THE HIKE: The hike to the Chimney Tops is one of the most popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is also a difficult hike. You will gain over 1,000 feet of elevation in only two miles. You will see many dejected people who did not know just how steep this hike is coming back down well before they have reached the summit.
This hike has a little bit of everything. There is a great diversity of trees as you ascend, four water crossings on footbridges, and views that become more expansive with every step you take upward. The trail itself is steep, and it becomes more rocky as you ascend. There is only one trail connection on this hike, the Road Prong Trail, at one mile in. You will stay to the right and continue towards the rocky summit.
The main feature of this hike, which you can see from the road below, are the distinctive rock chimneys that you will reach at 2.0 miles. Climbing to the top of the rocky spire can be an exhilarating experience. It is best to head to the right of the base of the chimneys and climb from there. The climb is shorter and much easier than going at them head-on. There is even a sign at the base of the summit telling you to go no further. The reason is simple. Many people have hurt themselves and even died climbing these rocks. Usually, they are doing something that is not wise. Climbing the rocks when they are slippery during or after a rain is just not smart. Others like to walk over the narrow (walkway) to the other Chimney peak. This can be extremely dangerous and I do not recommend it at any time. Take a picture and leave in one piece instead.
The views are fantastic from the chimneys. You have unobstructed views for miles all around you. Depending on the crowds, this is a great place to just relax and take everything in. The decent is just as punishing as the ascent. The steep grade will punish your knees as you work your way back to the parking lot. Try not to take it too fast even though your legs will beg you to move faster. Your legs will thank you.
The trail had been closed for an extensive period to allow for major fixes and rehabs including a bridge, handrails, steps, and many trail drainage issues. The fixes will not change the strenuous nature of the hike, but should make it more easily passable. As of the time of this writing, the trail should be open as normal and no longer on an abbreviated schedule.