A mere footnote in the geologic record, Charlies Bunion may lack the fame other Smoky Mountain hikes. But stand on this weatherworn promontory and peer past the dizzying 1,000-foot dropoffs to a quintessential Smokies skyline, and there's no doubt: This is a destination worth getting up early for. In fact, a predawn alarm isn't a bad idea, since you'll be bagging the standout summit in the most visited U.S. national park. There's a reason the softshell-clad masses trek through an evergreen tunnel along the spine of the Appalachians: A jaw-dropping panorama stretches from Mt. LeConte eastward to the jagged peaks of the Sawteeth Range. A 1925 wildfire that incinerated the slopes of this 5,565-foot knob is responsible for the exceptional view--and the peculiar name. Noted outdoorsman Horace Kephart named the bulbous peak in 1929 after observing its resemblance to his hiking companion's inflamed big toe.
TIPS TO DO IT RIGHT
- Spring brings the thru-hikers, and summer and fall bring everyone else. Visit the Bunion in winter, and you'll enjoy even better views through the leaf-bare trees, plus likely avoid a bottleneck at the outcrop. A bonus: The low humidity and cool, dense air help confine that famous Smoky Mountain fog to the valleys.
- Take a short detour from the Appalachian Trail onto the Boulevard Trail, 2.7 miles from the Newfound Gap trailhead, to reach The Jumpoff, an overlook with a great view of the Bunion.
Text by Thomas Wilmes. Mapped by Tim Johnson