Trip Report: Mt. Kephart


Summit of Mt. Kephart

Mt. Kephart is easily overlooked among the high peaks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

At an elevation of 6217 feet, it is only the ninth highest peak in the park. Many maps don’t identify it, or only show it by its more popular name, The Jump Off.

But what Mt. Kephart lacks in prestige it holds in views. Unlike many peaks of the Smokies and Blue Ridge Ranges that are capped by foliage, Mt. Kephart affords clear views in several directions.

What’s more, the peak is easy to reach on a heavily-traveled route.

Trip Summary

Date December 23, 2005
Distance 6.78 miles (3.18 mi uphill, 3.15 mi downhill, 0.69 mi flat)
Elevation 2100 ft total ascent (2100 ft descent) – 15.2% uphill grade, 16.8% downhill grade
Time 4:45:07 total time (3:37:06 moving, 1:08:01 stopped)



Summit of Mt. Kephart

The Appalachian Trail intersects U.S. 441 at Newfound Gap. Here there is a large parking lot, making a convenient starting point at 5,048 feet elevation to begin this hike.

From the trailhead, it’s just 2.7 miles to reach the Boulevard Trail. A sign at this junction directs you .3 mile to a short spur, then another .3 mile to The Jump Off. Although it’s not identified as such, Mt. Kephart’s peak is located at the end of that spur trail.

On my trip, after I reached the summit, I went back to the AT and continued northbound a short distance (.2 mile) to Icewater Springs Shelter.

I spent just a short time there before returning on the AT to Newfound Gap.

See my route on a Topofusion GPS track with photos


View from the AT

Although I left home before the sun had risen, it was easy to see the day was going to be perfect for a hike.

To make matters better, I didn’t have to drive through Sodom and Gomorrah Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to get to the trailhead.

Until that morning, I thought I was going to have a hiking partner for the day. A friend and co-worker, Bill, had planned to hike with me. But that was before he hiked up to Mt. LeConte, taking the same Bullhead-Rainbow Falls route I took on my last hike.

He made that trip the day before, and that night when I called to finalize arrangements, he said he was too worn out to take on another hike.

But his call gave me a scouting report for what I might expect on my trip. Bill said he had to trudge through 12-14 inches of snow as he neared the junction of Bullhead and Rainbow Falls. He ended up not making it to the top.

Though I now knew there would be more snow up there than on my last hike, I figured the Appalachian Trail would be reasonably clear because it would have had more traffic than the Bullhead Trail.

When I arrived the next day, I found I was right.

What I didn’t expect to find was almost no one on the trail that morning. That was surprising, considering the beautiful sunshine and warm temperature.

There were several sightseers in the parking lot and lookout areas, but no one on the trail. In fact, from the trailhead, I only saw one hiker all the way to the junction with The Boulevard Trail. He was a older gentleman, and from the looks of his hand-made hiking stick emblazoned with “Great Smokies National Park” and an American flag, he was obviously a veteran hiker of that territory.

We exchanged brief pleasantries before I turned and headed up The Boulevard Trail. From here, there weren’t as many tracks in the snow, but the way was still clear enough that it continued to be easy hiking.

A sign at the trail junction said the spur trail to The Jump Off was .3 mile away, but it seemed like it was just a walk around the next bend when I reached it.

Here’s where things became more interesting.

No one had gone up this section of trail since the last snowfall, so what had been an easy walk suddenly became a struggle through knee-high snow.

Critter tracks on the trail to The Jump Off

Well, actually I did see the footprints of a small, unidentified critter running up the trail. Unfortunately, the footprints weren’t exactly enought to carve out a path for me.

The snow was deep and the trail was a steep climb, but thankfully it was a short trip to the summit.

Before I left home that morning I decided it would be smart to make sure I was headed to the right spot, so I preloaded a waypoint for Mt. Kephart’s peak in my GPS that I downloaded from the Internet.

Strangely, I found the waypoint and the peak were at least 50 feet apart. I don’t know if that was because of the inaccuracies of consumer GPS units, or because the waypoint was selected from a map and not from a hike to the summit.

Maybe someone reading this will know and let me know.

With the clear winter air, I could see for miles and miles from The Jump Off. I could get a glimpse of Fontana.

