The trailhead can be found behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Park Headquarters. Park at one of the parking lots and follow the trail to the Cove Mountain Trailhead.
As you begin your climb up Cove Mountain, you'll pass Cataract Falls, a small waterfall that drains into Fighting Creek and then the Little Pigeon River West Prong. Once you do a small rock hop to get past the creek, your climb begins in earnest as you approach the park boundary. The trail at this point is fairly narrow and rocky, as you pass beneath rhododendron. Within a couple of miles, you start seeing houses and cabins that sit on the other side of the park boundary, offering a glimpse of what the park would have looked like if it was not protected by the National Park Service. On the left side of the trail, views of Mount LeConte are obstructed by trees all along the trail, with no clearings to provide good photo opportunities. On the right side, the park boundary offers glimpses into Gatlinburg and later onto Wears Valley.
As you continue uphill, you can hear the sounds of Ober Gatlinburg 4-5 miles into the hike. The trees begin to change into pine-oak stands as the underbrush begins to disappear. The path begins to widen at this point and becomes grassy underneath, which makes the climb easier on the feet. On the right side of the trail at this point is the Cove Mountain Wildlife Management Area. You'll also see 4-wheel drive roads in this area, once again highlighting what the park could have become. Once you reach the Laurel Falls Trail
, you only have .1 miles left to the summit.
After climbing for 8.7 miles, you reach the summit of Cove Mountain. There is an old fire tower that is no longer in use and is closed to public access. There is also a shed that contains instruments for monitoring air quality in the park. This is a good area to have lunch or a snack before continuing your hike.
You can either return to your car by hiking down Cove Mountain or take the Laurel Falls Trail
(4.0 miles) back to the Little River Road and find a ride back to Sugarlands to pick up your car.
An alternative route is to do a car shuttle, parking one car at Sugarlands Visitor Center and then parking at the Laurel Falls Trailhead and hiking up the Laurel Falls Trail
and then down Cove Mountain. This adds 4 miles to the hike, but the 8.7 miles of Cove Mountain are all downhill.
Wildflowers are abundant in the early spring. Crested Iris, Robin's Plantain, Bluets, and Birdfoot Violets are just some of the flowers you will encounter.