Kephart Prong, named after Horace Kephart, is one of the major tributaries of the Oconaluftee River. The headwaters of Kephart Prong are on the south side of Mount Kephart near the Appalachian Trail. This gorgeous balloon hike takes you from the confluence of Oconaluftee River and Kephart Prong deep into the Kephart Prong drainage, and then up a climb that will get your heart pumping all the way to Charlie's Bunion, a breathtaking vista of the Tennessee side of the Smokies and into the Tennessee River Valley. Your return route takes you past more views and even a couple waterfalls. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 23rd, 2015. My plan was to hike the Kephart Prong Trail to its terminus, and then continue on the Grassy Branch Trail. From there, I would take Dry Sluice Gap Trail to the Appalachian Trail, and take the Appalachian Trail over Mount Kephart and past Charlie's Bunion. I would continue by descending down Sweat Heifer Creek Trail and finishing the hike by going back down Kephart Prong Trail.
On the southern side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, flows the Oconaluftee River. In the foothills of the Smokies, lies Smokemont Campground. There are many hiking opportunities in the campground area, and they become useful, when Newfound Gap Road closes during snow, leaving the Campground as the only option for hiking. The Smokemont Loop Trail, a combination of the Bradley Fork Trail, Smokemont Trail, and Benton Mackaye Trail. The trail follows Bradley Fork, which flows into the Oconaluftee, before climbing a high rudge, named Richland Mountain. I hiked this trail on Saturday, February 15th, 2014, after a moderate snowstorm. My plan was to start at the old church and hike the Smokemont Loop clockwise.
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