Monday, April 30, 2012

Kephart Prong Trail

Friday we took a little hike up Kephart Prong Trail.  This is one of our favorite hikes in the Park.  The trail follows Kephart Prong as the name suggests and is named for Horace Kephart.

Kephart was born in Pennsylvania during the Civil War.  As an adult he had a career as a librarian working for a time at Yale University and as director of the St. Louis Mercantile Library.  While at the St. Louis Library he started writing and wrote about his hunting and camping trips.  He also wrote articles for Field and Stream and these articles were published as his first book, Camping and Woodcraft.  For folks of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, he may be best known for Our Southern Highlanders--a description of his life in the Smoky Mountain area and the culture and lifestyle of the Appalachian Mountain region.

Sometime in his late 40s or early 50s Kephart moved to the Hazel Creek section of what is the National Park today.  In his own words he chose “the wildest part” of the area to settle.

Kephart was an enthusiastic promotor for the establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  He didn’t live long enough to see the Park dedicated, but knew that it would become a reality.

So, a trail, a creek, and a mountain inside the Park are named for this great man.

The trailhead is on the east side of Newfound Gap Road about halfway between Newfound Gap and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.  There are two parking areas, one on each side of the road, which will accommodate several cars.  As the trail begins, it immediately crosses the Oconaluftee River.  The trail follows Kephart Prong as it gradually ascends about 700 feet in elevation to Kephart Shelter at the end of the trail in just two short miles.

The trail switches back and forth from one side of Kephart Prong to the other four times before reaching the shelter; each time on a footbridge.  The trail is wide and at one time was paved.  Along our walk we could still see the occasional remnants of asphalt.

CCC Sign.  Nothing can be read on the sign now.
Shortly after we got started we came to what’s left of an old CCC camp.  The CCC did a lot of work in the early days of the Park.  This particular camp was occupied during most of the 1930s and very early 40s.  About all that’s left today is the camp sign, an old water fountain, and a couple chimneys.

The water fountain looks pretty good.  Of course, it doesn't work.
We saw discarded car and truck parts as we walked along.  Stuff like this can be seen along trails throughout the park.  You probably could collect enough pieces to build a car; not sure how well it’d run.  Along the Appalachian Trail there are even aircraft parts from an airplane crash long ago.

The real drawing card for this hike is Kephart Prong.  It is gorgeous as it makes its way to merge with the Oconaluftee River.  Wildflowers are also good along the edge of the trail, but the elevation is low enough that they are past their prime now.  We did see brook lettuce and speckled wood lily.

Speckled Wood Lily

This shelter has been renovated recently.  Smoky Mountain Hiking Club have done a tremendous job of renovating all (I think) of the backcountry shelters in the park.  Kephart shelter, like all the others, has had the fencing removed from the front, bear cables installed, skylights added, benches and a cooking porch added to the front.  This shelter also has a fireplace inside which is a nice feature on chilly nights.  For us, it was a great place for a break.

We continued on past Kephart Shelter, but I’ll get to the rest of the story in a later post.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.


  1. That is really not fair....I want to hear the rest of the story NOW!

    Looking forward to seeing you guys again tomorrow!

  2. Thanks for taking us along on another great hike and history lesson. Interesting seeing the pics of that old camp - just the fireplace standing. Look forward to hearing the rest of the story.