Kephart Prong Trail, Kephart Prong Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Kephart Prong Trail - 4.0 Miles
Kephart Prong Trailhead
Kephart Prong Trail
|Round-Trip Length:||4.0 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||2,700' - 3,510'|
|Elevation Change:||+810' net elevation gain|
The Kephart Prong Trail ('prong' means a bend in the river) is a four mile roundtrip hike that crosses the Oconaluftee River six times, with narrow footbridges at each crossing. The trail itself is an old road-bed with broken and exposed pavement at the beginning of the trail, which travels through a diverse hardwood forest to a backcountry shelter.
From the first footbridge near the trailhead, the trail rises steadily to the Oconaluftee River. At about 1.75 miles into the hike you might find yourself on a disappearing trail offshoot that runs into the river. Backtrack about 100 yards and look for a large Oak tree blocking the trail. Climb over this tree and you'll be back on the trail.
Along the trail, you will see some ruins that are the remains of a former Civilian Conservation Corp Camp that was there from 1933-42. An old sign and chimney are just a few of the remnants visible along the way.
At the end of the trail, a newly remodeled backcountry shelter awaits, which can accommodate up to eight people for overnight camping. It also includes a stone fireplace that comes in handy during the winter. A backcountry permit is required to camp overnight. The shelter was remodeled in 2005 and is a popular overnight destination, so expect to see other hikers along the way.
- Horace Kephart was a writer, and one of the most vocal advocates for the preservation of the park.
- Because of its popularity, the small parking area can fill up quickly, especially in the spring and summer months, so again arrive early.
- Some of the foot-bridges (also called foot logs) can be wet and slippery so it is recommended that one hiker cross at a time.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit for all backcountry camping in the park. Backcountry permits are free and available at 14 visitor centers, campgrounds, and park office locations.
- Permit registration facilities are open 24 hours a day. Permits must be picked up in the park at designated locations. They are not available on the internet or through email.
- Advance reservations are required to camp at all Shelters and Backcountry Campsites 9, 10, 13, 17, 20, 21, 23, 24, 29, 36, 37, 38, 46, 47, 50, 55, 57, 60, 61, 71, 83, 86, 90, 113.
- Reservations for backcountry campsites may be obtained only by calling the Backcountry Office (865.436.1231). They are not available online or through email.
- If you do not plan to camp at a shelter or reserved campsite, then you only need to complete a permit.
- There is a 3 consecutive night stay maximum at any given campsite, and 1 night maximum at any shelter. The use of tents at shelters is prohibited. The maximum group size is 8 persons for sites and shelters.
- Open fires are prohibited except at designated sites and in established fire rings.
- All food and trash must be suspended at least 10' off the ground and 4' from the nearest limb or trunk, or stored as otherwise designated (e.g. bear box).
- The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily.
- Fishing is permitted year-round, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset.
- The park allows fishing in all streams except Bear Creek at its junction with Forney Creek, and Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong.
- A valid fishing license from Tennessee or North Carolina is required to fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns or online.
- Daily Possession Limits: Five (5) brook, rainbow or brown trout, smallmouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish. Twenty (20) rock bass may be kept in addition to the above limit. A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.
- Size Limits: Brook, rainbow, and brown trout: 7 inch minimum. Smallmouth bass: 7 inch minimum. Rockbass: no minimum. Trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.
- Lures, Bait, and Equipment: Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used, with up to two flies on a leader.
Rules and Regulations
- There is no entrance fee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Pets, motorized vehicles, and bicycles are not permitted on backcountry trails in GSMNP.
- Leashed pets are allowed in developed areas and along roads, but are not allowed on park trails.
The Kephart Prong Trailhead is marked, but partially concealed from the road.
Directions: From the Oconaluftee Visitors Center in Cherokee, drive 7 miles into the park, and look on the right for a small parking area and footbridge. From Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg, drive 25 miles into the park and look on your left for the trailhead and footbridge.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Visitor Information - Recorded Message
Backcountry Office - Camping and Reservations
The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8 am - 6 pm daily (EST)
Backcountry Information Office - Trip Planning Questions
The information office is open daily 9 am - 12n (EST)
Oconaluftee Visitor Center (North Carolina and south side)
Sugarlands Visitor Center (Tennessee and north side)