Chimney Tops and Road Prong Trail

Appalachian TrailHiker Great Smokies Trail Atlas
Distance: 9 Miles round-trip from trailhead
Difficulty: +++
Scenic Views: +++
Elevation Relief: 1,800ft ^^
Ownership: Great Smoky Mountains, NPS

Great Smokies Trail Atlas: $14

As you drive from the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road, you’ll catch glimpses of the Chimney Tops, a summit outcropping of tough, erosion resistant metamorphic rock. Originally deposited as sedimentary rock, such as shale, sandstone, and siltstone over 500 million years ago, the rocks that make the mountains here first experienced metamorphosis becoming a hard, slate-type rock, and then mountain building forces to form the folded and faulted Appalachians, with peaks as high as the Rocky Mountains. Today, after 200 million years of erosion, Chimney Tops stands at 4,800 feet and roughly a 1,400 vertical foot climb from the trailhead below. As you walk and climb along the last quarter-mile of the ridge, you’ll clearly see the bedrock tilting down to the right, evidence of the great tectonic forces that thrust up the mountains that you’ll admire around you from this inspiring prominence.

The name the Cherokee Indians gave Chimney Tops, was Forked Antler. As you scan the ridge from valley overlooks, you can easily imagine the shape of a deer’s antler. The first 3/4 mile of this hike follows Road Prong, a stream that reaches the crest line of the Smokies. If you continue up Road Prong trail, you’ll hike one of the oldest trails in the area. Long used as an Indian path through the mountains, the path was expanded during the Civil War to move troops through the Smokies connecting Smokemont, North Carolina with Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The road was called the Oconaluftee Turnpike and it passed through Indian Gap at the summit. Today the summit is marked with the Appalachian Trail and Indian Gap is called Luftee Gap.

A note about climate and slope in the mountains. The high mountains in the area form steep, thinly soiled slopes, which are historically prone to landslides after extended periods of heavy rain. You’ll see many scars and debris fields from previous landslides as you hike to the summit. And the Smokies know plenty about rain: the summit line receives on average more precipitation anywhere east of the U.S. mountain west coast.

Because of the elevation, the temperature is similar to Canada, but because of the relief (over a mile above surrounding foothills), the precipitation pattern is more typical marine, creating colder and wetter conditions. Because of the proximity to Gulf and Atlantic tropical air masses, summer storms, especially remnants of hurricanes, can produce torrential rain events. These storms increase flash flooding and landslide hazards. In the late winter, polar air masses from the north can create an upslope flow forcing up moisture rich air and produce heavy snowfall. With an average of 5-8 inches of rain per month, streams can be difficult to cross anytime of the year. Please contact the park service before any backcountry trip.

White Rocks and the Ridge Trail

White RocksHiker Hiker Cumberland Gap Map
Distance: 16 Miles round-trip from trailhead
Difficulty: +++
Scenic Views: ++++
Elevation Relief: 1,800ft ^^
Ownership: Cumberland Gap, NPS
Google to trailheads

Cumberland Gap Trail Map: $12

White Rocks Overlook

The White Rocks overlook to Martin’s Fork on the Ridge Trail is the “power-date” of overnight trips in Cumberland Gap. You have a massive ascent, a capital view, and great camp at Martin’s Fork rustic cabin. The stadium rockhouse Sand Cave helps cool your engines and spirit. Trees bent dog-legged by mountain top winds great you like old friends. You are on the Ridge Trail.whiterocks-hike-rgb-web-lar.gif

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Cumberland Gap Trip Planner

Trip Planner Great Backcountry Trips at Cumberland Gap
This webpage with zoomable map shows awesome backcountry trips in color-coded loops, all of which use some segment of the Ridge Trail. Trips are organized as weekend excursions with suggested camping and water access. The map is a simplified version of the full topographic trail guide found here. The full map also contains the useful elevation profiles for trails.

The page also has links to audio about recreation in Cumberland Gap. The audio is part of the free audio driving tour we produced entitled, The First Frontier Audio Driving Tour. The entire tour can be download for free at

Hiker Hiker Cumberland Gap Trail Guide
Ownership: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, NPS
Google to trailheads

Cumberland Gap Trail Map: $12

Interactive maps: 3D and 2D

Visit the Cumberland Gap trail planner for your next backcountry trip.

Tater Knob Trail – Pioneer Weapons

Tater Knob Fire Tower stairs

Sheltowee Trace North Trail Map: $26

This is an essential Cave Run Lake experience: hiking to the top of Tater Knob. You can’t say you’ve ‘done’ Cave Run, unless you’ve watched the sunset from this last-standing fire tower in the Daniel Boone national forest. Built in 1934, the tower was decommissioned in the 1970’s when aircraft replaced fixed observation points.

