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Hiking in Cades Cove

Planning is an important aspect of hiking in Cades Cove. For safety reasons, always inform someone of which hike you intend to take, and make sure they will check to see that you've returned on time. If you take one of the longer hiking trails, it may be necessary to make reservations at a backcountry campground. Reservations are not required for day hikes.

Officials of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park advise hikers to bring comfortable walking shoes, high-energy food, a flashlight, whistle, knife, first aid kit, extra clothing, matches, water, raingear, trail maps and a compass. Hikers can purchase many essential supplies at the Cades Cove Campground Store, located at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road.

Hiking Trails in Cades Cove
Abrams Falls
Ace Gap
Anthony Creek
Beard Cane
Bote Mountain
Cades Cove Nature Trail
Cane Creek
Cooper Road
Crib Gap
Gregory Bald
Gregory Ridge
Hannah Mountain
Hatcher Mountain
Indian Grave Gap
Little Bottoms
Rabbit Creek
Rich Mountain Loop
Rich Mountain
Russell Field
Scott Mountain
Wet Bottom

Cades Cove  |   Biking  |   Campground  |   Historic Churches
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Abrams Falls Trail

The Abrams Falls hike begins at the westernmost end of the Cades Cove Loop Road. The waters at the destination of this hike make an interesting 20-foot drop to a pool and stream below. The path from the Cades Cove valley floor to the falls high above roughly follows Abrams Creek, weaving up and down, back and forth along the ridges surrounding that end of Cades Cove. Though the hike to Abrams Falls is relatively short, most Smokies visitors the trip both challenging and rewarding. Nearly 1,000 visitors per day in peak season makes Abrams Falls one of the most popular hiking trails in Cades Cove.

Along the Abrams Falls trail, hikers can enjoy the majesty of the Smoky Mountains, rhododendron-lined footpaths and the 20-foot namesake waterfall. The total length of the hike is 5 miles roundtrip, climbing approximately 340 feet up the mountains.

To reach the Abrams Falls trailhead, travel 5 miles along the Cades Cove Loop Road. After crossing Abrams Creek, turn right on a gravel road that runs through a grassy field. Parking is available at the back of the field, where signs and marvelous wooden bridge mark the beginning of the hike.

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Ace Gap Trail

The Ace Gap hike is one of the most peaceful trails Cades Cove has to offer. The trail is approximately 5.5 miles long, without much change in altitude. During the month of May, parts of the Ace Gap trail are strewn with pink Lady Slipper flowers; but, hikers should keep in mind that all wildflowers in Cades Cove are protected by law and may not be picked or otherwise disturbed.

To access the Ace Gap trailhead, turn onto Rich Mountain Road from the Cades Cove Loop Road, just past the Methodist Church. Near the trailhead, Smokies hikers pass Bull Cave, the largest cave in Cades Cove. The bottom of the cave is full 500 feet from the surface, almost straight down. Beyond the cave, the trail meanders 5 miles along the ridges of Rich Mountain to the place known as Ace Gap.

Named for the card-playing loggers that once congregated there, Ace Gap can be identified by an old railroad bed. Logging trains clacked along railroad tracks all over Cades Cove during the expansion of the United States. Cades Cove was one of many places in the country that yielded up virgin forests to supply the nation's seemingly endless demand for lumber to construct homes, buildings and bridges. The Little River Lumber Company, owned by Col. W.B. Townsend, operated the trains that carried equipment, loggers and logs on the Ace Gap track through Cades Cove in the early 1900s.

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Anthony Creek Trail

The Anthony Creek Trail starts in the picnic area at the beginning of the Cades Cove Loop, continuing 3.5 miles up Bote Mountain for an altitude gain of 3,000 feet. Due in part to this easily accessible trailhead, Anthony Creek Trail is one of the most traveled in Cades Cove, but hikers attempting this strenuous hike are advised to bring along water.

Despite its difficulty, the trail offers beautiful scenery and wonderful views from Spence Field and Rocky Top, two locations important in Cades Cove history. One of the three summits on Thunderhead Mountain, Rocky Top was the inspiration for the Tennessee State Song of the same name. To reach Spence Field and Rocky Top, hikers must travel the Anthony Creek Trail to the Bote Mountain Trail and the Appalachian Trail. The trail also features the headwaters of Anthony Creek and passes by both a horse camp and a backcountry camp.

