Trail: Kephart Prong Trail
Type: Out & Back
Surface: Packed Dirt, Rocks, and Roots
Distance: 4 miles
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Foot Traffic: Crowded
Restrooms: Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Collins Creek Picnic Area (backcountry regulations)
Highlights: Wildflowers, Historical Structures
Kephart Prong Trail Trailhead
From Oconaluftee Visitor Center: Drive 6.9 miles on Newfound Gap Road (US 441) to the trailhead on the right.
From Sugarlands Visitor Center: Drive 21.6 miles on Newfound Gap Road (US 441) to the trailhead on the left.
You may park on either side of the road in the spaces provided. Kephart Prong Trail is popular among hikers. Arrive early for the best opportunity to park.
RELATED: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor Centers
Kephart Prong Trail Description
This trail is named in honor of Horace Kephart, a conservationist and early proponent of the national park. Without the foresight of Kephart and others, likely, the park would not exist today.
Horace Kephart’s book, “The Book of Camping & Woodcraft: 1906 Edition” is for sale on Amazon.
Right next to the road, a short footbridge over the Oconaluftee River leads to Kephart Prong Trail. The trail surface is a former roadbed, so for most of the hike it is wide and smooth. However, sections of the trail are rocky with some roots, especially when you get closer to Kephart Shelter.
Footbridge Over Oconaluftee River | Kephart Prong Trail
Some reviewers say the trail is easy to hike, however, the 830 feet rise in elevation leads us, and the National Park Service, to rate it “moderate”. While it does not compare to the strenuous hikes of Rainbow Falls or Chimney Tops, it is slightly more challenging than a flat trail.
Occasionally, horses are on the trail, although it is not very popular with equestrians. Many horse friendly trails are closer to the stables, so someone would really want to ride this trail to go to the trouble of getting a horse here.
The hike to Kephart Shelter is 2.0 miles in each direction. Kephart Prong Trail parallels the Kephart Prong of the Oconaluftee River and is a nice place to enjoy the sites and sounds of the river. In addition, quite a few historical remnants remain from early 20th century buildings.
To reach the shelter, you must cross four log footbridges over water. The last two are a bit more challenging than the first two. If you have young children, please proceed with caution.
We grabbed the following video from YouTube. It is not professionally produced, but for a home video it is well done. Take a couple of minutes to walk Kephart Prong Trail with this hiker.
Kephart Prong Historical Structures
Soon after you begin your hike, the trail passes through the remains of what used to be a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal created the Civilian Conservation Corps to help single, unemployed, young men find work developing natural resources in rural areas of the United States.
The mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina filled up with CCC camps during the early days of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Unrestricted logging stripped the mountains of the majority of her trees. The CCC camps, run by the army, were tasked with reforestation and soil conservation.
The CCC camp on Kephart Prong Trail was active from 1933 to 1942. This hard working group of young men built fisheries, trails, and assisted in the creation of Newfound Gap Road. Hundreds of men lived in the camp.
On the trail, you will see structures from this era in the park. A chimney from the barracks and a water fountain sit nearby the trail. As you explore the area, you can imagine what life was like here during the World War II period.
Nearby Points of Interest
The Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill are near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to the east. Newfound Gap, the trailhead for a hike to Charlies Bunion is just 8.0 miles west.