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Gibson Gap – Ridge Trail – Hensley Settlement

Hensley SettlementHiker Hiker Cumberland Gap Map
Distance: 23 Miles round-trip from Wilderness Road Campground
Difficulty: +++
Scenic Views: ++++
Elevation Relief: 2,100ft ^^^
Ownership: Cumberland Gap, NPS
Google to trailheads

Cumberland Gap Trail Map: $12

Trails in Hensley settlement

Sherman Hensley hiked up this mountain in 1903 with his pregnant wife and all of the tools and food-on-foot he could drive. They saw the large meadow that would bear the Hensley name and carved out a pioneer homestead. The Gibson family later joined the settlement and together they lived on the mountain, even after the park purchases their land until Sherman left in 1970. [Read more…]

Pine Mountain Trail – Elkhorn City to Skeet Rock

Skegg WallHiker Hiker Pine Mountain Trail Map
Distance: 14 Miles round-trip from trailhead
Difficulty: ++++
Scenic Views: +++
Elevation Relief: 2,100ft ^^^
Ownership: Private, Kentucky SP, Jefferson NF
Google to Elkhorn City trailhead

Free download

The Pine Mountain Trail is one of the most challenging trails in Kentucky. The elevation change, distance, and the undulating, serrated ridge together make a hard, but rewarding backpacking trip. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the trail are the many intersecting jeep and ohv trails. Even with a good map and navigation tools, you will loose the trail and hopscotch down this trail or that. No worries though, since the trail essentially hugs the knife edge of the ridge, you will eventually, if arduously, retake the trail. [Read more…]

Twin Arches Loop

Twin ArchesHiker Big South Fork Map
Distance: 4.7 Miles round-trip from trailhead
Difficulty: ++
Scenic Views: ++++
Elevation Relief: 525ft ^
Ownership: Big South Fork, NPS
Google to trailhead & coordinates

Big South Fork Trail Map

The Twin Arches loop is the benchmark trail for the Big South Fork. You’ll see not one, but two spectacular arches, hike under fine cliffline, visit two historic homesteads, collect numerous great photos, and to top it off, you can overnight at Charit Creek Lodge.

Twin Arches

The lodge offers two cabins, full meals, and hostel loding for the hiker or equestrian. Reservations are required. A great morning hike is to take 3.2-mile round-trip excursion to the Charit Creek Overlook.

Charit Creek Lodge

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Hidden Passage & Rock Creek Loop

Hidden Passage TrailHiker Big South Fork Map
Distance: 9.7 Miles loop
Difficulty: ++++
Scenic Views: +++
Elevation Relief: 250ft ^^
Ownership: Pickett State Park, Tennessee
Google to trailhead

Big South Fork Trail Map

Rock Creek valley

This loop just southwest of the Big South Area in Pickett State Park is a wonderful trail for seclusion and scenic rests developed by the CCC in the 1930s. While Pickett doesn’t have the elevation relief of the Big South to the east, this trail follows the rugged meanders of Thompson Creek and exposed ridges with nice views of pine forests.

The great deal with this loop is that you visit Rock Creek, if only for a mile. Rock Creek forms essentially the northwest boundary of the Big South Fork recreation area and is one of the largest tributaries of the Big South Fork river. The lower sections are muddied by historic coal mining, but the upper reaches are damned by beavers and fished for trout. Hikers will find large pools and wide, cool stream channels.

Entering Big South Fork country

Directions: Start at the historic Sheltowee Trace southern terminus trailhead in Pickett Start Park on TN 154.

  • Mile 0: Hike from a rerouted parking access trail to the historic trail
  • 0.5, intersection with group camp trail.
  • 0.6, Hidden Passage rockhouse and Crystal Falls.
  • 4.4, side trail to Double Falls, a 1.5-mile round-trip.
  • 5.0, turn right to Rock Creek. If continue straight on Hidden Passage Loop, then you’ll reduce the loop distance by 1.7 miles, but avoiding the cooling waters of the creek.
  • 5.8, intersection with Rock Creek and camp. Ford creek, turn left and follow up creek on old rail bed.
  • 6.7, Cross creek on Tunnel Trail and visit old train tunnel.
  • 7.2, after passing a few scenic rests and nice vista, go straight at intersection with Hidden Passage Loop trail.
  • 9.2, close loop one tributary west of Crystal Falls
  • 9.7, historic Sheltowee Trace terminus parking lot.

Crystal Falls

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