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Beard Cane Trail

Beard Cane Trail is named for a variety of cane that grows in parts of Cades Cove where the terrain is moist. One of a few relatively flat trails in Cades Cove, the Beard Cane Trail is wonderfully suitable for an amble in the woods. An easy hike that leads down the hollow between Beard Cane and Hatcher Mountains, this trail is beautifully strewn with wildflowers and flowering shrubs such as polygala, trillium, rhododendron and dog-hobble. Overhead, oak, tulip, hemlock and maple trees canopy this Cades Cove hike. A word of caution, the Beard Cane Trail tends to be very muddy after rain.

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Bote Mountain Trail

During the 1800s, James Spence tended cattle for the farmers of Cades Cove in an awe-inspiring mountain meadow. Eventually the meadow became known as Spence Field. The Bote Mountain Trail that leads to Spence Field traverses intermittently rocky terrain and rhododendron-covered footpaths.

During the 1800s, James Spence tended cattle for the farmers of Cades Cove in an awe-inspiring mountain meadow. Eventually the meadow became known as Spence Field. The Bote Mountain Trail that leads to Spence Field traverses intermittently rocky terrain and rhododendron-covered footpaths.

While driving cattle up the Bote Mountain Trail was undoubtedly difficult, the effort would have meant better care for the animals in Spence's charge. Not only was the high mountain grass nutritionally better than that found on the Cades Cove valley floor, the cattle would have benefitted from cooler temperatures and fewer flies.

From Spence Field today, Smokies hikers can see Cades Cove, Lake Fontana, Rocky Top and other notable landmarks of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The view alone makes the Bote Mountain Trail one of the most rewarding to originate in Cades Cove.

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Cades Cove Nature Trail

The Cades Cove Nature Trail is particularly beautiful when the dogwoods bloom in spring and again in fall when the sourwoods and maples turn a beautiful red. This easy Smokies trail is one of the best hikes for anyone looking to stretch their legs, see a bit of the Cove and not get tired out.

On the Cades Cove Nature Trail, visitors can see what remains of what was a thick chestnut grove in the 1800s. Almost one-third of the forest surrounding Cades Cove was made up of chestnut trees at that time, and the chestnut groves were of great benefit to the farmers and wildlife alike. Now only chestnut sprouts grow from the vast chestnut root system of the giant trees that were once plentiful here. Today, the large trees growing along the Cades Cove Nature Trail are primarily oak, dogwood, sourwood and pine trees.

The blight that killed the chestnut trees also destroyed long-standing traditions of mountain men and Cades Cove wildlife alike. The groves were an integral part of Appalachian settlers' yearly life cycle. Chestnuts were gathered for use by both people and livestock, as well as for sale. Farmers in the Cove used the groves to fatten hogs for slaughter, and an historic smokehouse where the meat was prepared still stands along the Cades Cove Loop Tour. Smoky Mountain black bears once frequented the majestic stands of chestnut trees that provided a main source of their fall mast. The chestnuts provided easy access to high calories as the bears prepared for hibernation. Today, acorns provide a poor substitute for chestnuts in the Smoky Mountain black bears' diet.

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Cane Creek Trail

Only two miles long, the Cane Creek Trail is one of the easiest trails to get to, though it does require hiking part way up the Cooper Road Trail to get there. The trail runs through land that was once farmed by the Buchanan family but has reforested over time. Features of this hike include Easter hemlocks and hardwood trees, the Buchanan family cemetery, and a very pleasant, lightly used campsite at Cane Creek. The Cane Creek Trail goes through the Cane Creek bottoms, and such low-lying trails are often muddy.

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Cooper Road Trail

Offering solitude and an easy path for Smoky Mountain hikers and horseback riders, the Cooper Road Trail stretches to the boundary of the National Park, about 10 miles away from the trailhead. Originally an American Indian trail, the Cooper Road Trail was improved into a road in the 1840s by a Cades Cove settler named Joe Cooper.

