Smoky Mountain Trails: Chimney Tops

Vibrant orange trees in fall autumn smoky mountains tennessee

The Chimney Tops trail has an unforgettable view once you climb to the top. The trail is an intermediate trail but worth it to see the view. For the first half mile is thick rosebay (white) rhododendron creek bottom. In its season, for a week or two in July, these fill the hollow and look to be freshly covered with a late snow. A smattering of mountain laurel and catauba (purple) rhododendron are pretty by the second week in June, but THE time of the year is early to mid July.

Leaving the modest hilly lowland rhododendron forest of the first mile, the trail splits left and right. A left turn ascends the Indian Gap trail. Turn right to tackle the Chimneys (this way is not usually marked). Shortly ahead, the fourth wooden bridge crosses the creek for the last time. Be prepared, just ahead is the steep part. Do not be deceived by any trail books speaking to the contrary; this strenuous half-mile gains 600 feet over loose rocks. In chilly weather, the earthen embankments on the left often display curious ice formations extruding from frozen ground. A sharp bend to the left followed by a switchback right marks the end of the worst of it. There is still some uphill, but if you have made it this far, don’t dare think of turning back now. Ups and downs wind for no more than a half-mile to the base of the Chimneys. Several nice views on the right make good resting spots, but the view from ahead will be far better.

As you approach the ridge, be very careful of the web of tree roots. The trail dead ends into what first seems to be a cliff. But upon further inspection, several people are probably climbing up it or have already climbed it. Once at the top, the view is unforgettable. Walk all the way to the end of the flat section on top for the best view. The gaping holes in the rocks are the bona fide Chimneys. Various myths circulate as to why they are so called. Mount LeConte stretches before you with the Boulevard Trail running from there to the right. To the hard left is Sugarland Mountain. The loop appears tiny but is plainly visible in the forest far below. The narrow rocky catwalk ahead is to the lower Chimneys. This is a more challenging climb than the way up and offers no better view, but is not crowded and is great fun for the adventurous.