Hike the Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion from Newfound Gap, exploring some of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes in the Great Smoky Mountains on this challenging eight-mile adventure.
OFFICIAL MAP: Trails Illustrated #317: Clingmans Dome, Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
Vast, vertical, and daunting. Charlies Bunion is one of the most popular hiking and backpacking destinations in the Smokies. With panoramic vistas and a rather remote location, this scenic spot on the Appalachian Trail offers a chance to experience raw Appalachian splendor.
Sunrise and sunset at the Bunion are unequivocally beautiful. More than 180 degrees of vast, unimpeded vistas unfold from this weathered slate protrusion. This pyramid of Precambrian slate juts dramatically into the open air. It rises over the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Little Pigeon River to the north and the Oconaluftee River to the south.
This route rises and falls over 3600 feet on this eight-mile roundtrip from Newfound Gap. It’s one of the more strenuous hikes in the Smokies. It’s a great day hike, and a great overnight backpacking trip, with easy access to the mountain from the Icewater Spring Shelter one mile to the west. (Considering a backpacking adventure? Be sure to contact the park to check for trail closures and required permits before you head out.) It’s a strenuous stretch of the Appalachian Trail with extended climbs and traverses across exposed elevated cliffs. But the views along the way are unparalleled, and some of the best the Smokies have to offer.
Charlies Bunion from Newfound Gap: the hike
The adventure begins at the Newfound Gap overlook and parking area (view maps and driving directions). Newfound Gap offers one of the most fantastic roadside vistas in Great Smoky Mountains, straddling the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. And it’s also a popular trailhead for the Appalachian Trail, which crosses through the gap. The adventure begins from the eastern edge of the parking area, following the AT eastbound beside a historical stone pavilion.
At approximately 5,000 feet elevation, this hike begins with a bang. Views of the southern Smokies abound at the trailhead. The incline over the first two miles is moderate though steady. The relentless uphill effort makes this portion relatively difficult. The climb, in tandem with the exposed and somewhat rocky topography, leaves most of the tourist buzz behind at Newfound Gap.
The AT climbs steadily, following the southern flank of Morton Mountain. The trail opens to fantastic views at 1.5 miles, showcasing the profile of Mount LeConte four miles to the northwest.
The AT begins to level, approaching an intersection with the Sweat Heifer Creek Trail. This route continues to follow the AT at this intersection, resuming the climb. The trail narrows as nears the crest of Mount Ambler, following a single track path framed by a fragrant spruce-fir forest.
The trail descends from Mount Ambler, rolling elevation past an intersection with the Boulevard Trail at 2.7 miles, which leads to Myrtle Point on Mount LeConte. This route continues following the Appalachian Trail, beginning a steady descent toward Charlies Bunion and passing the Icewater Spring Shelter at 3 miles. This handcrafted timber and stone AT shelter, complete with a stone hearth, makes a fantastic place for a mid-hike break, and a nearby spring offers a chance to refill on water. (As always, be sure to treat backcountry water before drinking.)
Departing the shelter, the AT continues its steady descent, reaching a spur trail at four miles. The hike turns left to follow the spur to Charlies Bunion. The view soon unfolds to reveal the rocky precipice, with steep cliff faces, worn (and often slick) rock, and narrow pathways. (Tread carefully!) The Bunion rises over 5500 feet above sea level, scoring some incredible views. Few summits offer such commanding panoramas of the surrounding Smokies.
After soaking in the views, this hike turns to follow the outbound route in reverse. The return begins with a steady, one-mile ascent to the Icewater Spring Shelter. After passing the intersection with the Boulevard Trail and cresting Mount Ambler, the AT follows an enjoyable, rolling descent to the trailhead. At eight miles, the hike reaches the AT trailhead at Newfound Gap, completing the adventure.
More view-packed hiking adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains
In the area with daylight and energy left to burn? Follow the Alum Cave Trail and Boulevard Trail to stunning views and a backcountry lodge on the summit of Mt LeConte, exploring the Alum Cave Bluffs, Arch Rock, and Gracie’s Pulpit. It’s a stunning twelve-mile adventure, and a popular route to an overnight stay at the LeConte Lodge. Descend from the towering heights of Clingman’s Dome to the idyllic, grassy summit of Andrews Bald on the Forney Ridge Trail. Follow the Appalachian Trail and Chestnut Branch Trail to the historic fire lookout tower on Mt Cammerer. Hike a short 2.6-mile roundtrip to the stunning walk-behind waterfall at Grotto Falls. Or check out the full list of our favorite hikes in the Smoky Mountains for even more adventure inspiration.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
Charlies Bunion from Newfound Gap Map, Directions & Details
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Free parking is available at the Newfound Gap trailhead.
35.610867, -83.425017 // N35 36.652 W83 25.501