The hike up to Chimney Tops has been on my “wish list” for quite some time. It’s one of the most popular day hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but, it’s difficult to schedule. The park’s Trails Forever team has been doing extensive maintenance there since 2012 due to severe water damage. Many of the steps and bridges needed to be rebuilt. As a result, the trail has been completely closed or only open on the weekends. Hopefully, all work will be completed by the end of 2014.
Lee and I got up early and arrived at the trailhead parking lot as the sun was just starting to come up. Even at that hour we were the second car there. All available parking fills up quickly so you have to get there early.
This is the bridge over the Walker Camp Prong of the Little Pigeon River at the trailhead. The parking lot is barely visible near the upper left region of this image.
The trail starts out moderately easy as you pass through a forest of Eastern hemlock, rhododendron and magnolia. The sound of the rushing water quickly drowns out any traffic noise from the park road.
This is the second of four total foot bridges along the way.
Although we were past the peak fall color there were still some impressive trees here and there.
The trail starts to get a little steeper before crossing the final bridge.
Here’s Lee standing next to one of the large old-growth trees along the trail. Notice how the roots have been exposed over time as the soil has washed away.
The final bridge is crossed about 0.9 mile from the trailhead.
Now the trail gets considerably steeper! It climbs nearly 1,500 feet over only 2 miles.
These are some of the wooden steps recently installed by Trails Forever.
Did I mention that the trail was steep? LOTS of steps!
…and MORE steps!
This hike is a great cardio workout. Our hiking poles were working our arms while our legs were negotiating all of the steps.
Yep, more steps.
These looked like they were just built.
I don’t want you to get the impression that the entire trial is just a bunch of steps. There are some nice sections in between with interesting trees and rocks.
Finally! The summit is within sight. From this point on it’s too steep and rocky to use hiking poles.
There’s a sign warning about the danger of climbing the slippery rocks. Evidently, hikers get badly injured here all the time. It’s pretty scary to be sure and not for anyone afraid of heights.
Here’s Lee near the top with the actual 4,753 foot summit just behind him. This photograph doesn’t really show how steep this area is.
This image looking somewhat easterly toward Mt. LeConte and Mt. Kephart shows how steep these rocks really are. It’s a sheer drop everywhere you look and takes your breath away. There are enough hand and foot holds to climb it without special equipment but, the climb down is worse than the climb up.
We decided the view was spectacular enough and the risks too great to climb the final few feet. While we sat there and ate our lunch we saw only one hiker bold enough to reach the summit. Most didn’t make it as high as we were.
This westerly view is toward Sugarland Mountain that’s rising out of frame on the right in this image.
The beautiful vistas in all directions make the effort of the hike worthwhile.
Wow! What a great hike! It was everything I had imagined and more.
Now, it’s time to start thinking about the next one. With over 800 miles of trails in the park it’s hard to decide. Maybe a section of the Appalachian trail out to Charlies Bunion? We’ll see…