Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers over 500,000 acres of the Appalachian mountains and includes some of most picturesque forest in America. The most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains is filled with endless entertainment opportunities, including a staggering 800 miles of hiking trails. If you are planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains and are trying to decide which hikes to do, one great options if the trek to Charlies Bunion, a large outcropping with sweeping panoramic views in the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!

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    Details | Charlies Bunion Hike

    About Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    In 2020, Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomed 12.1 million visitors, making it the most visited national park in the United States! For reference, Yellowstone came in a distant second with a measly 3.8 million visitors, less than a third of the people that visited Great Smoky Mountains!

    But it is no accident that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular park! Since it was established in 1934, the park has become known for its rolling mountains, vivid falls colors, great hiking trails, diversity of plant and animal life, and stunning waterfalls. In fact, there are over 17,000 different animal species found in the park, 150 hiking trails covering 800 miles, over 100 waterfalls, and 2000 miles of rivers and streams in the park. With so much natural beauty, its no wonder that over 12 million people explored the park in 2020!

    Fun Fact: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is named for the “blue smoke” that can linger around the forests and mountaintops. But what causes this “smoke”? The smoke is cause by the abundant plant population, particularly pine trees. In addition to oxygen, pants emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which have a high vapor pressure, meaning they can turn to vapor at normal temperatures. These VOCs are responsible for the blue haze ofter found throughout the park.

    Charlies Bunion Hike

    Hike Stats

    Distance | 8.6 miles
    Elevation gain | 1980 feet
    Time | 4 – 5 hours
    Epic-ness rating | 7
    Difficulty | moderate – hard

    How difficult is the Charlies Bunion hike?

    While this hike is fairly long, it’s very doable! The elevation gain is moderate and more meandering than straight up and down. The first 2.4 miles are a steady incline, before a 1.5 mile descent to reach Charlie’s Bunion. The hike is an out-and-back so the elevation profile on the return trip to the trailhead is simply the opposite of the hike out. We finished the hike in just over 4 hours, including a half an hour break for lunch.

    How to get to the Charlies Bunion Trailhead

    The trailhead is located about 20 minutes past the main entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Be prepared for some winding, steep roads to get there. The parking lot for the trailhead is at Newfoundland Gap Parking Area. You can find the exact location here

    Parking at Newfoundland Gap

    At the parking lot, there is a beautiful overlook of Newfoundland Gap. The parking lot will likely be crowded, but many people are just stopping by to see the overlook so the parking spaces turnover pretty quickly. If you are patient, a spot is likely to open up.

    We arrived at the trailhead at 9:00 AM, and the parking lot was already full, but we managed to find a spot in just a few minutes.

    Starting the hike

    To get to Charlies Bunion, follow signs for the Appalachian Trail. The trail starts out fairly gradually, averaging about 400 feet of elevation gain per mile. At mile 2.5, the trail levels off briefly before declining for the remaining 1.5 miles before reaching the Bunion.

    The majority of the hike is through dense forest, with lush green moss growing on the roots of massive pine trees. Our favorite part of this hike was the sight of the bright sun shining through the tops of the pine trees, drawing shadows on the trail and roots below.

    Approaching the summit

    Towards the end of the hike, between miles 3.5 to 4, the trees start to open up, offering incredible views of the Smoky Mountains. We actually thought the views from here were even better than from the Charlies Bunion rocks at the end of the hike, so be sure to take a moment to appreciate the many shades of blue in the distance.

    Charlies Bunion Rock

    After about 4 miles, the trail comes to an intersection and branches to the left and right. To the left, the trail leads to a mound of rocks with a few places to sit and enjoy the views. However, don’t be fooled – this isn’t the end yet!

    How to find the summit

    You can climb higher on the rocks for an even better view. To get there, take a right where the trail branches. Then, be on the look out for a small, lightly worn path through the woods on the left-hand side of the trail.

