Kephart Prong Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains

(Article originally published in the Fall Issue of Hike Magazine. Order here)

Kephart Prong trail isn’t one you’ll commonly hear about when hiking in the Smokies. It doesn’t have ridgeline views or waterfalls to speak of, but it’s not lacking in beauty and historical features. It’s a shorter hike that’s easy to moderate which allows for a nice add on hike after you’ve done something challenging such as Chimney Tops or Mt. LeConte.

The hike starts by crossing a bridge over the Oconaluftee River. Take a moment to listen to the water as it rushes over the rocks strewn in the riverbed. The trail follows the Kephart Prong from where it meets with the Oconaluftee River to the Appalachian Trail. If the Kephart names sounds familiar, its because it was named after writer and park advocate Horace Kephart.

At .2 miles, the trail takes you through the remains of a Civilian Conservation Corp camp so you’ll see relics and artifacts such as a water fountain, fireplace and old rock frame for the camp signage. The camp was one of a few in the Smokies which held conscientious objectors during World War II.

A favorite part about hiking this trail is all the water crossings over the footlogs and bridges.

You’ll cross four as you make your ascent up to the termination point of the trail which is Kephart Shelter. One of them bears the mossy stonework from the CCC construction from over 80 years ago.

What I noticed about this particular hike is how green and lush everything was during the summertime. Also it’s one of the quieter hikes in the park, and you won’t find it as crowded as other trails. Some hikers use this trail as the start of an alternative route to Charlie’s Bunion so it avoids the throngs who take the more popular route from Newfound Gap.

The trail follows an old railway and the grade is moderate. Be on the lookout for some old railway irons during the final .2 miles of the hike. These are remnants from the logging that was done in the 1920s.

At 2.1 miles you will the reach the Kephart Shelter where the trail ends and intersects with the Sweat Heifer Creek Trail and the Grassy Branch Trail. Take some time to explore the shelter before retracing your steps back to the Kephart Prong trailhead, making for a nice 4.2 mile hike.

This hike combines historic features, streams and a gentle grade which makes it a nice introductory hike for someone new to being on the trail or who might not be up for a more strenuous hiking experience. So if you’re up for some exploring a bit of Smokies history, consider taking this lesser known trail next time you head to the park.

To learn more about the CCC’s time in the park, listen to my Hike podcast.

The evolution of the Hike Podcast

Starting the Hike: Explore | Wander | Live podcast really wasn’t something that I ever thought about doing. In fact, I have been struggling to finish up my Hike Magazine issue after everything seemed to go on creative hold when my focus shifted to my father’s ailing health.  I didn’t even have a podcast app on my phone. But all of that changed when someone very special to me talked about the podcasts that he was listening to. And when he casually added that he was surprised I hadn’t started a podcast. In hindsight that may have been because I tend to start a lot of projects.

However, that’s when it clicked. I wanted to lend my voice to this space in an effort to share both my hiking stories and those with much more interesting ones to tell. Creating isn’t entirely new to me. I had spent some time crafting two minute videos about my hiking adventures which I called the Hiking Bedtime Stories series. They were meant to be fun and to not be taken ultra seriously. I was just sharing my thoughts and scenes I took in on the trail. I realized I enjoyed the creation of content – blogging, vlogging, photo layouts – and bringing it all together.

So a podcast? What would I do when there were no visuals? And so I spent the better part of an afternoon researching how to start a podcast. I downloaded the open source audio software Audacity. I put in an order for an inexpensive microphone. I made a list of all the topics I was interested in as a hiker and someone who wanted to support those who supported the hiking community. I started “cold calling” by sending out emails and direct messages requesting interviews. For the most part, people have been super supportive and willing to share their stories. And if they weren’t interested in going on air, they recommended those who would.

Yes, there were a couple who weren’t interested in taking a chance on someone unestablished. I had to be okay with that. Because after all, this project for me is more about sharing the love of the hike. I’ve been lucky to connect with others with a shared passion for hiking and the outdoors. I’m not really one to spend too much time focused on the closed doors, when there is so much out there ready to explore.

My first two interviews were with hikers who shared some common trails. Both Plug-It In and Danny Bernstein have completed the 900 miler club, which is a challenge within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to complete all of the official trails. Danny’s interview is up now and Plug-It In’s posts on December 1st. I hope you subscribe and take a listen to both as they share their unique and inspirational experiences with me

I’m learning that interviewing is an art and just as challenging as the mountains I love to hike. There are times I stumble, but like the advice Danny gives me when it comes to taking on a challenge such as the 900 miler – it’s about perseverance. How true that is.

Hearing other peoples hiking stories has led to an even deeper discovery that we find ourselves and happiness in the space between the blazes.

I hope you’ll join me on my podcast adventure. This wouldn’t be possible without having the support of someone who loves me and encourages me to be my best. And during this Thanksgiving Day weekend, that is something I am especially grateful for.

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