Trail: Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail
Type: Out & Back
Surface: Packed Dirt, Rocks, and Roots
Distance: 7.8 miles
Time: 6 hours
Foot Traffic: Not Crowded
Restrooms: Newfound Gap Comfort Station (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: Wildflowers, Scenic Panoramic Views
Charlies Bunion via AT (Trailhead Information)
From Sugarlands Visitor Center: Drive 12.9 miles on Newfound Gap Road (US 441) until you arrive at Newfound Gap parking area on the left.
From Oconaluftee Visitor Center: Drive 15.6 miles on Newfound Gap Road (US 441) until you arrive at the Newfound Gap parking area on the right.
RELATED: Great Smoky Mountains Visitor Centers
IMPORTANT: The Newfound Gap parking area is very popular due to its proximity to Clingman’s Dome, the Appalachian Trail, 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 located at the end of the parking area, a short walk from the observation deck.
Charlies Bunion is not a trail, but a destination. Begin your hike by heading northeast on the Appalachian Trail from the Newfound Gap parking area.
Charlies Bunion via the AT (Trail Description)
Charlies Bunion is a popular rock outcropping destination on the Appalachian Trail, primarily reached by experienced hikers. The hike is not especially strenuous, but a few drop-offs require careful attention. Our rating is moderate, although the second half of the trail is more strenuous.
The trail surface is packed dirt with rocks and roots, what we describe as a typical forest trail. Reaching Charlies Bunion requires a climb of more than 1,600 feet in elevation. The highest point on the hike is 6,015 feet. Drop-offs of more than 1,000 feet surround Charlies Bunion on three sides.
From the trailhead at Newfound Gap, the hike to Charlies Bunion is 3.9 miles in each direction. For much of the hike, a beautiful canopy of trees covers the trail. In the spring, wildflowers pepper the wayside.
Charlies Bunion Background
Deforestation, due to unregulated logging in the early twentieth century, stripped most of the trees from the mountains. A forest fire in 1925, fed by dry dead brush left over from the logging, became so intense that it scorched the ground, rendering it useless.
Four years later, a violent rainstorm washed the scalded earth from the side of the mountain, leaving behind the exposed rock formations we see today.
The name, Charlies Bunion, is curious, is it not? Two similar stories surround the naming of this outcropping, and both involve Charley Conner and Horace Kephart. Exploring the area after the cloudburst, Charley, Horace, and the rest of the party stopped for a rest. Charley took off his boots and socks for a quick foot rub.
Kephart saw a bunion on Conner’s foot and said it looked like the outcropping where they were sitting. According to legend, Kephart then said, “Charlie, I’m going to get this place put on a government map for you.” The second version states that upon seeing the outcropping for the first time, a fellow hiker commented that it “sticks out like Charlie’s Bunion.”
Neither version is verifiable, but the second version sounds more realistic to me. Take your pick!
Horace Kephart’s book, “The Book of Camping & Woodcraft: 1906 Edition” is for sale on Amazon.
Nearby Points of Interest
Clingman’s Dome is not far from Newfound Gap on Clingman’s Dome Road. Chimney Tops Trail and Alum Cave Trail are both nearby with great views of the Smoky Mountains.