“This trek takes you over some of the best spots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
— Caleb Aycock
Cave · River/Creek · Spring · Waterfall · Wildlife
Watch out for HWY 441 and it's closures
This near-loop takes you across some of the best gems in the whole park, including Charlies Bunion
, Chimney Tops, and Alum Cave.
Need to Know
Check trail closures due to the recent fires at Chimney Tops. Also make sure HWY 441 is open, we lost a day of running due to road closures.
While recommended as a multi-day, backpacking trip, this would be a very long day run. Just be sure to allot enough time for the full distance and bring plenty of food and water.
This route is great, especially for runners who are seeking summits. It can be challenging at times, but takes you over some great viewpoints and provides ample scenery. One of the best days takes you over Kephart, Charlie's Bunion and Ice Water Springs.
We set out from the Mount LeConte parking lot and started heading to the Mt LeConte Shelter. This is definitely a hard route, but it's 100% worth it. You pass multiple over looks and go through Alum Cave Bluffs
, which appear just in time to lift your spirit. The temperature on Mount Le Conte varies due to wind and elevation, so make sure you are prepared with extra layers.
From the Mount LeConte Shelter, we set out for Kephart via the Boulevard Trail
, a section of the AT and the Dry Sluice Gap Trail
. This day was relatively easy, as you stay on a ridge most of the day. Make sure you check out "the jump off" near the intersection of the Boulevard Trail
and the AT. The AT is well-maintained and so is the Boulevard Trail
, but going down to Kephart can be tricky. It's a steep decline that is mostly singletrack until you reach the creek bed. The trail is very wet and rocky**.
**Make sure to bring water shoes because the trip down to Kephart can get wet!
We head out to Mount Collins. This is one of the most beautiful stretches of trail on the whole trip. While running mostly on the AT, you pass Charlies Bunion
, Kephart Knob, and many other knobs that are breathtaking. Be sure to leave early enough to make it to Mount Collins and have time to explore the trail. We left around 6 a.m. The trail up to the AT is very challenging and wet at some points, so make sure to bring water shoes. It is about 90% singletrack and requires a lot of energy. The main thing we encountered was snow, which made this run extremely difficult. This trail is also very rocky.
Another relatively easy run. A lot of downhill though. Another great thing we did is got up early and had breakfast at Clingmans Dome
before the run out. The way out is the same as the way in. Relatively easy, as you are on the AT ridge most of the way. Make sure you stop at Chimney Tops on your way out.
Save some money and get a hot meal in Gatlinburg. You won't regret it.
Flora & Fauna
A lot of mountain laurel in the spring. We also took this loop during the winter and saw bobcat tracks, wild boar tracks as well as deer. We went during the winter so the wildlife was scarce but everything was beautiful.