Added by Nicholas Voyles
Zero obstruction of views makes this hike one of the best payoffs in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
This trail starts at the Newfound Gap parking lot. Newfound Gap is situated on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The views from Newfound Gap overlook North Carolina and are worth the trip in their own right. The restroom facilities are clean and have flushing toilets. Follow the crowds over to the Rockefeller Memorial where President Franklin D. Roosevelt formally dedicated the park -- the view from the top of the memorial is also impressive. At the foot of the memorial is the trailhead where your adventure awaits.
Trailhead elevation is 5,045' and ends at 6,133' at The Jump Off. Your net gain for the hike is 1,079' spread out over 3.1 miles -- it's a steady hike up, with just enough leveling off to make this an enjoyable venture. Your highest point on the trail comes once you turn off the Boulevard trail onto The Jump Off path, where you'll crest Mt. Kephart at 6,217'. You'll want to plan for your roundtrip to be somewhere in the 4-6 hour range.
The first 3/4 quarters of a mile are steps either via log breaks or rocks, which make for somewhat of a tough start. Once you're past this section, though, the Appalachian Trail Crew has done a marvelous job smoothing out the trail for a comfortable trek the rest of the way. The grade is gradual, but consistent - take breaks. A great place to rest is in an area just over a mile I call the Crossover Point. At this point, you cross from the west facing (TN) side of the ridge to the east facing (NC) of the trail. Here, people have made a natural break point for resting, and there's a view if you follow the footpath up about 15'. Once you make your way past the Crossover Point, you're roughly half a mile from the Sweat Heifer Trail Junction.
Once you start again, there will be an initial climb of around two-tenths of a mile. There are three noticeable spots hikers stop to look at the view on this short section. The second spot is the only one that affords a photographer unobstructed views for a shot. (Note the second to last photo above for reference.) Once you crest this section, the trail levels off for just a bit before a final large pull uphill. When you begin to descend again, you'll know you're approaching the first trail junction -- keep cruising on by the sign when you reach it. You're only .7 from the Boulevard junction, and this is where I like to do one of two things: make up serious time or take my time taking in the scenes of ridge-walking. Once you make it to the Boulevard Junction, bear left. The Jump Off trail marker is just a short jaunt up the trail, so pay attention so not to pass it. The first section of the trail to The Jump Off is steep and rocky. You'll crest Mt. Kephart shortly (you're five-to-ten minutes from the end here) and will begin to make your descent where it'll eventually level out and begin a slow grade back uphill. And suddenly you're there!
There are two perfect trees for posting your hammock if you have time. If you manage it, it'll afford a view from your hammock that looks out over the expanse. I usually hang out for about 30-45 minutes eating, taking pictures and chatting with friends about the trip up before I begin making my way back. The climb back out is the toughest section and relatively smooth sailing with mostly downhill on the return trip. Enjoy!
I recommend swinging by the Smoky Mountain Brewery in downtown Gatlinburg (it'll be on your right behind Calhoun's when you enter Gatlinburg from the park side) for some local craft beer and great food on your way out!
Note: The sunset photo is taken from the Newfound Gap parking lot.
- 1 - 1.5 Liters of Water
- 1 Meal
- Day Pack
- Rain Jacket
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