Kephart Prong Trail, Kephart Prong Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Kephart Prong Trail - 4.0 miles

Kephart Prong Trailhead

Water flowing over slick rocks on the Kephart Prong Trail

Water flowing over slick rocks on the Kephart Prong Trail

Round-Trip Length: 4.0 miles
Start-End Elevation: 2,700' - 3,510'
Elevation Change: +810' net elevation gain
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Kephart Prong Trail - 4.0 Miles Round-Trip

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.

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Worth Noting

  • 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 and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park. Before planning your backcountry trip, please read through this important information about reservations and permits, regulations, bear safety, trail closures, and more.

Reserve your Backcountry or Thru Hike permits here:

Please direct questions concerning backpacking trip planning to the Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297. Phone calls are the preferred method of contact. The information office is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). In addition to answering your backpacking questions, the experienced backpackers in the Backcountry Information Office can provide you with tips to make your trip safe and enjoyable.

Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

General Backcountry Regulations

1. Camping is permitted only at designated backcountry campsites and shelters.

2. You may not stay at any backcountry campsite for more than 3 consecutive nights. You may not stay consecutive nights at campsite 113 or at any shelter.

3. Maximum party size is 8. Two parties affiliated with the same group may not stay in the same campsite or at the same shelter on the same night(s). Special permits may be issued for a few sites that accommodate parties of up to 12.

4. Fires are only allowed at designated campsites and shelters and must be contained in a fire ring. Constructing new fire rings is prohibited. You may only burn wood that is dead and already on the ground. You may not cut any standing wood.

5. It is illegal to possess firewood originating from a location from which a federal or state firewood quarantine is in effect. Read information about this quarantine and the states affected.

6. Building a fire in the fireplace of any historic structure or removing any parts of a historic structure, including brick or rock, is illegal.

7. Backcountry permit holders may not use tents at shelters.

8. Hammocks may only be used within designated backcountry campsites. They may not be used inside shelters and may not be attached to shelters in any way.

9. All odorous items (e.g., food, trash, lip balm, toothpaste, stock feed, hay etc) must be hung on the bear cable system at each campsite or shelter.

10. Human waste must be disposed of at least 100 feet from any campsite, shelter, water source or trail and must be buried in a hole at least 6 inches deep.

11. All food, trash, clothing, equipment or personal items must be packed out.

12. Burning food, trash or anything other than dead wood is prohibited.

13. Carving into or defacing trees, signs, shelters or other backcountry features is illegal.

14. Soap, even biodegradable soap, may not be used in any water sources. Bathing and washing dishes should be done well away from water sources and campsites.

15. No dogs or other pets are allowed on any park trails except the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. No dogs or other pets may be carried into the backcountry.

16. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the backcountry.

17. No hunting is allowed anywhere in the park

18. Feeding, touching or teasing wildlife is prohibited. You may not willfully approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of elk or bears.

Fishing Information

  • 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.

Directions to Trailhead

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.

Contact Information

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)

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"I am the VIP assigned to Kephart Trail. I hike the trail 8-10 times a year since 2006. The trail is great for families and groups. The trail is an old Jeep road so it is great for walking side by side. There are many historical and natural sites along the trail. I keep finding and seeing new things along the trail. Hope you enjoy KPT."
GENE  -  CLYDE, NC  -  Date Posted: January 6, 2014


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