Rocky Top Trail
Cades Cove is a beautiful valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It's also the starting point for a challenging 14-mile hike that takes you up to Rocky Top, one of three summits forming Thunderhead Mountain. The views from Rocky Top are truly remarkable, and it's definitely worth spending some time at the summit before heading back down the mountain.
The Cades Cove valley is a great place to start your hike because it's relatively flat and there are plenty of places to camp overnight if you need to. The trailhead is located just off of the main road, so it's easy to find. Once you're on the trail, it's a steady uphill climb for most of the way to Rocky Top. There are a few level sections where you can catch your breath, but overall you'll be gaining elevation pretty steadily.
One of the great things about this hike is that it takes you through a variety of different ecosystems. You'll start in the lush cove, then move into a dense forest, and finally emerge above the tree line into an alpine meadow. Each section has its own unique beauty, and you're sure to see plenty of wildlife along the way. Black bears are common in the area, so be sure to stay alert and make noise if you see one!
The last mile or so to Rocky Top is the most challenging, with a steep incline and loose rocks underfoot. But it's worth it when you reach the summit and see the incredible 360-degree views. On a clear day, you can see for miles in every direction. Take some time to enjoy the views and have something to eat before heading back down the mountain.
If you're up for more adventure, continue past Rocky Top to reach another summit further along Thunderhead Mountain. Or, if you're ready to head back down, simply retrace your steps back to Cades Cove. Either way, this is an incredible hike that should not be missed!
Cades Cove is a beautiful valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the perfect place to start your hike up Rocky Top. This challenging 14-mile hike has an elevation gain of more than 3,600 feet and takes you through a variety of different ecosystems. Black bears are common in the area, so be sure to stay alert! The last mile or so to Rocky Top is the most challenging but it's worth it when you reach the summit and see the incredible 360-degree views. Take some time to enjoy the views before heading back down the mountain.