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A mountainous route offering spectacular views of nearby peaks as it circumnavigates Roundtop.


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Map Key

7.6

Miles

12.2

KM

Point to Point

2,626' 800 m

High

1,146' 349 m

Low

1,163' 355 m

Up

1,787' 545 m

Down

7%

Avg Grade (4°)

30%

Max Grade (17°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers

Across Little River, the Roundtop Trail terminates at the Townsend Wye. When Little River is high, the Townsend Wye can be difficult if not impossible to reach.

Description

The Roundtop Trail is an infrequently used course along the northern perimeter of the park between Wear Cove Gap Road and Little River at the Townsend Wye. It is particularly interesting in the winter, when the absence of foliage permits views of many of the major peaks in the western end of the Smokies.

When it leaves Wear Cove Gap Road, the Roundtop Trail enters a winding climb. A half-mile above the road, it circles south to clear a minor ridge point where Roundtop appears prominently as the cone-shaped peak immediately to the west. After clearing the ridge point, the trail turns back north and encounters the park boundary.

After visiting the boundary briefly, the trail turns south again for a winding circumnavigation of Joint Ridge, a spur that extends south from the flank of Roundtop. As the trail approaches the end of Joint Ridge, a series of forested peaks erupt into view.

Upon reaching the west flank of Joint Ridge, the Roundtop Trail descends into the wide bottom of a hollow. At the bottom, the trail turns and begins an easy half-mile climb out of the hollow and onto a dry southwestern exposure. Here it begins a descent that ranks among the two or three steepest descents in the Smokies. The trail descends on a narrow track that slants badly from left to right and is cushioned with layers of friction-free pine needles that make it difficult to procure traction. The descent ends in a sharp switchback that directs the trail into a hollow drained by Cane Creek.

Beyond the Cane Creek drainage, the trail briefly encounters the boundary for the second time, then returns to another southern exposure where the track is very narrow and perched precariously on the slope.

Conditions moderate noticeably when the trail turns and begins a 2 mile drop to Little River, winding gently along the contours of a meandering ridgeline before becoming tighter and steeper. For the final half-mile, it treads on a ledge cut into the cliff before dropping sharply to reach the stream.

As the Roundtop Trail approaches Little River, the track forks. Head to the right to a large pool formed by the confluence of Little River and the West Prong. Here, the river is widest and generally easier to cross.

This content was contributed by author Ken Wise. For a comprehensive hiking guide to the Great Smoky Mountains and to see more by Ken, click here.

Flora & Fauna

Pink lady’s-slipper, spiderwort, Solomon’s-seal, pink turtlehead, pipsissewa, sweet white violet, coreopsis, and blue-eyed grass are among the more conspicuous wildflower species.

Contacts

Shared By:

Ken Wise

Trail Ratings

  3.9 from 7 votes

#6

in Elkmont

#11640

Overall
  3.9 from 7 votes
5 Star
29%
4 Star
29%
3 Star
43%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
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Trail Rankings

#6

in Elkmont

#203

in North Carolina

#11,640

Overall
17 Views Last Month
3,593 Since Jul 27, 2016
Intermediate/Difficult Intermediate/Difficult

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29%
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29%
29%
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Photos

We found a nearby shallower area to cross the river. Ended up being about waist-high in June. Watch for snakes in the rocks, too.
Jun 10, 2017 near Gatlinburg, TN
View of the Townsend "Y" near the end of the trail. Keep in mind that unless you return to the trailhead, you must cross the river.
Jun 10, 2017 near Gatlinburg, TN
Start of the Roundtop Trail.
Jun 10, 2017 near Gatlinburg, TN

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Check-Ins

Jun 28, 2023
David Hitchcock
Nice, warm hike. Crossed on the Little River Side, came up to knees. Saw a deer and a bear on the trail. 7.5mi — 2h 30m
Oct 13, 2022
Tim Kalina
Jul 30, 2022
Jeff Kuban
May 9, 2022
Weston H
Jun 24, 2021
Jessica Swaim
Nov 3, 2020
Rob DeMotts
Started from Wears Valley.Cabin right on the trail. Nice views and sun. Tiny water source, not reliable.Bring poles 5.5mi
Oct 27, 2020
LeAnn DeMotts
Started at the Y. Easy river crossing. Park in 2nd pullout cuz there's stairs. Narrow trail. Wear pants. Views of mntns 1.5 mi in. Pretty 2.5mi
Mar 28, 2020
J Nizzle
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