Charlies Bunion

  • Highlights: Appalachian Trail, rocky summit, amazing views
  • Distance: 8 miles out and back (with a 1 mile optional extension to Jump Off)
  • Elevation Change 1,880 feet
  • Trail Surface: Dirt with numerous rocky sections
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate/strenuous (distance, elevation change, rocky surface)
  • Trailhead Parking: Newfound Gap parking area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, parking fee required
  • Website: AllTrails and Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Beer Pairings: Innovation Station—Sylva Haze & Hoppy Camper

Trail Map:

The Hike:

This hike is said to have some of the best views in Great Smoky Mountains NP. We certainly understand why it is so popular. This eight-mile round trip hike on the Appalachian Trail has an option one mile extension on the Jump Off Trail with even more amazing views. Dogs are not allowed on this trail.

The large parking area at Newfound Gap fills up quickly on weekends. There is no entry fee to GSMNP. However, in 2023 the Park Service instituted daily parking fees. Self service, solar powered machines sell daily and weekly parking permits.

The AT passes right through the parking area. Follow the white-blazed AT northbound. Much of this section of the AT is rocky and wet. The spruce and fir forrest creates a shady environment ideal for moss and ferns.

Stay straight on the AT at a junction with the Sweat Heifer Trail and reach the junction with the Boulevard Trail at 2.7 miles. This will be the route for the optional hike on the Jump Off Trail on the return. The Icewater Springs AT shelter is on the right at 2.9 miles. 

The AT soon begins a gradual, but rocky, descent. At 4 miles, reach a spur trail on the left to Charlies Bunion. Watch your step. This narrow trail passes between a large rock outcropping on the right and a 1,000’ drop on the left. The rocky protuberance known as Charlies Bunion lies just ahead.

Charlies Bunion:

The bunion was formed millions of years ago but became the iconic site we know today in the 1920s. A huge forest fire destroyed much of the trees and vegetation and then torrential rains caused a landslide which stripped the soil away from the bunion.

The views from the bunion are spectacular. Mount Le Conte looms on the western horizon. This is a popular place and we were lucky to have the views to ourselves for almost 10 minutes. The spur trail is a loop and continues past the bunion with even more fantastic views before rejoining the AT in a few hundred yards. Stay right on the AT heading southbound.

The Jump Off:

To return to Newfound Gap, continue south on the AT. However, if you haven’t had your fill of jaw dropping views, consider a one-mile detour. The Jump Off Trail isn’t an “official” National Park trail. It isn’t listed on NPS maps and the trail is largely unmarked. However, the rocky path is obvious.

Hiking south on the AT, pass the Icewater Springs shelter and then bear right at the junction on the Boulevard Trail. Follow this rocky trail uphill and in 1/10th of a mile, look for a trail sign and follow the Jump Off Trail on the right.  

The .4 mile unmarked trail passes through firs, ferns, and mossy logs. The trail ends at the Jump Off, a cliff with a sheer drop of over 1,000 feet. Amazing views of Mount Le Conte, Charlies Bunion, and Mount Guyot open up to the north and east. This is a great place for lunch or a snack.

Enjoy the views and relative solitude (compared to the much more popular Charlies Bunion). Return on the unmarked Trail. Turn left on the Boulevard Trail and then bear right on the AT  to return to the parking area and your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing: 

Innovation Brewing Station in Dillsboro is about 50 minutes from the trailhead. There are closer breweries in Gatlinburg and Cherokee, but Innovation Station is worth the drive. With over 25 craft beers on tap, daily food trucks, and indoor and outdoor seating with river views, this brewery has become one of our favorites.

Pete was very pleased with Hoppy Camper (6.3% ABV • 60 IBU). This IPA is brewed with Citra, Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe hops and was total hoppiness in a pint glass. Kathy really liked Sylva Haze (6.5% ABV), a hazy New England-style IPA with hoppy fruit notes and a nice copper color.

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe, be responsible, and leave no trace.