After Cooper had made the road fitting for wagon travel, the route became the best way for pioneers living in the western part of the Cove to travel through the Smokies to Maryville. Though the early pioneers grew, hunted or made just about anything they needed, Cades Cove residents would travel to Maryville to visit the doctor, shop at Crawford and Caldwell hardware store, or sell bushels of chestnuts at market.

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Crib Gap Trail

Once the main entrance into Cades Cove from Big Spring Cove on the other side of the mountain, the Crib Gap Trail is actually a horse track that may also be used by visitors looking for a short hike in Cades Cove. The Crib Gap Trail starts on the left side of the Cades Cove picnic grounds and ends as it crosses the Turkeypen Ridge Trail, approximately 1.5 miles away.

The beginning of the Crib Gap Trail follows Anthony Creek, and as with all the lowlands in Cades Cove, the part of the trail by Anthony Creek is a bit muddy. Hemlocks grow thickly along the creek, but as the trail rises, it transitions to a much dryer pine-oak forest.

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Gregory Bald Hiking Trail

Gregory Bald is a high meadow that Cades Cove farmers used for cattle grazing in the summer. Of the several trails that lead to Gregory Bald, this particular trail affords a steady 4.5-mile climb through pine and hardwood forest.

The Gregory Bald Hiking Trail passes through Sam's Gap, Panther Gap and the Sheep Pen Gap backcountry campsite, emerging at the bald where magnificent views of Cades Cove and other Smoky Mountain landmarks await. From there, the trail continues past the mountain meadow until it ends at the Appalachian Trail. Ambitious hikers that continue on the Appalachian Trail should bear in mind that it is 7.5 miles from the trailhead. As a hard day's hike is 8 to 10 miles, going all the way to the Appalachian Trail and back is definitely not a day hike.

To access the Gregory Bald Trail, visitors should take the Cades Cove Loop to the Cable Mill Visitors Center, and then follow the signs to Parson Branch Road. The Gregory Bald Hiking Trail begins five miles down Parson Branch Road at Sam's Gap.

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Gregory Ridge Hiking Trail

Gregory Ridge is another of several hiking trails that lead up to Gregory Bald, a high mountain meadow where Cades Cove farmers took their cattle to escape summer heat and flies. In addition to the bald, the Gregory Ridge hike features virgin forest with huge tulip trees, flame azaleas and the highly used Campsite #13. Requiring 8 or 9 hours to complete, Gregory Ridge is perhaps the most arduous hiking trail in Cades Cove.

Despite its difficulty, the wonderful view of Cades Cove at the end of the hike makes the Gregory Ridge Trail one of the most popular trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail winds through some of the Park's best terrain, including delightful old-growth forest and the azalea-covered bald. Azalea season on Gregory Bald is unmatched, when the bald is ablaze with breathtaking masses of orange- and wine-colored blooms.

To reach the Gregory Ridge trailhead, visitors should turn right out of the Cable Mill Historic Area parking lot and proceed to Parson Branch Road. The parking area marked Gregory Ridge Trail is about five miles down at Sam's Gap.

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Hannah Mountain Trail

The Hannah Mountain Trail runs high along a ridge above Cades Cove, beginning at Sam's Gap and continuing 9.5 miles to Abrams Creek. As 8 to 10 miles is a very long hike for most Smokies visitors, only serious backpackers familiar with backcountry camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are likely to attempt this hike.

This trail is known for its beautiful views of Cades Cove from the grazing lands on the crest of Hannah Mountain. One of the notable features of this Cades Cove trail is an enormous tulip tree two miles from the trailhead. Standing majestically on the right, the tree measures 10 feet in circumference. The Hannah Mountain Trail has an enjoyable atmosphere, good even footing and historical significance.

Long before the National Park was formed, Cherokee Indians working for Daniel Foute dug the Hannah Mountain Trail in the 1840s. Owner of the Montvale Resort on Chilhowee Mountain, Foute's purpose for the trail was to connect his resort to beautiful Gregory Bald. His trail to the bald proved a powerful draw for Foute's resort, especially when the azaleas were blooming in the meadows above Cades Cove. The popularity of the Hannah Mountain Trail was in part responsible for the resort's long life, bringing Smokies tourists to the mountain meadows of Cades Cove for more than 100 years.

