Charlie's Bunion Trail Facts
Highlights: Panoramic Views, High Elevation Spruce-Fir Forest
Round Trip Distance: 8.1 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1640 Ft
The easiest way to reach Charlie's Bunion is to drive to the Newfound Gap Parking lot. This parking area can be reached by taking newfound Gap Road, US 441, which lies only 13 miles from Gatlinburg. At the parking area, hikers will find the large Newfound Gap Monument where President Roosevelt dedicated the park in 1940. Hikers will take the Appalachian Trail towards Sweet Heifer Creek Trail and the Boulevard Trail.
This section of the national park is part of the "Anakeesta Formation" an ancient portion of the mountains made of slate rock. This area of the Smokies is well known for being some of the roughest wilderness in the park due to its jagged rock formations and steep cliffs.
How Charlie's Bunion Got its Name
The rock outcrop of Charlie's Bunion was not always so exposed and prominent. After years of logging and an intense forest fire, this section of the Smokies was bare earth. In 1929, a cloudburst, an intense storm that can dump over a foot of rain in a matter of hours, hit this section of the park and washed away much of the soil.
Following the storm, several hikers including a man named "Charlie Connor," climbed to this outcropping known as "Fodderstack." After seeing Charlie removing his boot to care for large blister on his big toe, one of the mountaineers thought the rock had an uncanny resemblance to his "bunion." The name stuck and this prominent overlook stands as a testament to hiking with suitable footwear.
During the winter months, Newfound Gap Road may be closed due to snow storms. Even when the road is open, it is common that this high elevation section of the Appalachian Trail can be slick with ice or snow. In the summer, afternoon thunderstorms bring the risk of lighting strikes. Since this trail is mostly exposed, this is not a safe trail in a storm, so keep an eye on the weather. Lastly, there are steep cliffs along this route. Staying on the trail is the best way to avoid a fall.
The hike to Charlie's Bunion is one of the most gorgeous sections of the Appalachian Trail in the national park. All of this hike is along some of the highest elevations in the Smoky Mountains and offers views of both Tennessee and North Carolina.
The hike to Charlie's Bunion is strenuous and requires some time to safely hike it. Know your limits and pick a proper turn around time. Even if hikers are unable to reach Charlie's Bunion itself, this hike has many rewards before you reach the main attraction.
The first 1.7 miles of the trail leads to a junction with Sweet Heifer Calf Trail. This entire hike is along the Appalachian Trail, so simply use this trail head as a distance marker. Along the way, hikers will enjoy views of both the Tennessee and North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains. At some points, the trail becomes especially narrow, as if you are walking along the thin backbone of the Smoky Mountains.
At 2.7 miles into your hike, the trail will fork. To the left is the Boulevard Trail that leads to Mt. LeConte and the Jump Off. To reach the Bunion, continue on the Appalachian trail which forks to the right.
Slightly past the fork, hikers will pass by the Ice Water Springs Shelter, on of the many overnight hiking shelters in the park. Like the name suggests, there is water here flowing from the mountain, but you'll want to treat it before drinking. At this point, hikers will enjoy exploring a healthy, high elevation spruce forest that seems mystical in the fog. After about a mile, the trail opens back up and hikers will find themselves upon the narrow spine of the mountains with steep drop-offs on either side.
Before long, hikers will find the trail veers to the left and leads to the rock outcropping of Charlie's Bunion. There are steep cliffs in this area, so be sure to watch your footing and tread carefully. Keep an eye on children and sit back an enjoy views of Mt. LeConte and the Tennessee Valley in the distance. You've reached your destination – one of the biggest outcroppings in the Smoky Mountains.
To fully enjoy this and other hikes in the national park, booking a cabin rental in nearby Gatlinburg, TN is a great way to ensure you stay close to the hikes and destinations you want to see!
Written by Hayden Brown