One of the Great Smoky Mountains most iconic trails, which has been closed since last November's devastating wildfires, will reopen on October 6.
The fire caused heavy damage to the Chimney Tops trail in the park before spreading into Gatlinburg and parts of Sevier County.
The top of the steep, four-mile hike with its spectacular views and rocky pinnacles had been a destination for park visitors for decades. That part of the trail will remain closed, likely for years, because the damage makes it very dangerous.
The park built a new observation point .25 miles below the summit so visitors can still enjoy the spectacular views.
“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 observation area provides a view of Mount LeConte and the Chimney Tops pinnacles.
“While the upper section of trail and rocky pinnacles are not safe for visitors to explore at this time, restoring access to the trail allows us to enjoy the rehabilitation investment made to the trail by the Friends of the Smokies’ Trails Forever Program in 2014, and also ensures the Chimney Tops Trail will remain a destination for visitors to enjoy a true Smoky Mountain hiking experience,” added Acting Superintendent Jordan.
Visitors cannot go beyond the open section to the closed area of the trail because of significant environmental damage and safety concerns. Because the fire destroyed so much of the vegetation at the top, there is severe erosion of rocks and soil, making for very steep slopes and drop offs.
In February, the park service took reporters to the summit of the trail to show us the damage, and said then it could take 80 years for the trail to return to its former glory. The park service will continue to evaluate the area and if the ground stabilizes, they will consider trail rehabilitation in that area.