The Appalachian Trail splits the states of North Carolina and Tennessee through most of the breadth of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hugging the state line as it traverses the rugged and remote ridges, the AT is a favorite destination for day hikers and thru hikers alike. There is a three and a half mile stretch from Newfound Gap to the summit of Mt. Kephart, and beyond to a magnificent overlook known simply as The Jumpoff, that provides an excellent example of what high country Smoky Mountains terrain is all about.
I’ve written a trail report for this hike and the eventual destination of Charlies Bunion from a previous occasion. Here, I merely wanted to share some new photographs from a recent winter visit to this picturesque mountain backcountry.
My friend Dave and I climbed the nearly 1,200 feet from Newfound Gap to Mt. Kephart’s summit on Sunday, February 28, 2016. Only a couple days had passed since the last snowfall. The 3-4″ ground cover was packed down from the boots of many hikers who had made the same trek in the preceding days. Ice traction on the feet was the order of the day.
At the 3-mile mark the Appalachian Trail meets the Boulevard Trail. To get to Mt. Kephart and The Jumpoff you need to turn left onto the Boulevard, and then almost immediately take a right on The Jumpoff Trail. It’s then a pretty strenuous climb of a couple hundred feet to the summit of Mt. Kephart, named for a famous author who was quite instrumental in the creation of the Smokies national park.
From the summit there is an absolutely breathtaking view of the massive shoulders of Mt. LeConte off to the west. On this particular day, the sky was cloudless, perhaps the most crystal clear viewing of LeConte I have seen in several visits to this spot. Just a few hundred yards more down the other side of the summit leads to the perilous overlook called The Jumpoff.
From there, you are peering down into the Lester Prong basin, following the Appalachian Trail on its journey east past the craggy outcroppings of Charlies Bunion and onward toward Mt. Guyot. On the north side of The Jumpoff is a view of the rock face known as The Gorilla, and the ridge below called Horseshoe Lead. Far in the distance is the Tennessee community of Sevierville. Directly below is Masa Knob, named for the faithful photographer George Masa who was Horace Kephart’s constant companion.
I hope you enjoy these new photos from this visit to the high country along the Appalachian Trail as much as we enjoyed the day. Please feel free to leave your comments below the gallery.