Jump Off Hike – Great Smoky Mountains

jump off signTO THE TRAILHEAD:  From Gatlinburg, take Newfound Gap Road 13 miles to Newfound Gap (20 miles from Cherokee).  Park in the large parking area.  The trailhead is just to the right of the dedication monument and restrooms.

THE HIKE: The Jump Off is the most popular unofficial trail in the Smoky Mountains.  I say unofficial, because the last bit of the spur to the destination is not officially maintained by the park service.  But it is still a terrific hike.  This moderate, 6.5 mile round-trip hike, will take you along some of the best hiking in the Smokies.

You start the hike on the historic Appalachian Trail.  You will notice that the trailhead sign gives you mileage to the Boulevard Trail as well as Katahdin, Maine.  It is only 1,972 short miles away. We are going to assume that for this hike you don’t want to go quite that far.  As you gently ascend the Appalachian Trail (AT), you will notice the white blazes on the trees.  These can be found on the entire duration of the more than 2000 miles of the AT.

After a 1/4 mile to a 1/2 mile, you will notice that the crowds diminish greatly.  The trail is very busy at the beginning, but the road tour folks will quickly turn around when they have taken their pictures on the trail and retreat to their cars.  The rest of this great hike can be done in relative peace.

When you come to your first junction sign with the Sweat Heifer trail at 1.7 miles, stay straight on the AT.  Do not take a right.  You will know you are wrong if you no longer see any white blazes on the trees.  Views will become much more pronounced and impressive the further you walk on this part of the trail.  Be sure to bring your camera.

The next junction you will come to is the junction with the Boulevard Trail at 2.7 miles from the start.  You will want to take a left here (If you want to add another landmark to see, simply continue on the AT for another 1/4 mile.  You will arrive at the Ice Water Springs Shelter.  You can have a snack, lunch, or use the restroom here.  Its a great place to visit with very minimal extra mileage.  Backtrack to the Boulevard Trail junction and take a right if you decide to make the side trip).

Once on the Boulevard Trail, you will only go about a tenth of a mile to reach the spur trail for the Jump Off.  There should be a sign for the Jump Off at your turn.  If there is not (and this has happened before), simply look for the obvious trail off the main path and take it.  The spur trail itself is only .4 mile long.  The trail is not in the best shape (again, it is an unofficial trail), but there are certainly worse ones out there.  It is easily accessible and is definitely worth the payoff when you reach the Jump Off.  You might think the Jump Off would be a narrow ledge that plunges down into nothingness.  It is actually a pretty wide space.  Its large enough to sit down and relax after a long hike.

The views are absolutely spectacular!  Only Charlies Bunion, Mount Cammerer, and Shuckstack’s views even come close.  The sheer drop off of a thousand feet really gives the size of the mountains around you.  You can easily see Mount LeConte, Mount Guyot, and Charlies Bunion from your vantage point on the Jump Off.  Once you have enjoyed yourself enough, you can simply backtrack the way you came to finish out this 6.5 mile hike.  This hike is terrific in different seasons.  From the flowers in the Spring, the leaves falling all around you in Autumn, and the white snow and ice capped mountains in Winter, you really can’t go wrong anytime you decide to do this one.

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