While this route is long, the multiple scenic spots make it worth the journey. Along the way, you'll pass Spence Field
, one of the most scenic meadows in the park. The loop can be taken on in one ambitious day, or stretched into an overnight trip.
Features: River/Creek — Views — Wildflowers
Dogs: No Dogs
This journey begins at the Cades Cove, where visitors will find the Anthony Creek Trailhead near the horse camp located in the area. This route starts out on easy trail, and the Anthony Creek Trail
is a relaxed way to start the ascent towards the Appalachian Trail (AT). You'll cross Anthony Creek multiple times along the way, but none of the crossings are too difficult. Enjoy your surroundings as you pass beneath beautiful rhododendrons and through hemlock groves. Take note, however, as the trail steepens on its final approach to the Bote Mountain Trail
Upon reaching the intersection with the Bote Mountain Trail
, head south to continue climbing towards the Appalachian Trail (AT). You'll have moved away from the creek by this point, so the rest of the ascent will be dry. From here, you'll follow the Bote Mountain Trail
for about 1.5 miles, and there will be a few strenuous portions in addition to switchbacks. Soon enough, you'll reach the ridgeline, and the Appalachian Trail (AT).
Head west on the white blazed Appalachian Trail (AT). Keep an eye out, as you'll soon be nearing Spence Field
. The trail will lead you right through the middle of the field, so take your time to enjoy this section. Views will open up on either side, and you'll be able to see the Smokies as they roll into the distance. While technically the field is a "grassy bald," the views are incredible, and the going is easy. Additionally, there's a shelter located just off the trail if you're looking for a good place to spend the night. Feel free to explore as much or as little of this section as you'd like.
If you're feeling extra ambitious, you can continue east on the Appalachian Trail (AT) towards Thunderhead Mountain. There will be two excellent viewpoints along the way to the summit, both of which are ample reward for the strenuous hiking necessary to reach them. Upon reaching the summit, snap a few pictures, and enjoy the views before heading back the way that you came on the Appalachian Trail (AT).
If you decide to stick to Spence Field
and have taken in the views and are ready begin the return journey, you'll start moving west along the Appalachian Trail (AT). After about 2.5 miles, you'll meet the Russell Field Trail
. Another shelter and camping area is located at this trail junction, and this is a great place to stop to rest, especially if the Spence Field shelter is already taken.
When you're ready to work your way back to your vehicle, remember that the most strenuous portions are already behind you, and it's all downhill back to Cades Cove. You'll begin the descent on the Russell Field Trail
, and you'll notice a change in vegetation. While most of the climb to the Appalachian Trail (AT) was shaded by second-growth forest, there are many old growth trees along this trail, and their size will boggle your mind. You'll pass Russel Field, which was cleared for farming in bygone days, and is now being reclaimed by the forest.
Continue to descend, and after the first bit, the grade will mellow. You'll be working your way through lower terrain, and there will be multiple creek crossings before you reach Cades Cove. Many of these crossings are made easier by foot logs or rock hops, but you may still end up with wet feet. Near the end of this trail, you'll be following the Anthony Creek, and this is a sure sign that you're approaching the end of your journey.
All too soon, the trail junction with the Anthony Creek Trail
arrives. From here, you'll just need to take a left to head north and return to your vehicle.
Visitors will pass hemlocks, rhododendrons, and all manner of native Smoky vegetation. Keep an eye out for bears near the ridge, as they're sometimes known to frequent the area.