Rocky Top from Lead Cove Trailhead

HARD 66 reviews

Rocky Top from Lead Cove Trailhead is a 10.5 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Townsend, Tennessee that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, trail running, birding, and horses and is best used from March until November. Horses are also able to use this trail.

10.5 miles
3,864 feet
Out & Back



horseback riding

trail running



wild flowers



no dogs

This route is a combination of Lead Cove Trail, Bote Mountain Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. This hike will begin on the Lead Cove Trail, which will follow the creek and then turns and follows the ridge. At 1.8 mi you will turn right on Bote Mountain Trail. This trail has been used since the early 1830s and was developed as a road during the 1850s. At 3.0 mi the trail intersects with the Anthony Creek Trail and you can see a huge open area, which until the late 1960s you could drive your car here and a short hike to Spence Field. You will continue on the Bote Mountain Trail. At 4.7 miles you intersect with the Appalachian Trail. Turn left and rising above you is Rocky Top. Over the next mile you will go up and down through some wooded area before you pop out in a rocky bare spot that will offer you 360-degree views. From one spot you can see Fontana Lake, Clingmans Dome, Mount LeConte and Cades Cove. Return via same route. The route to Rocky Top from Anthony Creek Trail is also on AllTrails - "Rocky Top via Anthony Creek Trail".

1 month ago

A challenging hike well worth the views from Rocky Top.

1 month ago

good lordy is this a thigh burner. first mile isnt bad but then its a constant incline. my camp site was over ran by bees so i just pushed to rocky top and thunder head. well worth the push. the blue haze and smokey clouds that roll in are worth an hour long site to embrace.

1 month ago

We took off via the Lead Cove trail head, and only ran into a few people before reaching the Bote Mountain split. It is a climb from start to finish. Spence Field is a great place to take a break before heading on up to Rocky Top, where the view is amazing. We spent more time up there than we meant to.

I knew what I was getting into with this hike, but it was still very challenging. Prepare for a long difficult trip if you aren't in excellent shape. My tracker also said that it was 12.8 instead of 11.6 round trip so keeping up with that threw me off a little bit.

2 months ago

ATTENTION: If you take the Lead Cove trail you will see bears guaranteed. They are harmless but on the way back down I walked within 5 feet of one in a laurel thicket before we noticed each other. Be aware of your surroundings

This is a great hike for multiple reasons. Before I explain why it’s important to know there are multiple ways to eventually reach Rocky Top. The description on here will take up the Lead Cove trail which is the route I took. The other way which people have reviewed on here is to start on the Anthony Creek trail near Cades Cove. Both are lightly traveled compared to most trails in the Smokies, but Lead Cove trail is less traveled.

The first time I tried to complete this trail was a late evening hike in which I walked up on a momma bear and cub. They were no threat, but they would only walk away not run... and stayed on the trail. They slowed me down so much that I had to hike back down as I was not going to make it to the summit before dark.

I completed it finally this week. I saw 0 people the first 3 miles up lead cove to Bote Mountain trail. I met one person at the Anthony Creek trail intersection. The hike has a gradual elevation gain all the way from the Trailhead to the AT. This portion is not difficult at all if you do any hiking at all. Once on the AT the climb to Rocky Top is constantly steep and moderately strenuous. There are 360 views at the top which includes views of Fontana Lake and Dam.

This hike is great for avid hikers who actually enjoy hiking and not taking essentially a group walk through the woods with tons of people.

3 months ago

We did this trail from the Cades Cove Picnic Area to Anthony's Creek to Rote Mountain to the AT.

Rocky Top is amazing, Thunderhead is less so but still a beautiful view. This is a worthwhile, 14-mile hike. The mountain laurel and flame azaleas are starting to bloom. Raspberry bushes and blueberry bushes are common on the AT before Rocky Top.

4 months ago

Strenuous on a hot day. Not easy by any means. The trail is very rocky and there is no view until you get to the top. There was a massive amount of bugs at the top. There must be better hikes in the Smokies...this is the only one I have done.

