Our hikes this week would always involve little ones. My daughter is 8 and can hike nearly anything I can, just not for as long, and my two year old son will certainly try and can hike quite a bit, just at a far slower pace than I would by myself. Therefore, we would have to be limiting our hikes to 5 miles at the most. We also wanted challenging hikes. These two criteria would be found in the hike up to Chimney Tops.
Chimney Tops is a dual set of rock peaks that are opposite of Mt Leconte. It’s one of the few rocky peaks in the Smoky Mountains. Because of its location, it offers really good views into Tennessee, Mt Leconte and beyond. The last part of the hike involves actually scaling the rocky peaks and that aspect is quite attractive to so many different people. For us, we just wanted the rough challenge while keeping it within what my kids could do. It is located on highway 441, the main road that goes up and over the top of the mountains. There is a small parking area for the trail, but there’s plenty of space around it to park.
The trail is actually two sections. The first .9 miles are a smooth uphill that crosses the same stream three times over nice wooden bridges. At about half a mile up, you open up into this meadow that at the time we hiked through it, was absolutely covered in white flowers (waiting for someone to identify for me).
It was like walking into a white carpeted room. The pictures I have simply do not do it justice. You only gain about 360 feet in this first mile, so its quite a leisurely hike. My two year old did this section no problem.
After the first mile and crossing the last bridge, the trail forks. Going east, one can take the Fork Prong trail up to the AT. It’s about 2.3 miles straight up. I most certainly want to do that section sometime in the future. To the south, the Chimney Tops trail goes straight up. From here, we gain over 1400 feet in 1.1 miles. What’s worse is, that after about .3 miles, the trail follows an old stream bed. Rock after rock greet your tired legs with each step up. About halfway up, while my two year old was still doing everything on his own, I picked him up and threw him in my carrier so that we could make it up before nightfall.
On our slow way up, we passed many unprepared people, many who had given up after maybe .2 miles of that trail. It is quite the hike, but made enjoyable by the fact that a stream runs down right alongside the trail. Every .2 miles or so, we would stop, splash some cold water on our necks and shirts, and keep going. At about .8 miles, it flattens out quite a bit and then you follow the ridge out to the actual Chimney Tops.
On this day, it was quite windy, and I simply wasn’t going to attempt to scale the rocks all the way to the top. Instead, my daughter and I scaled them halfway up to a point where the wind wasn’t hitting as hard and where we could sit comfortably. She had her nice binoculars while I pulled out my camera. Jess and Chris sat back at the feet of the rocky peak snacking on some treats.
The view is great and I really wish I could have scaled up to the top. On a future trip, I promised my daughter we would.
We did meet some interesting people though. A couple, whose woman had never really hiked before, decided to go out our youngest child’s pace. She made it up and was happy she did. We met an Indian couple whose wife had hiked up in flip flop type sandals, carrying a small child. On the way down we met a couple from Louisiana, they had 7 children (none on this trip) and they still were planning on going as far up as they could.
The way down actually proved harder on our legs than going up. That section on the old stream bed was quite difficult, and my daughter collected the first two of her many bruises from those rocks. We did stop at the first bridge crossing and took a quick dip into the frigid stream waters. We cooled our legs off there before finishing off the trail back to the truck. Out of those brutal four miles, my two year old (ok, hes almost three actually) did 3.2 of them. We were all quite tired out, but looking forward to some more hikes. Sadly, the next day would prove to be our worst hiking day.