To get to the Hannah Mountain Trail, visitors should take the Cades Cove Loop past the Cable Mill Historic Area, and then follow the signs to Forge Creek Road, which runs into Parson Branch Road. The trailhead lies approximately four miles further on Parson Branch Road.

How to get back to Cades Cove, National Park and Tourist Areas from Parson Branch Road
Parson Branch Road is a one-way road that leads away from Cades Cove and out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Parson Branch Road ends at Highway 129.

Back to National Park, Walland and Townsend, TN
To return to the Smoky Mountain tourist areas, turn right onto Highway 129. Next, turn right on Foothills Parkway at Chillowee Lake. Travel on Foothills Parkway for 5 to 10 minutes until it ends at Highway 321. Turn left on Highway 321 to go to Walland, TN. Or, turn right on Highway 321 to proceed to Townsend, TN. Go straight through Townsend to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Back to Gatlinburg
The road through Townsend becomes Highway 73 part way through town. Highway 73 comes to a stop inside the National Park at a Y in the road. Turn left at the Y toward Gatlinburg on Highway 73 and Little River Road. Just past Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn left on Newfound Gap Road and travel approximately one mile to Gatlinburg.

Back to Wears Valley and Pigeon Forge
To get to Pigeon Forge, take Highway 73 through Townsend, and turn left onto Wears Valley Road. As travel west, away from Cades Cove, you will go through some mountains and Wears Valley. At the end of Wears Valley Road, turn right onto the Pigeon Forge Parkway.

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Hatcher Mountain Trail

The Hatcher Mountain Trail is a connector trail high above Cades Cove. It can be reached only by traveling one of the trails it connects. Trails associated with the Hatcher Mountain Trail are located in the western end of Cades Cove and include Abrams Falls, Little Bottoms, Beard Cane and Cooper Road Trails.

The Hatcher Mountain Trail is an easy climb, gaining just 720 feet in elevation and taking only 90 minutes to complete. One way to get to the Hatcher Mountain Trail is to walk four miles from the Cades Cove floor up the Abrams Falls Trail to the Abrams Falls campground.

This trail provides a delightful departure from the more congested Cades Cove hike, the Abrams Falls trail. Though it doesn't end at a splendid waterfall, the Hatcher Mountain Trail has its own beauty and character, and many Cades Cove hikers choose this trail spur as an alternative to continuing on the more popular and crowded Abrams Falls Trail. The Hatcher Mountain Trail ends at an intersection with the Cooper Road and Beard Cane Trails.

Another interesting way to hide Cades Cove via the Hatcher Mountain Trail is to use it as part of a loop trail that also includes the Cooper Road Trail and the Little Bottoms Trail.

To access the Hatcher Mountain Trail, visitors should take the Cades Cove Loop five miles, just past Abrams Creek, to a field with a road running through it. A number of hikes originate from this location, so it is often possible to follow other cars to the right place. Parking is located at the rear of the field, and signs direct hikers to the Abrams Falls Trail. The Hatcher Mountain trailhead begins 4.2 miles down the Abrams Falls Trail.

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Indian Grave Gap Trail

The Indian Grave Gap Trail connects Rich Mountain Road with the Scott Mountain Trail. To access the Indian Grave Gap trailhead, hikers must travel the Cades Cove Loop Road and then turn right onto Rich Mountain Road. The trail runs about 3.5 miles across the face of Rich Mountain and ends at an intersection with the Scott Mountain Trail.

How to Get Back to the Tourist Areas of the National Park from Rich Mountain Road
Rich Mountain Road is a one-way road leading out of Cades Cove to the north; it becomes a two-way road at the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To return to the Cades Cove Campground, continue on Rich Mountain Road until it ends at Highway 321. Turn left on Highway 321 to Walland, or turn right to go to Townsend.

Once in Townsend, Highway 321 turns left onto Wears Valley Road. That road goes through Wears Valley and ends in Pigeon Forge on the Parkway.

