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Chimney Tops Trail Reopen in Smokies

leah kirk

GSMNP has reopened the popular Chimney Tops Trail and a newly observation point starting on October 6, 2017. The new observation point is located roughly a quarter-mile below the actual summit. Most of the damage on this trail during the November 2016 wildfire occurred near the final approach to the summit.

On November 23, 2016, two juvenile arsonists started a wildfire near the Chimney Tops summit. By November 28th the fire grew to 500 acres. After several months of exceptional drought conditions, and winds gusts reaching more than 80 mph that afternoon, the fire literally exploded. Over the next several hours, it burned almost 18,000 acres, including 11,410 acres within GSMNP. From Chimney Tops the fire raced north, passing around the edges of downtown Gatlinburg and reaching the outskirts of Pigeon Forge. Before it was brought under control the fire killed 14 people, injured more than 176 people, and damaged or destroyed at least 2460 structures at a cost of more than $500 million.

The trailhead for Chimney Tops is located roughly 6.9 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center (between the lower tunnel and "the loop" on Newfound Gap Road). The Chimney Tops Trail is one of the most popular hikes along Newfound Gap Road. The trail owes much of its popularity to its relatively short length, and its outstanding panoramic views from the pinnacles. Its length, less than 2 miles, however, makes for a very steep hike - so much so that many hikers don't even reach the top. The first half of the trail is relatively tame. However, to reach the summit hikers have to climb more than 960 feet over the course of the last mile! This is similar to the rate of elevation gain you'll find on some of the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado.

The first section of trail more or less follows the cascading waters of Road Prong Creek, and crosses several footbridges along the 0.9-mile route to Beech Flats. The trail junction at Beech Flats marks the approximate half-way point for this hike. From here the Road Prong Trail branches off to the left towards the Appalachian Trail at Indian Gap, roughly 2.4 miles away. The Road Prong Trail, which continues to follow the stream of the same name, is one of the oldest trails in the Smokies. In the 18th and 19th centuries this ancient path was commonly known as the Indian Gap Trail. The Cherokee name for Chimney Tops is Duniskwalgunyi, or "forked antler", which refers to its resemblance to the antlers of a deer.