For the first time in nearly a year, the Chimney Tops Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open to hikers.
The trail was closed off last November when a small fire was discovered on the rugged Chimney Tops pinnacle, and when that fire metastasized into a fiery blaze that swept down through the park and into Gatlinburg, it severely damaged the summit, resulting in long-term trail closure.
The final quarter-mile of trail that once led to the Chimney Tops pinnacles is still closed, due to heavy fire damage resulting in safety concerns. However, the trail is now open as far as a newly developed observation point that offers views of Mount LeConte and the Chimney Tops pinnacles. The Road Prong Trail, whose closure had coincided with that of Chimney Tops, is now open as well.
“We are excited to complete the work on the Chimney Tops Trail in time for the fall color season in Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan. “We understand that many people have a strong emotional tie to the Chimney Tops Trail and its reopening has been a priority for moving forward in our recovery from the fire event.”
The trail project was funded by the Friends of the Smokies’ Fire Relief Fund, a fund composed of donations made by individuals from all across the country to help rehabilitate areas of the park impacted by the fire. The Chimney Tops Trail also underwent an extensive rehabilitation in 2014 under the Smokies Trails Forever Program.
The fire’s impact is still felt through the continued closure of other trails that were heavily damaged in the fire. These are Bull Head Trail and Sugarland Mountain Trail from the Mt. Collins Shelter to the junction with Huskey Gap Trail.
Past the newly developed observation point on the Chimney Tops Trail, fire has made the soil unstable and caused it to slough off the side of the steep slope due to ongoing erosion. Park staff will monitor the closed section as rain, freeze-thaw cycles and wind events continue changing the landscape. When they determine that the ground has become safe and stabilized for sustainable trail construction, the park will consider rehabilitating this area.