To get to the Cades Cove Campground or Gatlinburg from Townsend, do not turn off the main road through Townsend when Highway 321 turns left. Instead, continue straight through Townsend on Highway 73 into the National Park. Highway 73 comes to a stop inside the National Park at a Y in the road. A left turn at the Y onto Little River Road will take you toward the Sugarlands Visitors Center and Gatlinbury. A right turn at the Y will take you down Laurel Creek Road and back into Cades Cove; the Campground will be on your immediate left.

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Little Bottoms Trail

The Little Bottoms Trail to Cades Cove is quite long and not well defined. Thus, it is most suited to hikers that are experienced in hiking in the backcountry and are personally familiar with Cades Cove's trail system. Novices should not attempt to hike the Little Bottoms Trail, and experienced hikers should take precautions. Turn around and retrace your steps if you lose the trail.

In the case of the Little Bottoms Trail, Cades Cove is the destination, not the start of the hike. The trailhead is found a short distance down the Cooper Road Trail next to the Cooper Road backcountry campground.

Take US-321 from Maryville until you come to Foothill Parkway. Turn right onto Foothill Parkway, and then left onto US-129. Drive about 100 yards, and turn left onto Happy Valley Road. Travel to the Happy Valley Loop Road and turn right. About a mile down the road, you will find parking for the Cooper Road Trail. The Cooper Road Trail begins at the far end of the campground; follow the Cooper Road Trail to the Cooper Road Backcountry Campground. On the right of the Cooper Road Backcountry Campsite, you will find the beginning of the Little Bottoms Hiking Trail. Follow the Little Bottoms Trail to the Abrams Falls Trail and hike it down into Cades Cove.

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Rabbit Creek Hiking Trail

Although Cades Cove's Rabbit Creek trail goes to Mill Creek, Andy McCully Ridge, Rabbit Creek Backcountry campground, Scott Gap, Pine Mountain, Abrams Creek and a ranger station, some feel this hike has no particular features. Perhaps that is true when compared with some trails that feature high mountain meadows with their splendid views of Cades Cove, but what this hike lacks in exciting destination, it makes up in solitude. The Rabbit Creek hike features virgin stands of hemlocks, oak and pine with varied terrain running along ridges and hollows.

Rabbit Creek follows the path of a road that once was used to get in and out of Cades Cove. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park service maintains this road as a hiking trail. To get to Rabbit Creek trail, follow the Cades Cove Loop Road to the back of the cove, about five miles. You will cross Abrams Creek and then take a right through a field. Drive to the rear of the field and park. There will be a path and signs pointing out several hikes, one of which is the Rabbit Creek Hiking Trail.

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Rich Mountain Loop Trail

The Rich Mountain Loop Trail offers a peaceful hike with excellent fall color, mountain laurel blooming in May, and many views of Cades Cove and the surrounding Smoky Mountains. The trail is flat at the beginning as it follows an old roadbed that tracks near the historic John Oliver Cabin. The National Park Service maintains some of the fields that were originally cleared by Smokies pioneers so that visitors today can see how Cades Cove looked in the 19th century.

To follow the Rich Mountain Loop, begin at the trailhead of the Rich Mountain Loop trail. After walking one half mile you will need to veer left at the junction with the Crooked Arm Ridge trail to stay on Rich Mountain Loop trail. After a good bit of walking—two and a half miles—you will next go right when the Rich Mountain Loop trail intersects the Indian Grave Gap trail. Hike about one mile on the Indian Grave Gap trail and then go right on the Crooked Arm Ridge trail. In about two miles the Crooked Arm trail will intersect with the Rich Mountain trail one half mile from the beginning of the hike. The Rich Mountain Loop trail is 8.5 miles long and accommodates both horses and hikers.

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Rich Mountain Trail

Down the Cades Cove Loop and up the Rich Mountain Road are three trails, one of them being the Rich Mountain Trail. The Rich Mountain Trail offers peace and quiet, beautiful forests and the lovely cascades on Hesse Creek.

The Rich Mountain Trail has a couple of alternatives. The first alternative begins at the trailhead on Rich Mountain Road on the north side of Cades Cove and descends to the Indian Grave Gap Trail. That is actually the end of the Rich Mountain Trail, a distance of slightly over two miles. Once you reach Indian Gap Trail, the first alternative is to turn around and hike the two plus miles back up the mountain to your car.

