This gentle route is one of the most enjoyable shorter hikes in the park. Easily accessible, it is also one of the most family friendly. Along the way, you'll be able to enjoy the history of the park firsthand as you'll pass the remnants of a CCC camp that was constructed in the 1930's. Additionally, this would be a great route used to introduce youngsters to backpacking overnight trips, as the shelter located at the end of the trail makes for an easy stopping point.
From the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, drive 7.3 miles north on Newfound Gap Road to reach the parking area for the Kephart Prong Trail, located on your right, just off the side of the road.
From the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, you'll drive 21.8 miles south on Newfound Gap Road to reach the trailhead.
Hiking from Newfound Gap Road to the Kephart Prong Shelter, you'll cross the Oconaluftee River several times as you follow the old Champion Fiber Company logging road to the shelter. After 0.2 of a mile, you'll see remains of a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp that was here from 1933-1942. The remains of the CCC include old walls, chimneys, and other artifacts from the camp that housed over 200 members of the CCC during the Great Depression.
After you pass the remains of the camp, the trail continues gently uphill, crossing the river 4 more times until you reach the shelter. The four river crossing are all log footbridges, which make for easy crossing except in snowy/icy conditions.
Once you reach the Kephart Prong Shelter at 2.1 miles, you have several options detailed on the signs at the shelter. You can take the Grassy Branch Trail
that climbs to the Dry Sluice Gap Trail
, and then onto the Appalachian Trail. Another possibility is to take the Sweat Heifer Creek Trail
up to the Appalachian Trail, and then back to Newfound Gap where you can either try to hitch a ride back to your car or have another car parked there so you can get back to your car at the trailhead. Both of these options are more strenuous as they are entirely uphill.