Tag Archives: Cades Cove

Cooper Road Trail

Date:    02.26.2016, 03.11.2016 – 03.12.2016

Miles:  10.7 miles           Elevation Gain:  1150↑         Elev./Mi:   107.5        Grade:     2%          

Difficulty:  Class 2             

Section:  Cades Cove    

Cooper Road TrailCooper Road Trail presents a host of options for different loop hikes leading out of Cades Cove and Abrams Creek Campground as it intersects with 5 different trails and has two distinct trailheads.  As for hiking it is downright delightful in that it only climbs 1,100 feet over its 10.7 miles.  It is definitely one of the longer treks in the park if hiked one-way but that is the challenge.  It really doesn’t fit in a one way scenario, nor does it work as a simple loop.  For the 900 miler, it will end up being hiked in several sections over a few days. Such is the case here.  IMG_2272Cooper Road was a main thoroughfare servicing Cades Cove before the establishment of the Park and much of it enjoys wide double track and relatively well graded terrain as any former roadway or railroad bed.  In fact, Rich Mountain Road and Parsons Branch Road were similar in their day and the Park Service chose to maintain them as access roads.

There are a few access points.  The trailheads are at Cades Cove Road on the east end and Abrams Creek Campground on the west end with ample parking at both.  The third access point is via the Goldmine Road Trail about 2.6 miles from the Abrams Creek Trailhead.  Surprisingly, there is only one campsite directly on the trail, which is CS #1 about 1 mile in from Abrams Creek at the trail junction with Little Bottoms Trail.  CS #2 is reasonably close at 06. miles down Cane Creek Trail.

Cades Cove to Hatcher Mountain

Cooper Road #1The first section completed was part of a loop hike that included Abrams Falls.  The section started at the Cades Cove trailhead.  It was 39 degrees and overcast on the morning of Feb 26, 2016.  At 0.2 miles, the Wet Bottoms Trail intersects to complete a nice loop trail around IMG_2271Abrams Falls.  At 1.0 mile, the trail rises gradually and levels off to a nice rolling stroll.  A concrete bridge appears at 1.4 miles as the trail crosses Arbutus Branch.  A moderate climb continues to about 1.7 miles where views appear although on this day, the clouds robbed the hiker of any panoramic landscape.  The trail reaches a ridge at about 2.5 miles and continues fairly flat before a slight descent at 3.0 miles.  At 4.0 miles, you cross Stoney Brook in a rock hopper.  Two prongs of Wilsons Branch are encountered around 5.0 miles that are negotiated with some skillful rock hopping.  Following the two creek crossings, there is a bit of overgrown brush and briars that only last a few hundred yards or so.  There is some blow-down evidence in this area accompanied by some pine tree growth.  At 5.7 miles the trail intersects with Hatcher Mountain Trail and continues on to Cane Creek Trail which is 1.8 miles ahead.  For this hike, I left Cooper Road down Hatcher Mountain to make the Abrams Falls Loop.

Abrams Creek Campground to Goldmine Road Trail

Cooper Road #2Continuing on the trail description is going to be a bit tedious and out of sync as the next section was hiked starting at Abrams Creek Campground as part of a 2-day backpacking trip that occurred March 12-13, 2016.  The trailhead is at Abrams Creek Campground where there is good parking, even IMG_2474in the off-season when the campground is closed.  The trail begins at the back side of the campground and continues for the first mile or so along Abrams Creek.  The trail only ascends 250 ft. over this 2.6 mile section making the climb barely noticeable.  At 0.9 miles, the Little Bottoms Trail intersects from the right and Campsite #1 is just beyond.  It is fairly nice site, especially being so close to a trailhead.  By now the trail picks up and follows Kingfisher Creek for the next mile.  At 2.6 miles the trail intersects with the Goldmine Road Trail, which leads 0.8 miles to the Top Of The World Community on Chilhowee Mountain.

Goldmine Road to Cane Creek Trail

Cooper ROad 3From Goldmine Road, the friendly stroll continues almost flat to Cane Creek Trail in 0.6 miles.  Campsite #2 is about 0.6 miles down Cane Creek Trail.


