From the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, drive 7.3 miles north on Newfound Gap Road to reach the parking area for the Kephart Prong Trail
, located on your right, just off the side of the road.
Running from Newfound Gap Road to the Kephart Prong Shelter, you'll cross the Oconaluftee River several times as you follow the old Champion Fiber Company logging road to the shelter. After 0.2 of a mile, you'll see remains of a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp that was here from 1933-1942. The remains of the CCC include old walls, chimneys, and other artifacts from the camp that housed over 200 members of the CCC during the Great Depression.
After you pass the remains of the camp, the trail continues gently uphill, crossing the river 4 more times until you reach the shelter. The four river crossing are all log footbridges, which make for easy crossing except in snowy/icy conditions.
Once you reach the Kephart Prong Shelter at 2.1 miles, turn right onto the Grassy Branch Trail
. As you leave the Kephart Shelter, the ascent begins in earnest as you climb out of the Oconaluftee River drainage and begin skirting the ridges as you climb toward the Dry Sluice Gap Trail
As you run uphill, you'll eventually come to an old stone wall, where the trail winds a bit. You'll cross several ridges and several creeks as you make your way uphill. Most of the creeks are simple rock hops, unless the water is high after a rainstorm. Small creeks can find their way onto the trail after rain storms, so be prepared for mud if it's been raining recently. Most of the views are obscured as you climb up the mountain, but occasional views of the surrounding peaks will be offered through the trees.
When you get to the eroded part of the trail where the trail is 1-2 feet below the surrounding landscape, you are almost to the end of this trail. The trail is relatively clean, for most of the run, although more roots and rocks appear once you get into the eroded part of the trail. When you get to the Dry Sluice Gap Trail
sign, turn left.
Climbing 1.3 miles on the Dry Sluice Gap Trail
, you can access the Appalachian Trail near Charlies Bunion
. Continue to the west on the AT, passing a junction with the Boulevard Trail
on your right. Continue on until you reach the Sweat Heifer Creek Trail
. This trail is a steep, and at times rocky, descent back to the Kephart Prong Trail
. The trail gets narrow and rockier for a short while before it joins an old railroad bed and levels out for a short while. After going through a dry creek bed, you begin to hear the sound of Sweat Heifer Creek. This is a great place to enjoy the creek, grab a bite to eat, and rest before continuing your downhill trek.
Once you reach the junction with the Kephart Prong Trail
, turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead