Friends, I hiked eight miles to see a bunion in the Smokies.
Though I don’t have bunions, they’re hereditary on my mom’s side – so I grew up quite familiar with ‘em.
Outside of my family, though, it’s not often I hear much bunion talk. Maybe that’s why I was so intrigued when several Tennesseans recommended the hike to Charlie’s Bunion.
On the list it went.
After several weekends of crossing other hikes off the list, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to see Charlie’s Bunion. Four weeks after moving to Knoxville, I made it happen.
That particular Saturday started off rather blustery, and I questioned whether I should scrap the hike or go. It was mid-afternoon before the skies started to clear. Still, I figured I had enough daylight to complete the eight-mile roundtrip hike, so off I went – arriving at the Newfound Gap parking area by 5 pm.
While Charlie’s Bunion itself is in Tennessee, the Appalachian Trail weaves in and out of North Carolina all along the way. This portion of the trail is moderate for sure, with a mix of uphill, downhill, and plenty of roots and rocks. Through the forest I went, passing a good number of fellow hikers within the first two miles or so. After that, I saw just one other group, near the top.
Those last two miles in the forest were enchanting. The further I went, the more I imagined myself in a fairytale. Snow White. Little Red Riding Hood. The Wizard of Oz without the yellow brick road.
But the fourth mile felt the longest. I swear. It also led me right into a patch of stubborn fog, dead set on depriving me of the sweeping Smoky views I’d seen in my pre-hike Googling.
Still, when Charlie’s Bunion came into view, looking especially bunion-like against the dull, grey sky, I celebrated – soaking in the accomplishment and the beauty that I could see. And my lack of disappointment was rewarded ohhhh so briefly when the fog thinned a bit to reveal vague outlines of the mountains all around me.
Nearly an hour passed before I looked down at my watch and saw that it was 7:20 pm – and that didn’t leave me a whole lotta time to hike back before it got dark. Mistakenly, I thought sunset was around 8:30 pm. But, uhhhhh, actual sunset time? 8:12 pm. Whoops. I also failed to account for the fact that the trail is in a forest… and forests are automatically darker even in broad daylight. Double whoops.
Since it’d taken me 1 hour and 25 minutes to hike to Charlie’s Bunion, I figured going down would be a bit faster. Still, it was looking mighty dusky, so I decided to jog all the flatter and downhill sections of the trail that didn’t have a mess of rocks and roots to trip me up. A sprained ankle would not have helped my cause.
I did come prepared with a headlamp in my backpack, but really didn’t wanna use it in the dusk. Sure, it would’ve helped me see the trail MUCH better, but then everything beyond the lamp’s radius would be pitch black. At this point, I could still see into the forest around me, and I preferred it that way.
I’m also proud to say I completed the return four miles in 1 hour and 10 minutes, arriving at my car by 8:30 pm – the time I thought the sun would set. That’s gotta count for something, right?
Despite the fog, I absolutely recommend the hike to Charlie’s Bunion. No doubt, I’ll give it another go soon with fingers crossed for better visibility. Next time, though, I may bring someone with me, and I will start earlier in the day.
Have you seen Charlie’s Bunion?