Friday, July 13, 2012

Cove Mountain Trail

Tuesday was another hiking day.  Gene went along with Garnett, Sue, and I as we hiked the Cove Mountain Trail.  It was a long day at 12.5 miles and we got caught in a downpour, but we had a grand time.

Cove Mountain Trail runs along the Great Smoky Mountain National Park boundary on the Tennessee side of the Park west from Gatlinburg.  Because it’s along the boundary near the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg, it’s not an isolated, backcountry trail.  At several places within the first four miles, the trail abuts private property and almost within arms reach are fences, houses, driveways.  At about the 4 mile point, the ski lift at Ober Gatlinburg can be heard, if not seen.  We couldn’t see it yesterday due to the summer leaf cover.  Certainly not the backcountry, scenic trail we’re used to.

So why hike Cove Mountain Trail?  For many hikers, including Sue and myself, the 8.5 Cove Mountain Trail is among the 900 miles of trail in the Smokies.  Many hike it for the views of Gatlinburg during winter months when the leaves are down.  Some may go to see the old fire tower on the summit of Cove Mountain.  Some actually come for the trail itself.  It is a very nice trail to hike.  It’s an old road so is, for most of its length, a wide, grassy, gently graded path.  The lower two miles weaves its way past Cataract Falls and up through a vibrant rhododendron tunnel.

We had several options for hiking this trail and we discussed them all at length.  The trail is 8.5 miles in length--17 miles for a round trip.  That was not an option for this group.  Our original plan was to hike the lower half of the trail from behind Park Headquarters up to an unofficial path at the water tower near the Ober Gatlinburg ski lift.  Then, the next day, drive up and park at the water tower and hike the upper half of the trail to the tower on top of Cove Mountain.  We eventually abandoned that plan because we were unable to get concrete directions or find a detailed street map of that area of Gatlinburg.

Abandoning that option left us with running a car shuttle and hiking through from another trail.  There were two options for this idea.  Laurel Falls trail intersects with Cove Mountain making it the logical choice.  Little Greenbrier Trail intersects with Laurel Falls Trail and would have also been a good choice, but is about a mile longer.  We decided on the shorter Laurel Falls Trail to the top of Cove Mountain then descending Cove Mountain to the trailhead at Park Headquarters.  This gave us a 4-mile climb then an 8.5-mile descent.

By the time we got to the Park, left a car at Park Headquarters, and got over to the Laurel Falls parking area, all spaces were occupied.  We were lucky and found a spot large enough for our little Honda Fit on the side of the road not far from the trailhead.

The first mile of Laurel Falls trail from the trailhead to Laurel Falls is a very popular hike and there were many folks going up and coming down as we got started on our hike.  We blew past the falls without even stopping.  Above the falls, the trail was deserted.  We only saw one other group of four hikers during the rest of the day.

Laurel Falls trail above the falls is a dirt foot path.  We saw several blowdowns left by the storms which caused so much damage in the Park last week.  Although there were several downed trees across the trail, none were too large to get across and/or pick our way around.  We tried to “sweep” off as much of the little stuff as possible with our trekking poles, but we had a long day of hiking so couldn’t spend much time with trail maintenance.

We stopped for our first break at the junction with Little Greenbrier Trail.  It looks like Gene made this photo before us ladies were ready.

We had our lunch at the junction with Laurel Falls Trail and Cove Mountain Trail.  This is one tenth of a mile below the summit of Cove Mountain.  Gene and Sue went up to check out the old fire tower.  The fire towers within the Park are no longer in use.  This one has been converted to an Air Pollution Research Station.  Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited National Park unit in the nation.  All those visitors tour the park in their private vehicles.  It’s no wonder air quality is a major concern for park officials.

Access to the tower is not allowed and, as you can
see, there are no views from 
After a leisurely lunch, we headed downhill.  The descent was very pleasant.  The elevation change is very gradual at 2500 over the 8.5 miles.  We strolled along chatting and enjoying our surroundings.  About 4 miles down we began hearing thunder in the distance, but we were making good time and weren’t too concerned.  We got in another couple miles before the skies opened up and the rain fell.  This little cloud burst lasted on a few minutes.  We were feeling pretty good about not getting too wet.

We were close enough to be able to see the road when the next cloud burst happened.  We got soaked this time, especially when we came out at the parking lot and lost our tree cover.  We dashed by Cataract Falls trying to cover that last tenth of a mile in record time, so no photos of that this trip.

Of course, at the end of the trail us ladies had to stop at the restroom.  That was another dash from the car and back.  We were all soaked clear to the skin.  We were tired, wet hikers, but very happy at the end of the day.

That’s all for now. Thanks for tagging along.


  1. Great hike and Laurel Falls is beautiful. Too bad you almost got back before getting soaked but that's half the fun sometimes.

    p.s. if you are still having your comment problem, try signing out of blogger, then sign back in leaving the 'remember me' box unchecked. For some reason, this has worked for some folks who have had the same problem as you were having.