Filed under: Family Camping, Outdoor Recreation & Hiking, State & National Parks, Uncategorized
A Closer Look At Charlie’s Bunion
On a recent spring vacation, in the mood for a bit of hiking, my family and I headed out to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our nation’s most visited national park celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2009. Special events to commemorate this momentous occasion were planned throughout the year to showcase the topography, history, crafts and lore of the Smoky Mountains.
Upon our arrival, we were faced with 850 miles of hiking trails, including 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail, more affectionately known as the AT, which runs through the park as well. In our quest for adventure, we decided to hike a four mile section of the AT, from Newfound Gap Road, a major intersection for tourists, park visitors and day hikers, to a rocky outcropping called “Charlie’s Bunion.” This unique formation was so- named before the park was formed. Reportedly several gentlemen hiked to the top of the mountain to observe damage caused by a recent flood. They happened upon it and one of them remarked, “That sticks out like Charlie’s bunion!” The name stuck and this beautiful and, at times, challenging four-mile stretch of trail was saddled with the unattractive moniker.
Hiking away from the parking lot at the trailhead, we soon left behind the sound of automobiles and smell of exhaust, enjoying the sunshine and mild temperature. In spite of its name, or perhaps because of it, the trail is a pleasant surprise in its varied terrain and vegetation. It scrambles over rock and up grassy and wooded trails, miniature waterfalls and babbling creeks tumbling happily alongside. Initially walking through a forest of red spruce and fir trees, nearly every inch of ground except the trail beneath our feet was covered with trees, flowers, ferns, mosses and lichens. Wildflowers bloomed brightly alongside the trail as we made our way to the bunion, the trail varying from steep slopes to grassy meadows.
Approximately 2.7 miles along the four mile trail we found Ice Water Spring Shelter, a good spot to rest or have a snack. Used largely by AT thru-hikers as a sleeping shelter, the rustic retreat sits at 5,920 feet above sea level. An estimated 1,250 backpackers set out from Springer Mountain, Georgia every spring with the goal of following the AT to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. Most years only about 500 succeed in their quest and those who do typically take approximately five months to complete it.
When we finally reach Charlie’s Bunion, we are awed by the view. In 1925, before the park was established, a fire killed most of the vegetation in this area. Four years later, a flash flood washed through the area and with the tree roots destroyed by the fire, the soil on the Tennessee side was washed away, leaving the spectacular bare rock outcropping. It is a sight worth the climb.
While they were initially dismayed at having to undertake the eight mile round trip hike, our youngest daughter and her friend who accompanied us on the trip, were quite pleased with themselves and thrilled that they beat us back to the parking lot!
While the park is a wonderful place to spend time in the outdoors, there are a multitude of wonderful RV parks and camping areas in the vicinity of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For more information or to locate a campground for your stay, browse Woodall’s listings of Tennessee campgrounds at Tennessee RV camping resorts.