My wife Jennifer & I decided to head up to the Smokies after work and hike up Mt. Kephart from Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The temperature when we left Knoxville in the Tennessee River Valley was in the low 90s with high humidity. Yet when we arrived at Newfound Gap around 3:45. The temperature was about 12 degrees cooler.
When we arrived at Newfound Gap the scene mirrored one of Edward Abbey's greatest fears; throngs of pale, overweight gapers taking photographs from the confines of their cars of the Smoky Mountains through the polluted haze of the East Coast summer. Hardly any of the tourist had ventured beyond the overlook to the trails that criss-cross the Smokies, so we had the trail mostly to ourselves.
Our hike began our hike on the AT from Newfound Gap around 4:00. From Newfoung Gap the AT followed a long gradual ridge over several false peaks for about 2.4 miles to the summit of Mt. Ambler (the highest point on the AT between Newfound Gap & Mt. Chapman). Mt Ambler offered no views of the surrounding mountain scape.
The trail to this point resembled a small creek. There was a steady flow of water cascading down the trail from the previous days rainfall. Once at the summit of Mt Ambler , we continued on a short distance to the junction for the Boulevard trail which goes to Mt. LeConte a little over 5 miles away. At this point we were on the southwest slope of Mt. Kephart
We followed the Boulevard trail for about 0.2 miles to the spur trail that leads to "the Jumpoff." About 0.2 miles up this steep and rocky trail we arrived at the summit of Mt Kephart which offered limited views. From there we traveled about .2 miles further to "the Jumpoff." "The Jumpoff has got to be one of the most fantastic views on the east coast. From this vantage point, one can look down one the vast panorama of the Smoky Mountains. This is supposedly the highest drop-off on the East Coast. Be careful, there is alot of exposure from this area and the earth around the edges of the cliff become unstable after heavy rains.
The jaunt back to our car was extremely easy. Once we got closer to the trailhead, the serenity of the wilderness became disrupted by the obnoxious sound of motorcyles. In my opinion, loud motorcycles have become a scourge in America's national parks and monuments. The noise pollution motorcycles emit ruin the peace and quite that many patrons of these great American places seek. Motorcycles should be banned from national parks and monuments just as dogs are.
We arrived back at the trailhead by 7:00 pm.
Jennifer and I noticed that large clusters of yellow jackets were clinging to a specific plant all along the trail (if you know what this plant may be, please let me know).
This hike is short and very easy for relatively fit individuals. About 7 miles total. It took Jennifer and myself only 3 hours to complete. Once away from the Newfound Gap overlook, we only encountered a hand-full of people. There are several vantage points along the trail that offer great views of the surrounding area.
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