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Charlies Bunion via Kephart Loop

  4.3 ( 7 ) Favorite


14.5 mile 23.4 kilometer loop


Ascent: 3,599' 1,097 m
Descent: -3,600' -1,097 m
High: 6,088' 1,856 m
Low: 2,736' 834 m


Avg Grade: 9% (5°)
Max Grade: 30% (17°)


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Trail shared by David Hitchcock

This loop provides a longer and less crowded hike that features the scenic Charlies Bunion bald.

David Hitchcock

Features Fall Colors · Views · Wildflowers · Commonly Backpacked


This trail combines the five different trails, the Kephart Pront Trail, Grassy Branch Trail, Dry Sluice Gap Trail, Appalachian Trail, and the Sweat Heifer Creek Trail, which brings you back to the starting Kephart Prong Trail.

Need to Know

Reservations and permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry. For more information, visit the NPS website.


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.

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, turn right onto the Grassy Branch Trail. As you leave the Kephart Shelter, the ascent begins in earnest as you climb out of the Oconaluftee River drainage and begin skirting the ridges as you climb toward the Dry Sluice Gap Trail junction.

As you hike uphill, you'll eventually come to an old stone wall, where the trail winds a bit. You'll cross several ridges and several creeks as you make your way uphill. Most of the creeks are simple rock hops, unless the water is high after a rainstorm. Small creeks can find their way onto the trail after rain storms, so be prepared for mud if it's been raining recently. Most of the views are obscured as you climb up the mountain, but occasional views of the surrounding peaks will be offered through the trees.

When you get to the eroded part of the trail where the trail is 1-2 feet below the surrounding landscape, you are almost to the end of this trail. The trail is relatively clean, for most of the hike, although more roots and rocks appear once you get into the eroded part of the trail. When you get to the Dry Sluice Gap Trail sign, turn left.

Climbing 1.3 miles on the Dry Sluice Gap Trail, you can access the Appalachian Trail near Charlies Bunion. Continue to the west on the AT, passing a junction with the Boulevard Trail on your right. Continue on until you reach the Sweat Heifer Creek Trail. This trail is a steep, and at times rocky, descent back to the Kephart Prong Trail. The trail gets narrow and rockier for a short while before it joins an old railroad bed and levels out for a short while. After going through a dry creek bed, you begin to hear the sound of Sweat Heifer Creek. This is a great place to enjoy the creek, grab a bite to eat, and rest before continuing your downhill trek.

Once you reach the junction with the Kephart Prong Trail, turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead

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Family Friendly, ADA Accessible, Flora & Fauna, History & Background


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Feb 2, 2019
Andreas Bastias
Clear day. Snowy and icy on and near the AT. Lots of downed trees on Sweat Heifer. Tons of moss, lichen, and beautiful creeks! Well graded trail. 14.5mi
Jun 30, 2018
Logan Morris
Jun 10, 2018
John Keoni Cappiello
Aug 18, 2017
mtndoc Bell
Newfound Gap, AT, Charles Bunion, Kephart Hut, Heifer Springs, AT, home. 1st hike since injuring my ankle 2.5 mo ago. Jeanie and I did some running
Jul 17, 2017
Emily Day
Feb 20, 2017
Brian Carpenter
AT at Newfound Gap Rd --> Sweat Heifer --> Kephart Prong and back, stayed in shelter. Grassy Branch --> Dry Sluce --> AT back to Newfound Gap Rd 18.5mi

Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 7 votes


in Oconaluftee


  4.3 from 7 votes
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in Oconaluftee


229 Views Last Month
4,527 Since Aug 3, 2018



Mount LeConte after a winter storm on the AT. Clouds hug the ridges and hoarfrost covers the trees.
Feb 5, 2016 near Gatlinburg, TN
Charlie's Bunion
Jul 19, 2017 near Gatlinburg, TN
Charlie's Bunion, Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Jul 19, 2017 near Gatlinburg, TN
Hoarfrost covers a tree after a winter storm on the AT. It's beautiful in the winter.
Feb 5, 2016 near Gatlinburg, TN
Cold night at Kephart
Jul 30, 2017 near Cherokee, NC
View from the trail by a rock outcropping.
Jun 11, 2017 near Gatlinburg, TN


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