers two more must-sees—Charlie's Bunion, a spectacular rock outcropping, and Mt. Cammerer/Sharp Top Fire Tower, the only stone Western-style fire tower in the park (like a lighthouse on a mountain). The pattern of well-built shelters with comfortable wooden bunks continues throughout the trail. So does the flora, so keep your eyes peeled for trillium, violets, and irises. If you feel like extending your run, cut down the mountain to the Big Creek Trail for Midnight Hole.

Flora & Fauna

Black bears, salamanders; trillium, irises, azaleas, rhododendron, mountain laurel.

Shared By:

Cody Brandon

Trail Ratings

  4.7 from 14 votes


  4.7 from 14 votes
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8 Views Last Month
6,024 Since Sep 30, 2015
Intermediate/Difficult Intermediate/Difficult



Plenty of mountains to view from Clingman's Dome.
Mar 31, 2016 near Gatlinburg, TN
Mount LeConte after a winter storm on the AT. Clouds hug the ridges and hoarfrost covers the trees.
Feb 5, 2016 near Gatlinburg, TN
View from Newfound Gap parking lot.
Sep 2, 2016 near Gatlinburg, TN
Shuckstack Fire Tower from the top of Fontana Dam (a little bit closer...)
May 12, 2019 near Robbins…, NC
Charlie's Bunion, Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Jul 19, 2017 near Gatlinburg, TN
The path narrows as it works its way through the fields of Spence Field. Imagine fields like this being used for cattle grazing when settlers lived in the park.
Feb 6, 2016 near Robbins…, NC



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