    Its not very well marked, but you will likely see a few others coming down. Climb just a few minutes up this steep trail until you reach the overlook. The rocks may be crowded, so take a moment to find a good spot and settle in for snack or lunch while you take in the epic views of the Great Smoky Mountains

    The return hike

    The return hike is pretty simple – just retrace your steps! The hike is an out-and-back so you will return the exact same way you came

    Logistics | Planning your Charlies Bunion Hike

    How to Get to the Smoky Mountains

    The main entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located right outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, just across the North Carolina border, and makes for a great a weekend trip from many places in the southeast, including:

    • 7 hour drive from Washington D.C.
    • 3 hour drive from Nashville, TN
    • 2 hour drive from Chattanooga, TN
    • 45 minute drive from Asheville, NC
    • 1 hour 45 minute drive from Greenville, SC
    • 2 hour 45 minute drive from Charlotte, NC

    If you are flying in, the closest major airports are in Charlotte or Nashville. An awesome trip option would be to combine a visit to the Smoky Mountains with a few days in Asheville, a quirky town in North Carolina that is conveniently located close to great hiking, including Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

    Camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    There are 10 campgrounds in the park, with running water and restrooms. At most campgrounds, each designated campsite includes a personal picnic bench and fire grate. For quick access to Charlies Bunion hike, Smokemont is definitely the best option, located only 20 minutes away from the trailhead. Second best is Elkmont, located 35 minutes away.

    For more information about camping in the Smoky Mountains, see our post:

    Other tips for a great hike

    • Start early! This is a popular hike (for good reason!) and Charlies Bunion rocks can get very crowded. It’s best to get an early start if you want to enjoy the views in peace.
    • Be sure to pack plenty of water, snacks, and lunch. Plan to be on the trail for at least 4 hours.
    • Bring bear spray, and don’t leave food unattended. Black bears are not an uncommon sight in the Smoky Mountains.

    What to pack for hiking to Charlies Bunion

    Before taking off on your hike to Charlies Bunion, make sure you are prepared with the following essentials:

    Bear Spray | Counter Assault
    Since there are bears in the area, carrying bear spray with you is a must. Each person in the group should have their own can and carry it within arm’s reach (ie. attached to your hip – it’s nearly worthless packed away in your backpack)

    GPS | Garmin InReach Mini
    The one piece of gear you hope you never need to use, but is worth its weight in peace of mind. We always carry our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind. It can also be used to simply let a loved one know you’ve arrived at your destination.

    Hiking boots

    HERS | Danner Women’s Mountain 600 Waterproof Hiking Boot
    Comfortable, durable, lightweight and even a little bit stylish, I love my Danner boots! From long distance backpacking trips to quick day hikes, these have never let me down.

    HIS | Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX
    These are more like trail running shoes with additional ankle support, than the clunky, heavy hiking boots of days past. These are super light, uber functional, water resistant, and breathable.


    HERS | CamelBak Women’s Helena 20 with Hydration Pack
    Comfortable, lightweight and just big enough to hold the essentials without weighing you down. I used to wear a universal backpack and always had bad back pain while hiking – having a women’s pack that actually fits is a serious gamechanger!

    HIS | CamelBak Rim Runner 22 with Hydration Pack
    Simple, straight forward design without the bells and whistles to weigh you down. With a dedicated water reservoir pocket, there is plenty of room for your hiking essentials and no risk of leaking water damage.

    Hiking poles

    HERS: Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles
    I had always thought trekking poles were silly until one very steep, exposed, slippery hike in Death Valley left me feeling quite insecure even with solid tread on my boots. Immediately after I bought my Black diamonds and haven’t hiked without them since.

    HIS: Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking Poles
    I was a late convert to the trekking-pole life, but have not regretted my decision after taking the plunge with these Black Diamond’s. I bought the adjustable poles because I was between sizes, but I almost always have them set to 120 cm.

    Other Useful Resources

    Planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains? Be sure to also check out this challenging 11-mile hike nearby:

    Have you been to the Great Smoky Mountains? Planning to hike Charlies Bunion? Let us know in the comments below!

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