Cane Creek to Beard Cane/Hatcher Mountain

Copper Road #4The first 1/4 mile from Cane Creek is the first indication that Cooper Road Trail climbs at all, climbing nearly 200 ft, which is 800 ft. per mile but it quickly levels out for more of the very gentle climb this trail has enjoyed from the trailhead.  This 1.8 mile section was complete in 32 minutes which is a 3.3 mph pace… with a backpack.  A testament to how level the trail is in this section.  The section ends at the intersection with Hatcher Mountain Trail and Bread Cane Trail. From here it is 5.7 miles back up to Cades Cove.

HikerHead 2  Shalom.  Strider Out…


Abrams Falls Loop Hike

Date: 02.26.2016      

Miles:  12.7              Hiking Time: 4:26              Total Trip:  5:21

Route: Cooper Road Trail to Hatcher Mountain Trail to Abrams Falls Trail           

Abrams FallsBy now, I have documented a few hikes made up of sections of different trails, which presents a bit of a problem with keeping a detailed record of each trail.  A 900 miler accumulates a number of trail segments from different trails at any given time.  It’s pretty easy to keep up with on a spreadsheet.  With a blog though, it presents a dilemma of sorts.  Should you write up the hike with incomplete trail sections or wait until all sections are complete before documenting the hike.  With this post I will attempt a shift in strategy.  Whenever I hike hike a number of different segments, I will present the experience as the total hike and reserve specific details when each segment is completed.

And so this hike started out to be a loop around Abrams Falls.  The original path was to be Cooper Road to Hatcher Mountain to Hannah Mountain to Rabbit Creek and out.

IMG_2271At 10:39 on Friday, Feb. 26, I parked the 4Runner at the Cooper Road trailhead.  It was a brisk 39 degrees and overcast.  Traffic in Cades Cove was non-existent which made getting to the trailhead a pleasure.  The trail climbs gently for about 3 miles and crests as it heads down to Hatcher Mountain.  Toward the end of the section, there is significant blowdown activity with brushy new growth and small pine trees returning.  At about 5.3 miles, I came across a couple older 900 milers on their 3rd map.  We exchanged information about trail conditions and one mentioned this would probably be their last map.  I rebutted his statement saying that you always start the next map but they seemed to agree together that too many birthdays had passed and 3 would be plenty.  After 2 hours and 20 minutes I made it to the Hatcher Mountain Trail.


Hatcher Mountain breaks out with views across to Chilhowee Mountain and Look Rock.  The hike is steady and slightly downhill the whole way and very pleasant.  Once again, there are sections that suffered from significant wind damage with twisted blowdowns but the trail is clear and the openness makes way for some great views.  There was still snow on the peaks of the ridge.  At about 2 miles, you begin to hear Abrams Creek down in the gorge as it becomes visible through the open ridge.  The river music follows you all the way to the end of Hatcher Mountain Trail at the junction with Abrams Creek Trail.

Abrams Creek at Hannah Mountain Trail

Abrams Creek at Hannah Mountain Trail

The plan was to pick up Hannah Mountain Trail and continue on to Rabbit Creek Trail but upon arrival, you are met with an obstacle.  That being the fording of Abrams Creek.  Normally, the creek is no more than knee deep.  Conditions this day were as follows:  Temperature, low 40’s.  Water level: extremely high due to recent heavy rainfall.  Current VERY swift.  Total number in the group of hikers: one.  The thought of a waste deep ford through swift current induced me to reconsider my hiking plan.  To my great fortune, the Abrams Falls Trail also terminated at this Junction so discretion took the better part of valor and I headed back up toward Cades Cove on the Abrams Falls Trail.

For some time now, Abrams Creek accompanies you, providing a full choir of glorious river music all the way to the falls.  The trail gains about 600 feet over its 4 miles so the ascent is slight and gradual, making for a glorious walk all the way.  As the trail turns away from the creek and then returns back toward it, the magnificent sound seems change key like different movements of a symphony.  The rapids of Abrams Creek are always visible through the wintertime foliage.