Icewater Springs Shelter

When I was ready to move on, it was still early in the day, so I decided to check out Icewater Springs Shelter. Getting there was a short downhill trip back to the AT and then another .2 mile from there.

A large tarp covered the front of the shelter. I don’t know if it was hung there by a trail maintainer, a park service employee, or a very industrious backpacker, but it looked very heavy.

The remnants of a snow fort stood in front of the shelter. Or maybe it had once been an igloo. At any rate, by now it was about half melted.

After writing a short promo for my blog in the shelter register, I headed back down the trail. I decided to eat my lunch back at the trail junction, and as I approached it I heard swift footsteps approach from behind.

I slowed and moved aside to let the hiker pass. He said, “hello,” and “thank you,” in an accent that sounded British to me. Then he hit it in high gear, and flew down the trail.

A couple days later, I learned who that guy was. It was Matt “Squeaky” Hazley.

In a few days, Squeaky would reach Springer Mountain, Ga., completing not just a thru-hike of the AT, but also consecutive thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trails, all in one calendar year.

It’s no wonder he rushed by me in a blur. He was averaging 40 miles a day.

Is that an amazing example of endurance and determination, or a remarkable example of single-minded self-torture? I guess I’ll give him credit and call it the former.

But sheesh, anyways.

Finally, on my way back to Newfound Gap I began to see some “normal” hikers. This section of the AT is one of the most heavily traveled because of its location in the most-visited national park. I knew there was no way I’d go the whole day seeing only a couple of people.

The first dayhikers I came across were a man and his son. We chatted awhile. They mentioned several hikes they had done, particularly in the Rockies. All the while I was thinking, if you’re such experienced hikers, how come you aren’t carrying any food or water with you, and only a lightweight jacket?

Maybe I’m overly cautious. I know the trail is heavily traveled and we were less than three miles from the road. But if it were me, I wouldn’t want to depend on someone else to bail me out if the conditions suddenly turned bad or if I was slowed because of injury.

On my way back I also saw another dad with his son. This boy couldn’t have been more than four years old and he was having a blast tromping through the snow.

I didn’t worry about them though, because they had on warm coats and the dad was carrying a small daypack.

I arrived back at my car at 2:15.

The trip home was uneventful, except for an unfortunate purchase of a cup of coffee at a Townsend convenience store.


What I’d do differently

  • Take a longer route, assuming there isn’t as much snow.
  • Check out Charlie’s Bunion.
  • Remember to clear out my GPS before starting out on the trail. (Okay, I thought I did that this time.)
  • Come up with a wisecrack reply when some idiot admits he knows dogs aren’t allowed on the trail but ignores that anyway.
  • Take the opportunity to talk to thru-hikers. You never know when you might run into one trying to set the record for the Triple Crown.
  • Don’t buy coffee from the Citgo gas station in Townsend.

What I’d do the same

  • Not be in a rush when I have plenty of time.
  • Hike my own hike.
  • Enjoy my hike!

Gear list

Wearing Weight (oz.)
REI zip-neck long underwear top 6.5
The North Face nylon pants 15
SmartWool liner socks 1
SmartWool socks 3
Mountain Hardware soft shell pullover 11.5
Patagonia baseball-style cap 2
Cotton bandanna 1
Nylon wallet, cash, identification, etc. 3.5
Salomon Expert Mid boots 37
Suunto X6HR watch 2
Total – wearing 4.58 lbs.
Carrying Weight (oz.)
Golite “Day Pack�? 13.5
Stuff sacks – home made 3.5
Gebel trekking poles 21.5
First aid kit, water treatment 7.5
Plastic safety whistle 0.5
Compass (on watch)
Petzel Zipka headlamp 2.5
Trails Illustrated map 1.5
Garmin GPSMap 60C GPS 7.5
Canon Powershot S70 camera 10.5
Rite in the Rain note pad 1
Nalgene Lab marker 1
Aloksak storage bag 0.5
Manzilla Windstopper mittens 3.5
Cascade Designs Z-rest seat cushion 2
Integral Designs Primalid hat 1.5
Drop Stoppers Micropore Rainsuit 10
Marmot DriClime wind shirt 9.5
Sierra Designs fleece vest 15.5
Food 24
Water in 1 liter Platypus bottles (2) 76
Total – carrying 11.83 lbs.

