Chestnut Tops Trail
Chestnut Tops trail is a joyous walking trail. It winds up and along Chestnut Top Ridge jumping back and forth from dry piney slopes to cooler mixed hardwoods. A fall and winter hike will offer excellent views across Turkey Pen Ridge and up the valley of the West Prong of the Little River to Thunderhead Mountain.
The trail winds and climbs along the ridge, finally leaving the sounds of the Townsend “Y” at 1.0 miles. Long and easy switchbacks continue for the next mile, taking you deeper into the hardwood forest. As you approach a sharp right bend at 2.0 miles keep an eye on the pines to the left. Here you will see a bear marker tree. The pine has been scratched and bitten by a large black bear.
Just ahead you’ll get a good view of Thunderhead Mountain and the Smokies crest. At 5,527′, Thunderhead Mountain is the tallest peak in the western end of the park. The views will come and go.
Steadily climbing, you will reach the highest point by 2.8 miles. Now a short drop will bring you at Bryant Gap. The park boundary is just off the trail to the right. The trail levels out for the next mile until it reaches the junction with Schoolhouse Gap Trail. Turning left here will take you down to Laurel Creek Road, which runs between Townsend “Y” and Cades Cove.
One thing to be cautious about is this trail does have posion ivy all along it.
Spring Beauty! Bloodroot, Hepatica, Trillium, Toothwort, Yellow Fringed Orchid, Jack in The Pulpit, and Fire Pink are words that you will be constantly repeating to yourself if you hike this trail in April. Chestnut Tops is perhaps the most popular wildflower trail in the park. At least it’s the most compact, for the greatest display is all within the first half mile. The trail bursts forth wildflowers throughout April and continues to a less degree right to September.