Trail: Appalachian Trail (1.7 mile section)
Type: Out & Back
Surface: Mountain Trail, Packed Dirt, Roots, Rocks
Distance: 3.4 miles
Time: 2 hours
Foot Traffic: Not Crowded
Restrooms: Newfound Gap Road Trailhead (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: It’s the AT!, Wildflowers
Appalachian Trail Trailhead
Keep in mind that this trailhead is not where the Appalachian Trail begins or ends. You need to go to the states of Maine or Georgia to go to an actual AT Trailhead / Terminus. This trailhead is located on Newfound Gap Road (US 441), and is the on-ramp (if you will) for a short 1.7 miles section of the Appalachian Trail.
From Sugarlands Visitor Center: Drive 12.9 miles on Newfound Gap Road (US 441) toward Cherokee, NC until you arrive at the parking area for the Appalachian Trail trailhead on the left.
From Oconaluftee Visitor Center: Drive 15.6 miles on Newfound Gap Road (US 441) toward Gatlinburg, TN until you arrive at the parking area for the Appalachian Trail trailhead on the right.
NOTE: This parking area is very popular due to its proximity to Clingman’s Dome and the state line. The state line between North Carolina and Tennessee runs through the parking lot and many people stop for a photo at the marker. Restrooms are at the end of the parking area, a short walk from the observation deck.
Appalachian Trail Description
The Appalachian Trail (AT) extends roughly 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Trail developers completed the Appalachian Trail in 1937, and in 1968, the National Park Service designated it a linear national park.
Only 71 miles of the Appalachian Trail traverses Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the most part, these 71 miles follow the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. If you were to hike this entire section of the AT, you would cross the border several dozen times.
The 1.7-mile hike listed here is but a taste of the Appalachian Trail. This section begins at the Newfound Gap parking area and ends at the Road Prong Trailhead (Indian Gap parking area).
About 0.2-mile past Newfound Gap Road (US 441), the Appalachian Trail shadows Clingman’s Dome Road at varying distances until it reaches the junction with Road Prong Trail. The trail surface is typical mountain trail of packed dirt, roots, and small rocks. In the spring, wildflowers grow in abundance along the trail.
When you arrive at Road Prong Trail, turn around, and backtrack to your starting point.
As an option, you may continue hiking along the AT to Clingman’s Dome. Keep in mind that it adds an additional 14.6 miles to your hike. If you choose this option, arrive early in the morning. Conservatively speaking, this hike will take 8-9 hours, longer if you stop for rests or spend time at Clingman’s Dome.
Nearby Points of Interest
Clingman’s Dome is the highest elevation in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The views are spectacular on a clear day. Alum Cave Trail is just 4.2 miles away.