Chimney Tops, Chimney Tops Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Chimney Tops - 3.9 miles
Chimney Tops Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||3.9 miles (requires a challenging rock scramble to summit)|
|Start-End Elevation:||3,475' - 4,814' (4,814' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,339' net elevation gain (+1,480' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Chimney Tops - 3.9 Miles Round-Trip
The Chimney Tops are quartzite and slate rock formations that rise sharply from the north ridge of Sugarland Mountain. These adjacent cones are among the only bare rock summits in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Native Cherokee called them Duniskwalguni, meaning 'forked antlers'.
The trail to Chimney Tops is short but strenuous - it gains 1,300' in just two miles and requires a precarious scramble up a vertical rock face to reach the summit.
Those who complete the trip are rewarded with stunning 360 degree views that include Mount Le Conte (6,593'), Mt Mingus (5,802'), the Road Prong drainage, Rough Creek drainage, and Little Pigeon River drainage:
The trail drops to bridges over Walker Camp Prong and Road Prong before turning uphill (.13 miles : 3,465'). The path is initially smooth, but grows rocky and rooted as you progress. Steady climbing in a diverse hardwood forest leads to the Road Prong Trail split (.9 miles : 3,870'), where you'll turn west toward the Chimney Tops.
The Chimney Top Trail is uncompromisingly steep and rugged to a saddle between the twin formations (1.7 miles). After a very brief reprieve, it drops and rises back to the end of the maintained trail, which is marked by a hazard sign (1.9 miles : 4708'). Here you must decide how - if at all - to reach the summit (1.95 miles : 4,819').
You may scale the rock face right behind the sign, or continue 40 yards past it on a well-worn path to a second climbing area. Both options are daunting at first sight, but footholds in the grippy metamorphic rock are ideal for the short vertical scramble. Views are exceptional from the summit (1.95 mile s: 4,819'), and nimble hikers can follow narrow, rugged ridgelines to adjacent outcrops.
Rocks in the Smokies are mostly sedimentary, formed by the accumulation and compression of soil, silt, sand, gravel, and small amounts of calcium carbonate deposited in a shallow inland sea. In some places these rock layers were 9 miles thick.
These rock layers are collectively known as the Ocoee Supergroup, and classified into many smaller subgroups. Different rock types reflect the range of climatic and topographic conditions that existed during their formation.
The North American and African tectonic plates collided 310 - 245 million years ago, forming the supercontinent Pangaea. During these collisions pressure forced inland horizontal rock layers up, and heat transformed sedimentary rock. For example, sandstone was recrystallized into quartzite, and shale became slate. Soft overlying rock layers eroded at faster rates, revealing the harder rock layers we see today along the Chimney Tops.
- N35 38.125 W83 28.189 — 0.0 miles : Chimney Tops Trailhead
- N35 37.811 W83 28.157 — .5 miles : Steep, steady climb on variously rugged trail
- N35 37.498 W83 28.224 — .9 miles : Chimney Tops - Road Prong Trail split
- N35 37.444 W83 28.743 — 1.5 miles : Steep climb through mixed hardwood
- N35 37.729 W83 28.680 — 1.9 miles : Maintained trail ends - begin scrable
- N35 37.772 W83 28.672 — 1.95 miles : Chimney Tops summit
- Allow extra travel time for steep grades and the summit scramble. The summit is susceptible to lightning strikes. Get an early start to avoid crowds and afternoon storms.
- Enjoy easy access to cascades and pools along Walker Camp and Road Prong within .15 miles of the trailhead. 'Prong' is a major fork or branch in a stream or river.
- Rhododendron is prevalent along higher portions of the trail and summit.
Camping and Backpacking Information
BACKPACKING IN THE SMOKIES
Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park. Before planning your backcountry trip, please read through this important information about reservations and permits, regulations, bear safety, trail closures, and more.
Reserve your Backcountry or Thru Hike permits here: https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/
Please direct questions concerning backpacking trip planning to the Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297. Phone calls are the preferred method of contact. The information office is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). In addition to answering your backpacking questions, the experienced backpackers in the Backcountry Information Office can provide you with tips to make your trip safe and enjoyable.
Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.
General Backcountry Regulations
1. Camping is permitted only at designated backcountry campsites and shelters.
2. You may not stay at any backcountry campsite for more than 3 consecutive nights. You may not stay consecutive nights at campsite 113 or at any shelter.
3. Maximum party size is 8. Two parties affiliated with the same group may not stay in the same campsite or at the same shelter on the same night(s). Special permits may be issued for a few sites that accommodate parties of up to 12.
4. Fires are only allowed at designated campsites and shelters and must be contained in a fire ring. Constructing new fire rings is prohibited. You may only burn wood that is dead and already on the ground. You may not cut any standing wood.
5. It is illegal to possess firewood originating from a location from which a federal or state firewood quarantine is in effect. Read information about this quarantine and the states affected.
6. Building a fire in the fireplace of any historic structure or removing any parts of a historic structure, including brick or rock, is illegal.
7. Backcountry permit holders may not use tents at shelters.
8. Hammocks may only be used within designated backcountry campsites. They may not be used inside shelters and may not be attached to shelters in any way.
9. All odorous items (e.g., food, trash, lip balm, toothpaste, stock feed, hay etc) must be hung on the bear cable system at each campsite or shelter.
10. Human waste must be disposed of at least 100 feet from any campsite, shelter, water source or trail and must be buried in a hole at least 6 inches deep.
11. All food, trash, clothing, equipment or personal items must be packed out.
12. Burning food, trash or anything other than dead wood is prohibited.
13. Carving into or defacing trees, signs, shelters or other backcountry features is illegal.
14. Soap, even biodegradable soap, may not be used in any water sources. Bathing and washing dishes should be done well away from water sources and campsites.
15. No dogs or other pets are allowed on any park trails except the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. No dogs or other pets may be carried into the backcountry.
16. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the backcountry.
17. No hunting is allowed anywhere in the park
18. Feeding, touching or teasing wildlife is prohibited. You may not willfully approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of elk or bears.
- Fishing is permitted year-round, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset.
- The park allows fishing in all streams except Bear Creek at its junction with Forney Creek, and Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong.
- A valid fishing license from Tennessee or North Carolina is required to fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns or online.
- Daily Possession Limits: Five (5) brook, rainbow or brown trout, smallmouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish. Twenty (20) rock bass may be kept in addition to the above limit. A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.
- Size Limits: Brook, rainbow, and brown trout: 7 inch minimum. Smallmouth bass: 7 inch minimum. Rockbass: no minimum. Trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.
- Lures, Bait, and Equipment: Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used, with up to two flies on a leader.
Rules and Regulations
- There is no entrance fee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Pets, motorized vehicles, and bicycles are not permitted on backcountry trails in GSMNP.
- Leashed pets are allowed in developed areas and along roads, but are not allowed on park trails.
Directions to Trailhead
The Chimney Tops Trailhead is located 6.8 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Highway 441. The trailhead is located on the south (west) side of the road.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Visitor Information - Recorded Message
Backcountry Office - Camping and Reservations
The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8 am - 6 pm daily (EST)
Backcountry Information Office - Trip Planning Questions
The information office is open daily 9 am - 12n (EST)
Oconaluftee Visitor Center (North Carolina side - south entrance)
Sugarlands Visitor Center (Tennessee side - north entrance)