IMG_2336At about 1.5 miles, through the trees, you finally see it.  The majestic Abrams Falls comes into view in all its glory and the reason for taking this unplanned route reveals itself in a wonderful surprise.  The flow of water over the falls is as full as I have ever seen it, spanning the full width of the falls without a single break in the swooping wall of water.  Excitement builds as you follow the sight for the next 300 yards.  Finally you come to the footbridge that leads you through a door  to the sacred place that is Abrams Falls.  As I entered the sanctuary, I was thrilled to see only a half dozen other pilgrims had made the trip.





IMG_2338  IMG_2362

IMG_2355Over the 45 minutes I spent at the falls, I was blessed with 20 minutes of solitude as the other visitors left for the trailhead.  The time was magic as all Creation performed its concert giving witness to the Creator in full glory.  When we are gifted with a glimpse of Heaven, we can only stay for a while before we must return to the domain of Man.  Such as it was with this visit and about 3:20 PM, I headed for the trailhead at Cades Cove.

The sun arrived during my moment in the sanctuary and it turned the day into perfection for the walk up.



Blessings tend to come when they are completely unexpected and today was exemplary of this fact.  Had I been able to stay with my original plan, I would have missed the falls in its full display of raw power and sound.  And yet, I would never have known.  This all makes one even the more thankful because the gift was precious and its giving was not anticipated.  This is the way of grace.

HikerHead 2  Be well.  Do good.  Strider out…

Indian Grave Gap Trail

Miles:  3.7 miles           Elevation Gain:   1125↑          Elev./Mi:   304          Grade:  6%          

Difficulty:  Class 3+     Hiking Time: 2:00       Pace:  1.85 mph        Avg. Temp.:   43.5         

This trail was part of a loop hike from Rich Mountain Loop Trail

+ All the climbing occurs in the first 2.3 miles which makes the climb gain 489 ft./mi. and is a 9% grade

The Trail

Indian Grave Gap Trailhead

Indian Grave Gap Trailhead

The trailhead is on Rich Mountain Road which is a one-way gravel road leading from Cades Cove.  It is inaccessible during the winter months.  Other access is from Rich Mountain Loop Trail, Rich Mountain Trail and Crooked Arm Ridge Trail.

Indian Grave Gap Trail climbs steadily from the trailhead for the first 2.3 miles averaging a little over 489 ft. per mile.  Once on the ridge, the trail is a descends ever so slightly and is a delightful walk along a ridge.  AT 1.1 mile, the trail intersects with Rich Mountain Loop Trail which leads 3.4 miles to Cades Cove.  At 1.4 miles there is a side trail leading 200 feet to an open nob where there remains a foundation for a fire tower.  At 1.9 miles, the trail intersects with Rich Mountain Trail that leads 2.3 miles down to Rich Mountain Road at the Park Boundary.  The trail ends at the intersection with Scott Mountain Trail and Crooked Arm Ridge Trail which leads 2.2 miles to Rich Mountain Loop Trail.

Fire tower site in Indian Grave Gap Trail

Fire tower site in Indian Grave Gap Trail

Indian Grave Gap Trail Junction

Indian Grave Gap Trail Junction

Rich Mountain Loop Trail

Miles:  3.4 miles           Elevation Gain:   1365↑          Elev./Mi:   401          Grade:  8%          

Difficulty:  Class 4+    Hiking Time: 2:10       Pace:  2.31 mph        Avg. Temp.:   72.2    

Hiking Time:   1:23     Avg. Pace:   2.5 mi./hr.   

Total Hike:  11.1 miles    Total Hike Time: 5:30        

Total 900 Miler Miles:   53.7   Total Miles Hiked:   65.5

+ I rated the trail Class 4+ because the rating system is a bit deceiving.  The difficulty rating considers the total mileage of the trail.  In this case, the trail is nearly level for the first mile and a half.  The actual climb is 1,365 feet over 2 miles and it’s a difficult 13% grade.

Rich Moutain LoopThis hike was part of a loop that included Indian Grave Gap and Corked Arm Ridge Trails with a short stretch on Scott Mountain.  The trailhead is easily accessible from the parking area at the head of the Cades Cove Loop.  The weatherman promised a “clear day” but these are the Smokies.  The temperature was low 40’s but it was very

cloudy and overcast at 8:53 am.  At times the fog was pretty thick.  Hiking in the fog gets you wet without the rain.  Overall, this is a very nice hike.  On a clear day, there are views of the Cove as Rich Mountain Loop Trail gains elevation.  There are two campsites on this loop and Crooked Arm Cascade is a nice feature.  There are several small stream crossings but all are dry crossings with a little rock hopping.

