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425 Thunderhead - Trip Report 2011-06-24

trail to thunderhead mountain

My friends Jon and Laura invited me to join them in the Smokies for the Father's Day weekend hiking trip. I had done an early summer trip with them a couple of times and looked forward to the hike.

Jon and I were undecided on what to hike, so we let our friends Ed and Nick from Knoxville choose the hike. They decided on hiking to Thunderhead Mountain from Cades Cove. The hike would start at the picnic area climb the Anthony Creek Trail to the Bote Mountain Trail and continuing to Spence Field on the Bote Mountain Trail. At Spence Field we would take the Appalachian Trail past Rocky Top and on to Thunderhead Mountain. They called it a classic.

We met at the picnic area at 8 o'clock Saturday morning. Soon we were following an old road to the horse camp and beyond. The trail climbed at a steady grade to Spence Field. Once on the AT the trail rolled along the ridge crest to Thunderhead Mountain.

A few Thunderhead Mountain notes …

The Cades Cove Picnic Area is located before the Cades Cove Loop. It is a deluxe setting. Folks were practically running to claim the key creek-side picnic sites. The picnickers were setting up for the day. It was pretty amazing.

Water and restrooms are available at the trailhead.

The trail to Spence Field is mostly old roads. We walked two abreast almost all the way making it easier to carry on a conversation. That was good because there was a lot of conversing going on!

A horse camp is located just a short distance up the trail; I wasn't exactly sure just what a horse camp was. In this one, the occupants drove to the site and had both an RV and horse trailer at the location. They seemed to be living there for the summer.

The trail intersected with the Russell Field Trail at 1.5 miles.

At about 2.75 miles is backcountry campsite number 9. This is a very popular site for good reason, it has easy access and sits right along Anthony Creek.

After 3.5 miles is the junction with the Bote Mountain Trail. The trail is also an old road . The grade stays about the same as on Anthony Creek Trail and reaches Spence Field in another 1.5 miles.

Some hikers we passed were taking a break and warned us that the trail was even steeper as it crossed the rocks. We never found the rocks nor the steeper section of the trail. Their comments just demonstrates the difficulty in writing trail descriptions - what is hard for some, might be easy for others, or vice versa.

Spence Field is overgrown; but there are still open areas.

The short section of the Appalachian Trail was very picturesque. The open views were magnificent. We hit it as the mountain laurel and azaleas blooming. (The rhododendron was blooming at a lower elevation.)

Heading north on the AT it is 1.2 miles to Rocky Top. Yes, there is an actual place called Rocky Top. It has great views and is also a nice rest spot.

It is another .6 miles to Thunderhead Mountain. Atop mighty Thunderhead is a stack of stones to help gain a view over the shrubs, a bench mark, and a location sign.

The total distance was 14 miles and the elevation was close to 3800 feet.

We had a brief lunch break in one of the open fields below Thunderhead's summit.

The return trip was all downhill after leaving Spence Field.

It rained so hard that the old roads we had climbed earlier in the day were transformed into ankle deep streams. We passed several other hikers, none looked happy.

Passing the horse camp, the rain soaked corral gave off a horrible stench. I could not walk fast enough to avoid breathing the foul air.

There are no facilities or water on the trail after leaving the trailhead. Oh, there was a port-a-potty at the horse camp; but that was very close to the trailhead.

Water was available to within about a mile on Spence Field; but of course it would need to be treated or filtered.

Three horses passed us on the rain soaked descent. The riders were not dressed for rain and seemed to be hurrying. It was unbelievable the damage the horses/riders did to the wet trail.

I did not see any litter on any of the trails!

It was a great hike. I would agree with Nick and Ed that it was a classic - thunderheads and all!

Happy thunderhead trails.


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