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 on the right.
As the trail leaves the parking area, it climbs slightly along Spence Branch until it reaches Dorsey Gap.This is an old road that was supposed to connect Schoolhouse Gap to Bote Mountain Trail
and ultimately Spence Field
. Another road was supposed to have been built up the North Carolina side, but it was never completed and the road was abandoned. The trail is wide, and well maintained for easy travel. Right before the gap, there is a marshy area on the right of the trail good for birding or wildflower viewing. After you pass the gap, a narrow trail leads off to an area known as Whiteoak Sink. Caves in the Whiteoak Sink area provide homes for bats, although most caves are closed due to the threat of White Nose Syndrome.
As the trail continues to climb slightly to Schoolhouse Gap, you meet the Chestnut Top Trail
at 2.0 miles, a trail that leads down to the Townsend Y. The trail continues for another .2 miles until it reaches Schoolhouse Gap and the park boundary. While there is no record of a school being at the gap, the name may refer to the fact that students walked through the gap in order to go to school in Townsend.
Private homes you see here are outside the park boundary and give the visitor an idea of what the area would be like if the woods weren't protected by the park service. You can now return to your car via the path you came.
Wildflowers and birds can be seen along the trail, especially in areas around Spence Branch.
Bats inhabit the caves at Whiteoak Sink, but the caves are closed due to the threat from White Nose Syndrome. Wild hogs have been seen in this area as well.