Foggy conditions on Rich Mtn. Loop

Foggy conditions on Rich Mtn. Loop

It was 10:16 when I got to Indian Grave Gap, covering the distance at 2.5 miles per hour.  I had a decision to make.  The trail goes west to its trailhead on Rich Mountain Rd.  Skipping it would create an orphan hike but since today was a fairly low mileage day, I decided to grab it.  I met a trio of ladies at the intersection and we exchanged greetings.  They were hiking a fairly aggressive loop out of Ace Gap and were going to road walk Rich Mountain Road.  I asked if they were 900 milers and they were somewhat undecided.  They moved down Indian Grave Gap ahead of me while I had a drink of water and a snack.

As I caught up with them, unfortunately, I gave them quite a start.  Normally I am pretty good about announcing my presence when I come up behind hikers but I thought in the case, since our introduction was barely 20 minutes in the past, they would be expecting me.



Fire tower site in Indian Grave Gap Trail

Fire tower site in Indian Grave Gap Trail

On the return, I met a man and his son.  The father mentioned he had just started his first 900 miler so I gave him a few hints about information.  The weather remained foggy and cool on the steady climb up Indian Grave Gap.  At about 1.8 miles, I passed a side trail with no sign.  It led about 100 yds. up to a nob where there had been a lookout tower at one time.  This would be a rather nice camping spot if not for the Park’s requirement to camp in established campsites.  Along the ridge there are spectacular views of Cades Cove…when you can see them.

At the Rich Mountain Trail, I decided skip past the 2.2 mile trail creating an orphan I will have to catch at a later time.  Continuing along, I came to the intersection with Scott Mountain Trail and Crooked Arm Ridge Trail.  It was lunch time and Campsite 6 was just a couple hundred yards down Scott Mountain so I decided to break for lunch there.  There was a sign from the Park Service on a tree at CS 6 stating that the Scott Mountain Trail was closed beyond all the way to School House Gap.


Campsite 12

Campsite 12

A cool foggy atmosphere has it’s own charm in a way.  CS 6 is a nice little campsite and the close mist, even though a bit melancholy, created a stillness for contemplation.  I took along my copy of John Muir – Spiritual Writings edited by Tim Flinders.  It’s a great little book that highlights Muir’s spiritual perspective, which is often overlooked by many of his biographers.  Flinders pulls together a lot of passages from Muir’s letters and journals that underscore the fact that he considered wilderness to be sacred and the place where God is most likely to interact with us.  Muir wrote of his time in Yosemite, “…I have spent every Sabbath for the last two months in the Spirit World.”  I barely got into the introduction where Flinders gives us a brief biography of Muir in a spiritual context before chills from the damp weather required me to warm up again.

Not like my taking the veil – no solemn abjuration of the world.  I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. – John Muir

Crooked Arm Ridge Trail was aptly named for its many switchbacks on a fairly short trail.  toward the end, I was treated with the Crooked Arm Cascade.  Then back to the Rich Mountain Loop Trail with a half mile hike back out to the trailhead.

The Trail

Meadow along Rich Mountain Loop Trail

Meadow along Rich Mountain Loop Trail

The trailhead leaves the Cades Cove Loop Road. near the main parking area at the gate.  For the first mile and a half, the trail is very level and skirts a couple of the meadows off the Cove.  At 1.4 miles, there is a pleasant surprise if you’re not expecting it.  The trail passes the John Oliver Cabin, which is one of the many features of Cades Cove.  Oliver was one of the first settlers of European descent in the Cove and the cabin is well preserved and maintained.  At that point, the trail turns right and begins to climb steadily.  All of the elevation gain (1,365) is over the next 2 miles or so making the climb a challenging 13% grade.  The trails ends at 3.4 miles at the intersection with Indian Grave Gap Trail.

John Oliver Place

John Oliver Place