Massive Restoration Project Makes Chimney Tops Trail More Accessible for Families

Fall leaves sorround a bridge along the Chimney Tops Trail.
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One of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most popular trails has received quite a facelift!  For the past three years, the Chimney Tops Trail has undergone an extensive restoration process. We are pleased to report that the rehabilitated trail is open for hiking and better than ever. Visit My Smokies has the scoop on all of the exciting new improvements to Chimney Tops.

A Very Popular TrailA path along the Chimney Tops Trail.

For over 80 years, Chimney Tops has been one of the most traveled trails in the Smokies. In fact, parts of the Chimney Tops Trail actually predate the establishment of the national park. On average, 80,000 visitors make this hike each year.

Chimney Tops has attracted such a large fanbase because of its spectacular location along the scenic Newfound Gap Road. Less than two miles long, the trail provides amazing panoramic views from its peak.

Despite its short length, the Chimney Tops Trail is no walk in the park. Considered a rigorous hike, the second half of the trail features a steep incline. To reach the very top of the Chimneys, hikers need to use their hands and feet to scale the rocky terrain. The pinnacle of the trail reaches 1,600 feet in elevation!  

In Need of Repairs

The Chimney Tops Trail was in desperate need of some serious TLC. Over the course of the years, heavy traffic and copious rainfall took its toll. The trail had become severely eroded, with exposed tree roots, slippery broken rocks, and lots of mud. All of these obstacles made it difficult for hikers to stay on the beaten path.

Rushing water along the Chimney Tops Trail.Trails Forever Crew to the Rescue

Fortunately, a heroic group of trail workers stepped in to save the day. Known as the Trails Forever Crew, this dedicated team spent three years restoring the Chimney Tops Trail to its former glory. The $450,000 necessary to fund this massive undertaking came from the Friends of the Smokies, a nonprofit that provides much needed assistance to the National Park Service.

No machinery is permitted in the backcountry of the Smokies, so all of the trail work was completed the old fashioned way. The seven member Trails Forever Crew and numerous volunteers worked exclusively with hand tools, including rock bars, axes, handsaws, and hazel hoes. This time intensive process yielded world class craftsmanship that hikers will appreciate when they visit the trail.

For interviews with some of the people responsible for the Chimney Tops restoration, check out this article from the Citizen-Times newspaper.

Safer and More AccessibleAmazing mountain view from the Chimney Tops Trail.

So, what exactly did the Trails Forever Crew do to restore Chimney Tops Trail? Let’s take a look at just some of the improvements made:

  • Refurbished bridges over Road Prong Creek
  • Moved giant gneiss rocks to form a trail boundary
  • Over 50 hazardous trees removed
  • Constructed a raised turnpike to prevent future erosion
  • More than 360 rock step added to the trail
  • Improved drainage with new ditches and waterbars
  • Added 6 million pounds of crushed rock to harden trail tread and fill in structures.

The peak of the Chimney Tops Trail.All of this meticulous work has resulted in a trail that is still challenging but much safer for families with children. Best of all, the additions to the trail are all made from natural materials, so they blend right into the scenery. Experts expect that the additions to the trail will keep Chimney Tops in great shape for decades.

The Trails Forever Crew aren’t ones to rest on their laurels, however. The group is currently working on restoring the Alum Cave Trail, which leads to the famous Mount LeConte. The trail should be fully rehabilitated by 2017.

For more information about everything to do in the Smokies, check out our Great Smoky Mountains National Park page!

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