Charlies Bunion is easily one of the most spectacular peaks not only in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but on the east coast of the US. Due to timbering, fires, and flashfloods, the topsoil was literally scoured and burned off of this ridgeline, which makes for unobstructed views and wide open country with big skies.
While the elevation is high, it's not extreme for this area, with mountains such as Le Conte, Kephart, and Guyot standing better than a thousand feet higher. But the severe relief of the slopes is as tough as it gets, and makes for some truly amazing views. Pound for pound, my favorite mountain in the GSMNP. I've encountered more wildlife on and around this peak than anywhere else in the park. Everything from bears to voles. One should not visit the Smokies without visiting the Bunion.
Highway 441 splits the park from Cherokee NC to Gatlinburg TN. At the Newfound Gap Parking Lot merely take the Appalachian Trail to Charlie's Bunion. A good, solid hike, of four miles, one way; not too strenuous and not too much of a stroll. There's a good pull over the shoulder of Mt. Kephart and then to Charlie's Bunion and the Sawteeth.
From the AT.
In the mists.
No admission fees for GSMNP. One does need a backcountry permit to stay overnight in one of the trail shelters, or at a campsite. I generally make a day hike out of a visit to Charlies Bunion.
When To Climb
All year. I've been to the Bunion in every season. Each visit is a great experience. The trail that skirts the Bunion itself can be tricky if the rock is iced over. Care should be taken in such conditions.
On the trail.
Lots of camping in and around the GSMNP. The main, developed campgrounds in the park charge from $12 to $17 per site, per night. The backcountry campsites are free, but you must have a permit, which can be picked up at any ranger station or visitor's center.
Check the weather conditions at Obergatlinburg Ski Resort.