Reposted from July, 2007. Note that the trail no longer follows this exact route.
The Chimney Tops trail is probably one of the most popular trails in the Smokies, but don’t let that keep you from hiking it. Most of the cars you see in the parking lot are for people playing in the creeks around the trailhead. Once you cross the second bridge, and start the trail in earnest, the crowds drop off quite a bit.
The trail is pretty straight forward. Hike 2 miles up, up, up and be rewarded with a great view at the summit. I first did this trail in 1995. I had just turned 31 and this two mile little hike seemed like a piece of cake back then. Now, 12 years later I’m 43, have 3 kids, and I’m carrying an additional 25 pounds or so around with me. This time it was much more of a challenge, but that made reaching the summit all the sweeter.
We guessed it would take us two hours or so to hike the 2 miles up and back, so my wife and our two younger sons explored around the creeks, looking for wild flowers and other interesting things, while my oldest son accompanied me on the hike.
The trail is very pretty at the bottom, as you cross the boulder strewn creeks on well maintained bridges. After the 2nd bridge though, the trail turns and with one look you know that things are about to get a lot more interesting.
From that point on, you hike up at something like a 40 degree or better incline, until you reach the summit. I hate to admit it, but I had to stop at several points on the way up to catch my breath. This is not something I had to do in 1995 and was a wake-up call for me. If I want to be doing hikes like this in another 12 years, I need to get in better shape. Hiking outdoors is my passion and I am in no way ready to start conceding that I just can’t do certain trails any longer. So, tune in around 2019 to see how I’m doing!!
There isn’t a lot to see on the way up. The trail is steep and in some places it can be muddy and slippery. You do see plenty of Yellow Buckeye trees, the Eastern Hemlock ( a personal favorite of mine) and the ever present Rhododendron.
Once you reach the summit the trail levels out and after you scramble over some large tree roots and rock outcroppings you find yourself on a narrow trail overlooking the park. Behind you stands the bare metamorphic slate that comprises the Chimney Tops. The Appalachian Mountains are some of the oldest mountains in the world, so the slate you are touching is approximately 600 million years old. Kind of humbling. That’s a lot older than my oldest, holiest pair of socks!
After reaching the summit I was tired, but also exhilarated. I felt like I had really accomplished something. That is until I saw a teen-age boy making his way back down. He was wearing a Hollister T-shirt and a pair of Crocs (shoes I’m still not sure men should be wearing) and looked like he hadn’t even broken a sweat. He gave a lackadaisical yawn and started his way back down.
We scrambled up the rock face as much as we dared. This is a little risky, so be careful if you attempt it. The climb is steep and the rock is pretty sharp. It would be easy to fall and cut yourself badly. Also, stay away from the shafts. The main shaft is big enough to fall into.
After taking in the view for awhile and catching our breath, we took one last look and started our descent. We half jogged all the way down and made great time getting back to the trailhead.
At the very bottom of the trail I slipped and fell in front of another dad and his young son. All that time practicing Judo over the years paid off, as I did a pretty decent forward roll (Ukemi in Japanese) and came up into a standing position. Everyone was staring at me, so of course I had to say, “That’s how I roll.”
The elevation of the Chimney Tops is said to be 4800 feet. The elevation change for the hiker starting out at the trailhead is approximately 1345 feet. This is a tough, but rewarding trail. So get out there. Take a hike!