The Crooked Arm Ridge trail departs the Cades Cove area and climbs the ridge until it meets up with the Indian Grave Gap to help create the Rich Mountain Loop. It offers great, although obscured, views of the fields that make up part of Cades Cove.
To access the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail, park at the far end of the parking lot at the entrance to Cades Cove. Cross the street and follow the trail that parallels the road for about 0.3 miles and then breaks away and skirts an open field. At 0.5 miles, rock hop Crooked Arm Branch and then the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail breaks off the right at a well-marked sign.
As the trail departs the junction, it begins to climb beside the creek bed of Crooked Arm Branch. The trail becomes rockier and there are roots growing across the trail in places, which makes watching your step important. At roughly 0.4 miles, the trail crosses Crooked Arm Branch again via a rock hop, and climbs up the other side of the ravine until it comes to a wide area, which is a perfect resting spot.
The trail climbs more steeply up a series of switchbacks until about 0.9 miles, where the trail levels off and obscured views of Cades Cove, especially the fields, come into view. While these are great, save your photos for a better, less obscured spot later in the trip. There are areas through this section where the trail has been eroded due to water and use by hikers and animals. In the fall, these sections can be filled with leaves up to your knees, making it difficult to see obstacles, or slippery due to the leaves underneath being wet. The trail climbs less steeply along the ridge until 1.3 miles, where a series of switchbacks await.
At roughly 1.75 miles, the best view of the Cove is off to the left, so stop for a minute to take some photos and rest after your climb. The trail climbs less steeply until it levels off at roughly the two-mile mark.
At 2.1 miles, the trail forks to the left (lower) and right (upper). Take the upper trail in the fall or winter to get obscured views of the Laurel Creek drainage, or the left trail for a short descent alongside some rhododendron trees. Both paths meet back up right before you arrive at the end of the trail, the junction of the Scott Mountain Trail
and the Indian Grave Gap Trail
. You can either hike 6.3 miles on the Indian Grave Gap Trail
(2.9 miles) to make a loop back to your car via the Rich Mountain Loop Trail
(3.4 miles), or retrace your steps back to the parking lot (2.2 miles).
The trail is close to a field, so deer, turkeys, coyotes, and bear can be seen along the trail as they come to feed in the evenings. Quail, and other birds, can be seen as you climb higher up the trail. Ferns can be found in the lower parts of the trail, with rhododendron found in all sections of the trail. The creek at the bottom of the trail creates a ecosystem that is very different from the dry ridge environment found in the upper stretches of the trail.