Chimney Tops is one of the greatest and most popular day hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its stunning 360 degree views and its east accessibility make this one of the most popular hikes in the park. The great views at the top are a result of schists, large outcroppings of rock sticking up like chimney tops.
The sign at the trailhead proclaims a climb of 1,700 ft to Chimney Tops. This is something of an exaggeration, but the statement that accompanies it - 'the view is worth the climb' - certainly is not.
The first 1.1 miles climbs alongside a boulder-filled river, through beautiful deciduous trees and large rhododendron bushes. Periods of steady climbing are eased by level sections, and the track is wide and generally easy under foot. Occasionally, you cross the river using wooden footbridges.
After about 25 minutes, a couple of minutes after you cross the last of the bridges and climb away from the river, a trail junction is reached. Turn right for Chimney Tops.
10 minutes from this junction, after a steady climb, the track gets more rugged and an unrelenting, steep climb begins. Fortunately, after 20 minutes or so the gradient eases up, even descending for a short time. The path is now eroded and very narrow in places.
A level path leads along a tree-covered ridge and, after negotiating some large boulders and tree roots, the large rock mass of Chimney Tops looms before you. An exciting scramble takes you to the top (not advised if you don't like heights). Alternatively, an easy path skirts to the right of the outcrop, just requiring a short easy scramble at the end to the top of the rock. You are greeted by an awe-inspiring 360-degree panorama of forested mountain slopes stretching away into the distance, with the added bonus of snow-decorated trees in winter.
This is a popular hike in a popular National Park, so start early and avoid the weekend if possible. I have hiked this peak in May and in December. Both times I saw a number of people on the trail and it did get a bit crowded at the top. I also saw some people hike down to the lower chimney. This would be recommended for experts only as a lot of scrambling and bushwhacking in exposed terrain is required.
Follow US 441 which crosses Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Signed parking area is approximately 6.5 miles south of Sugarlands visitor center at the north entrance and 5.5 miles north of Newfound Gap.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not currently have an entrance fee. Nor are there any parking fees or trail fees. US 441 is occasionally closed after snow/ice in the winter and sometimes chains or four-wheel drive are required. US 441 also closes at night.
When To Climb
Chimney tops is a great hike any time of the year.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has many great places for back country camping. A free permit is required however. Some campsite are rationed.