UPDATE: I changed the gear list that was originally posted when I realized it wasn’t accurate. I had put it together based on memory, but that memory was faulty. There’s no way I could have carried a Cocoon Pullover and Cocoon Pants by Bozeman Mountain Works on this trip because they weren’t shipped to me until the following week.


6 Responses to Trip Report: Mt. Kephart

  1. Rob says:

    Been there, but never with snow. Beautiful. Just recently moved from Alabama to Alaska (doing the states in alphabetical order, kinda) and really miss the southeast. Many memories in the hills of the Appalachians, in fact, my family lives there at the start of the AT’s southern terminus. Loved the blog.

  2. […] posted an account of his hike up Mount Kephart, one of 40 peaks in the South Beyond 6000 (that is, peaks in the Southern U.S. taller than 6,000 […]

  3. Libby Kephart Hargrave says:

    Horace Kephart was my Great-Grandfather. Several years ago my younger sister and I hiked up Sweat Heifer Trail to Mt. Kephart….camped at Ice Water Springs. We have spent many days out on the trails over the years. One interesting hike was going to the campsites my great-grandfather spent time writing, living with the locals, etc. Many summers of our youth were spent in the Smokies….time spent learning about our Great-Grandfather through the eyes and words of his son, our Grandfather…George Kephart. My grandfather was immensely proud of all that his father accomplished. He was equally proud of all his mother accomplished. My legacy…immensely gifted and focused people who truly know what their “journey” in life was meant to be.

    I am in my early 50’s now….the Smoky mountains continue to be a source of peace, contentment and a place where I truly feel at home (even though I do not live there!). When I visit, hike, walk the streets of Bryson City, I experience a sense of peace that I know only exists there.

    For all of you who hike Mt. Kephart, think of the good works this most remarkable man accomplished. If only more of us had his vision, his determination, his quest for knowledte, his joy in writing….Enjoy your hike!

    Submitted by Libby Kephart Hargrave

  4. Paul Sanders says:

    Dear Libby,

    My love of the mountains there goes back years, and it was not until the past several years that I began hiking the mountains, apart from just driving thru. And it was not until the past 2 years that I read about your great grandfather, Horace. I have feasted on his books recently, and he has been an inspiration to me. Plus, I, and all of us really, are indebted to what he did to give us the Smokies.

    I live in Tell City, Indiana, but when I go back to the Smokies, I feel like I am home.

    Thanks for writing…………….

    Paul Sanders

  5. Ronnie Kephart says:

    Dera Libby,
    Thanks for writing. I just have been serching for family tree “stuff” concerning the Kephart name. Your inclusion of the names of your grandfather and great grandfather were very helpful.
    I was probably 5 years old when my father took us to MountKephart. I remember portions of that trip very vividly. I can only assume the Ice Water Springs shelter is where we also stayed, for I remember Dad hanging a six pack of canned Cokes from a limb in the water there near the shelter.
    I know very little about the Kephart’s, though I refer people all the time to some of the things of Horace’s Our Southern Highlanders often. It was a tryly eye-opening view into a time, a people, and a location that I had no idea about before. One caption under a picture of a lady of the mountains, who I really thought was more like a man, said, “She knows no other lot.” Your great grandfather was an insightful individual.

    Your grandfather’s name caught my attention, as if I’ve heard mom and dad mention it before. I would appreciate some correspondence about some of your family tree if that is possible(

    Ronnie Kephart
    4251 Skelley Rd
    Santa Fe, TN 38482

  6. Libby Kephart Hargrave says:

    FYI: May 1, 2009, Bryson City,NC is holding a Horace Kephart Day. The day begins at the cemetery where HK is buried. From there events will continue at the Calhoun House, Luke Hyde, owner. This will be a wonderful day, celebrating a man admired by so many. I will be one of the guest speakers.

    Ronnie, perhaps you can make it to Bryson City!!

    There are rooms for rent at the Calhoun which is a very nice Inn.

    For more information, go the the Bryson City Chamber of Commerce website and possibly contact George Ellison who is the main speaker of the day.

    ~~Libby Kephart Hargrave~~

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