4 months ago

The route is quite challenging, though there is never a part of it that is overwhelming or very steep. It just steadily climbs and climbs and climbs. It gains over 4000 ft, and that’s rare to find among trails. The view at the top is amazing, like something out of lord of the rings. When I hiked, the upper elevations were sans leaves, but wildflowers were coming through. The one thing I wish were featured was a greater variety of landscapes. Most of it was through similar looking forest until the Appalachian trail. I would do again for the challenge. Plan accordingly: I would allocate 6-7 hours if you want a nice break at the top.

5 months ago

Very hard if you are not in the best shape, but super worth it! It is so beautiful at the top.

6 months ago

Feels like Max Patch, except you must earn the views. Steady climb from start. Bote Mtn is the toughest stretch because of the rockiness (huh?). The final climb from Spence Field is a little steeper than the description led us to believe. But worth every bit of labor. Bottom to top in 3:15. 90 minute snooze and snack. Top to bottom in 2:30ish.

7 months ago

11 months ago

I was torn between a four and five. Starting at Cades Cove, just past the picnic area. Very easy to navigate. For the first two miles. Or so you have the creek beside you, which I always love. It's great going back down so you can play in it and fill your water bottles. As for the trail, it is a gradual ascent. The very last mile is grueling, but that's all in good fun. I've done a few hikes in the Smokys, and this one is missing one thing-a view along the way. Trees greatly block your view until you're at the very top. So if you're someone who needs a little view for motivation, you might be left unsure if you'll do it again, like me. The view from Rocky Top is inspiring, and you can see all the way to Knox county and a lake! Beautiful. On the way back down you might feel grumbly since the rocks are banging into your feet. Try and make use of that creek like I said! I did the hike with my three boys; one is 11, ones 7, and I packed the 15 month old. So, I'd say it's a family friendly hike. We camped at Cades Cove, and walked over to the trailhead, so I'd say it was a 13 mile hike in total for us. 7 hours exactly from campsite. That included lunch on the mountain and breaks.

11 months ago

This was such a beautiful and fun trail to hike. If you stay up at the top to watch the sunset it is gorgeous! Totally worth it!

11 months ago

The views at the end of the trail are mesmerizing.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

From Anthony Creek trail to Bote Mountain Trail up the AT to Rocky Top and back took about 6.5 hours including a half hour lunch break at the top. The last part is the steepest.

We lucked out and had a beautiful sunny day with clear skies and no humidity. Views are beautiful and terrain is varied throughout the hike which keeps the sections distinct.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Started this hike at the Cades Cove camping ground and I think took Anthony Creek Trail up to Bote Mountain Trail. One of the toughest day hikes in the Smokies but it easily has the best views of the park when you reach the AT. Also, this trail is unbelievably beautiful during late-June when the wildflowers begin to bloom at the higher elevations. If you are in the park during that time of the year and are willing to do a very strenuous day hike, this is a must do.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Be careful on this one. My phone died and all trails couldn't tell me if I was on track. There are quite a few forks in the trail and it is easy to make the wrong decision and get lost. Me and friend ended up getting lost 4 times and ended up in a campsite closed due to bear activity.
I have been on a ton of hikes in the smokies and this is by far the hardest one that I've done. You have to climb two mountain peaks that are the steepest I've climbed. On the way down we got lost again so having to hike back up was brutal. Ended up probably hiking around 15 miles. The vert gain on this hike is seriously no joke. Also, the trail on the way up all looks the same and there really isn't anywhere to stop. Straight up. Make note of certain parts of the trail that are unique so that you don't get lost like we did.
Worth the effort though!!!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Anthony Creek Trail to Bote Mountain to the AT. It's around 16miles with over 3700k in elevation change both ways. Most stunning views I've seen yet in the Smokies from both Spence Field and Rocky Top well worth the effort in and out. Late spring/early summer the rhododendron are in bloom making it even more unreal!

