This hike has probably received it’s name in the most interesting or gross way… I’ll leave you to decide which. It wasn’t until during the hike my curiosity hit me- why is it called Charlie’s Bunion?
Long story short- back in the day some man named Charlie actually hiked to the craggy peak. As the tale goes, once he took his shoes off, a large bunion on the side of his foot was noticed by his friend whom later named it after him.
Now are you even more interested to hike to Charlie’s Bunion?
CHARLIE’S BUNION STATS
The hike to Charlie’s Bunion begins from Newfound Gap within the Smoky Mountain National Park. A large parking lot directly off US 441 offers plenty of parking as well as bathroom facilities. This area is easily accessed no matter if you’re coming from the Tennessee or North Carolina side.
Parking is free and access into the park is free as well! Fun fact- the Smoky Mountain National Park is the ONLY national park within the U.S. that is free AND it is the most visited per year.
Are you excited yet?!
Pin the photo below for later!
WHEN TO HIKE CHARLIE’S BUNION
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is open year round but is most visited during the summer and fall- so keep that in mind when you are planning your trip!
Summer brings warm temperatures, humidity, and crowds. Fall hosts beautiful colors with sometimes even larger crowds. Winter transforms into a winter wonderland with snow dusted trees and less people. And spring will be muddy, but things will be blooming.
It really all depends on your availability and preferences. When I visited it was June and crowded, but not terrible. There were plenty others on the trail but I’m also not sure how much Covid-19 had to do with it. The trees provided great shade for the majority of the hike so it wasn’t too hot!
I also began the hike in the late afternoon when everyone was just finishing from the morning. This allowed me to have the top to myself for a good 30 minutes!
Rule of thumb I use- if it is a long hike in the backcountry that I am unsure about, then I get an early start and worry less about the crowds and more about being sure I make it back safely before dark.
If it is a decently populated area and length of hike I can manage in 5 hours or less I’ll pay attention to the time of sunset and begin in the late afternoon to miss most of the crowd.
HIKING TO CHARLIE’S BUNION
This hike is currently my favorite so far on the Eastern side of the U.S. because the view is breathtaking but the journey to it was also pleasantly challenging.
Uniquely enough, you actually hike a section of the Appalachian Trail! The access to hop on the trail is just beyond the bathroom facilities. It was a bit confusing at first trying to find where to begin because things aren’t marked- so just know that it is near the bathrooms and you’ll be accessing Charlie’s Bunion from the Appalachian Trail.
Immediately you’ll be enclosed under the tall forest and begin climbing elevation. The first 2 miles are the hardest part! This is where you conquer most of the elevation.
You’ll be stepping over some logs and climbing over a few rocky (but not difficult) areas, but the trail is well groomed and marked so it is easy to follow.
It does get slightly confusing since there are no signs along the way that list Charlie’s Bunion as the destination until you actually get there- you’ll practically run into the sign so you can’t miss it.
To avoid confusion just remember that you stay on the Appalachian Trail!
Along the way you’ll pass by the Icewater Spring Shelter which is named accordingly. The nearby spring provides a perfect source of water for those in need- just note that you’ll need to treat it first!
The shelter is usually used by thru hikers who are conquering either a portion or the entire Appalachian trial.
At roughly 4 miles you’ll hike upon the Charlie’s Bunion sign and just beyond that is my favorite view from this hike!
The trail leads you alongside the edge of the mountain providing you with epic views of the Smoky Mountains and a sense of amazement. I’ll admit I walked this part multiple times because I loved the views so much… I just had to take it all in!
Not much further and you’ll arrive at the very rocky and exposed mountain peak, Charlie’s Bunion. If on a clear day, the views here will allow you to see for miles and miles.
Be very careful on these rocks for they do drop off quite a bit and can be difficult to balance on. They also don’t provide the best grip for they were a bit slippery when I visited!
Also, depending on where the sun is there might not be much shade here, if at all. I’d bring sunscreen if you plan on sitting on the rocks for a while to soak in the views during the summer.
This is an out and back trail so you’ll head back the way you came from! If you plan on continuing along the Appalachian Trail then you’ll hike back to the sign for Charlie’s Bunion and hang a left to get back on the AT, headed towards Maine.
If you’re a trail runner you might consider running instead of hiking! My friend and I hiked up but ran the entire way down back to the parking lot. It saved us about 30 minutes in time and was a thrilling finish for our hike!
- Arrive early to secure parking.
- You’re in bear country! Carry bear spray.
- Remember to stay on the Appalachian Trail until you come across the sign for Charles Bunion.
- Check the weather and prepare accordingly.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park sits on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, giving you a couple different options if you want to experience more or are looking at nearby cities to stay in.
THE JUMP OFF
First off, if you’re looking to add a little bit of distance to your 8 mile hike, consider including the Jump Off. It branches off from the same trail and instead of continuing to Charlie’s Bunion, you’ll turn left at the Bouelvard Trail.
The Jump Off isn’t an official trail within the National Park but there is supposedly a sign for it. We didn’t know about this when we hiked it otherwise we would have fit it in because you can see Charlie’s Bunion from here! You can read more about adding this to your hike on Smoky Mountains website.
On the Western North Carolina side of the park is the town of Cherokee which resides on a reservation home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. It is a small town full of campgrounds and touristy things to do including cooling off and floating in the Oconaluftee River.
On the Tennessee side of the park is the famous tourist city of Gatlinburg. When we hiked Charles Bunion we stayed in a hotel downtown! There are endless amounts of things to do in this small city- horseback riding, amusement parks, restaurants, and cable car rides to name a few.
PIGEON FORGE, TN
If you’re going to visit Gatlinburg you might as well hop on over to Pigeon Forge since they are so close in proximity. Pigeon Forge is a slightly larger city and offers a lot of the same yet different tourist attractions than Gatlinburg. We opted to do horseback riding in Pigeon Forge to avoid the wait times from the stables in Gatlinburg!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON CHARLIE’S BUNION
Currently this hike is my FAVORITE on the East side of the U.S. so far. Hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail is an experience itself while the craggy peak, named Charlie’s Bunion, provides remarkable views of the Smoky Mountains alone.
If you only have time for one hike during your time in the national park, this hike would be the perfect day hike to experience all the area has to offer.
As always, please be considerate of the environment so we can keep enjoying it and remember to leave no trace.