Are you visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Make sure to do one of the best hikes in the park by following the Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion and the Jump Off!
Do you have dreams of completing a through-hike?
Do the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail whisper your name, but then you look at your calendar and realize– it’s not going to happen any time soon?
Or maybe the idea of a through-hike sounds romantic, but as you begin to think about the uncomfortable realities of the hike, you begin to feel squeamish.
If you nodded your head, all I can say is– I understand.
And I can’t help you make a through-hike a reality, but I can show you a gorgeous day hike on the Appalachian Trail.
You won’t be able to say “I hiked the Appalachian Trail,” but you can say “I hiked ON the Appalachian Trail.”
And that’s something, right?
This Appalachian Trail day hike to Charlies Bunion and the Jump Off is one of the best trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and has sweeping views of the park.
Want more hiking ideas for the Smokies? Check out Sweat Heifer Creek, the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte, Andrews Bald, or Deep Creek, and then check out my tips for hiking in the Smokies, avoiding crowds, or enjoying the North Carolina side of the park!
Is This a Difficult Trail?
Most of the trail is moderately strenuous, and the short section to the Jump Off is strenuous with a little bit of rock scrambling.
The trail is about eight and a half miles long if you only go to Charlies Bunion, or approximately nine and a half miles total if you also go to the Jump Off.
The trail elevation changes almost 2,000 feet.
Where is the Trail to Charlies Bunion and the Jump Off?
Drive to the Newfound Gap Parking Area in the Smoky Mountains.
It’s a large parking lot with a scenic overview.
Tip: There’s plenty of parking for this trailhead, but if you want to have a quiet hike, or enjoy the view of Charlies Bunion alone, leave early. This is a popular hike.
The trailhead is left of the overview, and is on the unpaved path just after the paved walkway to the restrooms.
There is no trail marker for Charlies Bunion here.
Instead, you’ll follow the trail sign for the Appalachian Trail, and then later follow signs for Icewater Spring.
Headed to the Smokies? Check out my recommended hiking gear for the Smoky Mountains!
Follow the sign for the Appalachian Trail, and start walking.
You’ll get occasional glimpses of the mountains along the way.
You’ll walk mostly uphill for the first half of the hike.
Watch your footing, because the trail is covered in loose rocks, large rocks, and tree roots.
When you come to the next trail sign, follow the sign for Icewater Spring Shelter.
Interested in seeing waterfalls on a less-hiked trail? You could decide to branch off here to Sweat Heifer Creek Trail!
As you walk, notice the white Appalachian Trail markers on the trees.
At the next trail junction, you’ll finally see a sign for Charlies Bunion!
Follow the sign.
Along the way, you’ll pass a junction for the Icewater Spring shelter. Stay on the Appalachian Trail.
As you walk, make sure to look around. We saw lots of mushrooms on this hike!
As you get closer to Charlies Bunion, the trail will get rougher. Step carefully.
Finally, you’ll arrive at the sign for Charlies Bunion.
The views are just past the sign.
As you near the end of the trail, you’ll see it– a big, reddish-brown rock rising from the ground.
That, my friends– is Charlies Bunion.
Giggle as you try to imagine the bunion looking… well, like a foot bunion, and then go ahead and admire the scenery.
This is also a fabulous time to eat a snack.
My husband, ever the coffee lover, took the opportunity to brew us both shots of espresso. He brought coffee grounds (we love Illy coffee grounds) , a backpacking stove (to heat water), and a hand-pump espresso machine.
I felt so fancy with my tiny cup of caffeine. Yum.
Rest here for awhile, and then turn around and head back the way you came.
A little over a mile down the trail, you’ll reach the Boulevard Trail junction. This is where you got your first glimpse of the words “Charlies Bunion” on a trail sign.
If you want even more awesome views, follow the signs for the Jump Off Trail.
Also, I feel pretty certain that the Jump Off Trail is longer than 0.3 miles– I estimate that it’s closer to 0.5 miles each way.
Almost immediately after the trail junction, you’ll see another sign for the Jump Off. Make a sharp right and head up the trail.
Note that the Jump Off Trail is much more strenuous than the trail to Charlies Bunion.
This trail is a little overgrown (or was the day we hiked it), and has no trail markers, so be alert.
You’ll climb up, up, and up some more, over tree roots and rocks.
At one point, you’ll walk through a narrow path in tall grass. I recommend brushing a trekking pole against the grass to warn any snakes or other animals that you’re walking through.
And then suddenly– you’re there.
The views from the Jump Off are amazing, and my husband actually preferred this spot to Charlies Bunion.
Enjoy the views, and then turn around and head back down the Jump Off Trail.
Turn left at the bottom of the Jump Off Trail, walking towards the Boulevard and Appalachian Trails junction. Follow the signs for the Newfound Gap to get back to your car.
After our hike, we headed to our campground, cleaned up, and jumped in the pool to cool off!
Looking for a place to stay? We’ve stayed at the Cherokee KOA and the Townsend KOA and enjoyed both campgrounds! For great local eateries, don’t miss DaLaya Thai Cuisine in Sylva or Everett Hotel Bistro in Bryson City.