That said this was hands down the most intense hike I've done in the Smokies. My knees and hips took an absolute beating today coming out, even with trekking poles. Take plenty of water. Once you're off Anthony creek trail there is no water source until Spence Field shelter (which is the opposite direction of Rock Top) and remember to always filter back country water.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Great views but tough trail.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The views are spectacular!!! this is my new favorite Smokey Mountain hike. Horses are also allowed here and I ran into some trail riders on my hike. Also, you'll probably run into some AT hikers, since part of the way up runs along the AT. On the way back down, I saw a baby bear! There wasn't a mother around which slightly terrified me, but I kept my distance and it was alright.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Awesome view of the Smoky Mountains. My son had a blast playing the UT band rendition of "Rocky Top" while standing on the summit.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

This trail is hard more because of the rocks than the elevation gain/loss. I'd definitely recommend trekking poles! The views from Spence Field are amazing and wonderful! You could stay up there all day!

Monday, January 04, 2016

When you begin the final ascent up the Bote Mountain Trail, you'll notice how deeply the path cuts into the earth - This is a very ancient, ancient trail.

I'm not sure whether the song was named after the place, or if the place was named after the song......but I am sure of one thing: people (with or without fur) have been coming to this place for a very long time.

There's something very Holy up there.....

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tough climb. Up in 3 down in 2. Appalachian is the best part. No crowds, a big plus for the smokies.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The beginning of this trail is a very, very gradual incline until you reach the Bote Mountain trail. The forest itself is very lovely! Wide, clear paths. However, rocks! Rocks everywhere! Beware that you will have incredibly sore feet by the end of this hike. I know some people like to snuff off trekking poles, but I found them to be very beneficial if you have poor/achy knees like I do. The last mile is the most strenuous.. but not too bad. I've done steeper at longer distances. The view at the summit of Rocky Top is extravagantly beautiful! Very rewarding after the long trek. Also just thought I would note, I walked up behind a fairly large black bear strolling down the trail about 2 miles from the summit. He halted in his tracks and turned to look at me for a few long seconds, then continued to walk casually down the trail for another 30 feet before he darted off in the trees. Seemed generally unamused/unbothered but just a heads up!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

This was the first time I've ever done such a hike (this long, this high, this hard). It was beyond worth it.

The first mile is deceptively flat, and it's only a slight incline until you get to Bote trail, when you really start to go up.

The leaves were just starting to change so we had interesting views even deep inside the forest.

The view from the Spence Field was beautiful, but Rocky Top was worth every sight. We saw maybe 8 people + a massive group of college kids while we were up there, and had fifteen blissful minutes at the top by ourselves.

I would do this hike again and again

The longest hike I've ever done before this was about 8 miles, with only a 600-ft incline (to about 1500 feet). I had to take a few short breaks on the way up (less than 5 minutes each time), and we still did the hike in 6 hours 15 minutes, a flat 8 hours with our stops.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

This was the handle of a large reverse lollipop I did. It is a tough hike getting there but the views are definitely worth it. I was there yesterday and expected a lot of colors, but maybe the weather messed that up. Even without a lot of color, the views are incredible. 360 degrees. You can see Fontana Lake to the south, into North Carolina as far as you can see to the Southeast and as far as you want back to the West and North. I will do this hike every time some one asks me.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I loved it for the most part. I definitely would do this hike all over again but only in the fall or early spring. The problem with hiking it in the summer/late spring is all the constant storms and ridiculous humidity. It made it too hard to see anything at the peak because of the thick clouds from all the rain fall that day. This hike is also very mentally challenging after a certain point, it feels as if it's a never ending mountain!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Did this on 5/3/15 for the first time ever via Anthony Creek and Bote Mountain to the AT. Absolutely stunning views!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Unfortunately there was fog once we arrived at the top. We will have to come back and do again. The ascent to Rocky Top after reaching the App Trail was extremely challenging. It took us about 7 hours round trip.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Very strenuous hike with lots of ascension. Definitely worth the brutal climb for the summit views!

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