Take the Laurel Creek Road to Cades Cove from the Townsend "Y". Follow the road for 3.5 miles and park at Schoolhouse Gap trailhead. Make your way carefully back down the road about 250 feet, cross the road and find the trailhead on the right hand side of the road.
As the trail departs the road, it climbs gently for about 1.2 miles to where the trail meets the West Prong Trail
. Turning to the right, it runs up the east slope of Bote Mountain connecting the various gaps that exist on the ridge. You'll encounter the Finley Cane Trail
next, which leads back down to the Laurel Creek Road.
As the trail continues straight, the climb begins in earnest beneath a forest of hardwoods, pine-oaks, and rhododendron. A mile past the Finley Cane Trail
, you'll enter an area that was burned in 1987 when lightning started a fire and scorched most of the south side of the trail down to West Prong. The forest is recovering, but scars from the blaze still remain.
As you leave the fire area, views of Thunderhead and Defeat Ridge are off to the left of the trail until you reach the Lead Cove Trail
junction, another trail that leads back to Laurel Creek Road. The trail continues to remain dry along the crest of Bote Mountain as you keep climbing to the Anthony Creek Trail
junction, a trail that descends steeply to the Cades Cove Picnic Area.
The trail narrows at this point due to cattle being driven through this area in the summer where they grazed at Spence Field
. With thousands of cattle going up and down the trail, the mud was worn down to the bedrock, thus leaving the trail that exists today. The trail is very rocky as it passes through the rhododendron tunnels. During rainstorms, water runs down the middle of the trail, so make sure you have appropriate footwear. The trail widens again, but gets rockier as you approach the AT and Spence Field
After 7 miles, you have reached what some consider the most beautiful spot on the crest of the Smokies. There are clear areas where sweeping views of the TN side and NC side of the Smokies are the reward for your climb. This grass meadows make for great places to have lunch, and the various berry bushes make it a great place for bears to feast in late summer. Two miles to the east is Thunderhead Mountain, along with the famous peak, Rocky Top. You can return your car by retracing your steps or by taking one of the side trails back to Laurel Creek Road and catching a ride down to your car.
Deer, bear, and other animals can be seen, especially at Spence Field
Wildflowers do appear along the trail, various types appear at the different elevation levels, making for a diverse array.
Blackberries, blueberries, and serviceberry trees are found up at Spence Field
, making it a great feeding area for bears.