Name: Charlie’s Bunion
Location: Located at the Newfound Gap parking lot at about the midway point of where Hwy 441 cuts through GSMNP. 20 mi from Cherokee, NC and 15 mi from Gatlinburg, TN.
Distance: 8.1 miles out-and-back
Difficulty: 7/10 Moderately Difficult. There are moderate climbs on both the intial 2 miles and on the first return mile. In between these climbs, the trail is relatively flat with gradual climbs and some steady descents. Total elevation gain is 1640 feet. I might have given this a 6, but because the terrain is pretty rocky, a 7 is appropriate.
Features: 8/10 Excellent You are rewarded throughout this hike with panoramic views to the North and South. The pine trees emit a very strong, sometimes pungent smell. It is quite refreshing to be at this elevation (6122 ft!) with the fresh air and smells. In the Spring there are wildflowers. I saw a few birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and a mouse. This hike utilizes the infamous Appalachian Trail (AT).
Here is how it got it’s name: Charlies Bunion is a rock out-cropping that was originally known as Fodderstack. The current name was derived when Charlie Conner went hiking one day with Horace Kephart, one of the early proponents of a national park in the Smokies, and author of Our Southern Highlanders. When they paused for a rest on the rocks Conner took his boots and socks off, exposing a bunion that looked like the surrounding rocks. Looking at Conner’s feet, Kephart remarked, “Charlie, I’m going to get this place put on a government map for you.” And so he did. (Taken from http://www.hikinginthesmokys.com/charliesbunion.htm).
Solitude: 4/10 Poor Unless you get up early you will not avoid the crowds that swarm Newfound Gap, probably the most crowded stop in the entire GSMNP. I was on the trail by 7:30 am and I had the trail all to myself. I arrived at the peak at 9:10am and there was 1 other hiker already there. However, on the return I passed at least 20 other hikers. Anytime after 10:00 am, there is rare solitude here. Plus, there is the Icewater Spring Shelter…a popular stopover for backpackers on the AT.
Overall Experience: 7/10 Very Good I have hiked this trail 3 other times and it used to be a favorite of mine in the park. However, because it has become so crowded, it is hard to get the solitude I enjoy when on a hike. Nevertheless, the views are amazing and the fresh coniferous air makes it a nice hike. I probably would give this hike an 8 or 9, but with the overuse of the trail comes trash. There were at least 6 incidents of trash along the trail.