Rich Mountain Trail Alternatives:

If you are hiking with a friend and come in two cars, you have a couple alternatives when hiking the Rich Mountain Trail. To utilize them, one person needs to leave their car at the parking area for the Rich Mountain Loop Trail near the beginning of the Cades Cove Loop. Next, both of you drive together up Rich Mountain to the Rich Mountain trailhead. Hike the Rich Mountain trail down to the Indian Gap Trail. At this point you can turn either left or right on Indian Gap.

Left on Indian Gap Trail:
If you turn left on the Indian Gap Trail, take a right at the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail. Hike Crooked Arm Ridge Trail down to the Rich Mountain Loop Trail, bearing left. That will take you back to the Cades Cove Loop Road close to the Rich Mountain Loop Trail.

Right on Indian Gap Trail:
If you turn right on the Indian Gap Trail, turn left onto the Rich Mountain Loop Trail and hike it all the way down to the Cades Cove Loop Road. You will see the trailhead and your friend's car.

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Russell Field Trail

As its name implies, the Russell Field Trail ends on one of the mountaintop balds, Russell Field. The balds were important in early Cades Cove life as they were used by early frontiersmen and farmers for the grazing of cattle. Other fields used for this purpose are Gregory Bald and Spence Field. All three are high on the mountaintops overlooking Cades Cove and have one or more hiking trails leading to them.

The Russell Field trailhead is located in the Cades Cove picnic area, just before the Cades Cove Loop Road. The trail winds through old-growth hemlocks, following the left prong of Anthony Creek. The view is wonderful from the summit of Russell Field, but some Smokies visitors are disappointed that trees obscure some of the view of the Cades Cove floor. These trees were not present in the 1800s. Fewer trees allowed for more grass for the cattle and greater views of the surrounding area for those tending the cattle. Though the Great Smoky Mountain National Park officials are allowing some of the trees to grow back, they are still committed to maintaining most of the bald as a historical field.

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Scott Mountain Trail

About two miles above the Cades Cove Loop, at the intersection of the Indian Grave Gap and Crooked Arm Ridge Trails, the Scott Mountain trail begins, ascends and eventually descends approximately 3.5 miles to the Schoolhouse Gap Trail. The Scott Mountain Trail's greatest feature is that of solitude as it takes you on a hike away from Cades Cove. Its biggest drawback is that you must hike miles before reaching its beginning.

To reach the Scott Mountain Trail, take the Cades Cove Loop Road to the trailhead of the Rich Mountain Loop Trail, which is near the orientation shelter at the beginning of the Cove. Walk one half mile up the Rich Mountain Loop Trail and bear right on the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail. About 2.5 to 3 miles up the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail there will be an intersection with the Scott Mountain trail. Turn right onto it.

Keep in mind when choosing a hike in Cades Cove that a difficult day of hiking is six to eight miles for most people in good shape and that this hike, together with the effort to reach it, is about seven miles one way.

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Wet Bottom Trail

Used as a horse trail, the Wet Bottom Trail is one of Cades Cove's shortest hikes, with an altitude gain of only 140 feet. To get to this hike, take the Cades Cove Loop Road five miles. After crossing Abrams Creek, turn right on a gravel road that runs through a grassy field. Park at the back of the field where signs are posted. Walk into the forest one tenth of a mile to a wooden bridge that crosses Abrams Creek. Continue to follow the signs for the Wet Bottom Creek Trail.

The Wet Bottom Trail follows Abrams Creek and can be, as its name implies, a bit marshy. All of the low-lying areas in the far end of Cades Cove are prone to be waterlogged. The early settlers avoided building their farms in the marshy end but did use its canebrakes to protect their cattle in the wintertime. Eventually, people settled even the marshy end of Cades Cove. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park service preserved one of their homesteads, the Elijah Oliver Place. Signs near the beginning of the Wet Bottom Trail invite a side trip to see Elijah Oliver's homestead before continuing on the trail. When you've gone as far as you'd like turn around and retrace your steps back to the parking area and the Cades Cove Loop.

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