Rocky Top Trail

HARD 63 reviews

Rocky Top Trail is a 11.6 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Townsend, Tennessee that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Horses are also able to use this trail.

11.6 miles
4022 feet
Out & Back



horseback riding

nature trips

trail running




wild flowers



no dogs

Historic trail leads to Spence Field and 360 degree views 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 Mtn Trail. This trail has been used since the early 1830s and was developed as a road during the 1850s by Cherokee labor. 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. But today you will continue on the Bote Mtn Trail. At 4.7 mi you intersect with the Appalachian Trail turn left and look rising above you is Rocky Top. Take a break and stroll around Spence Field for some nice views as well. It is not as hard of a hike from here as it looks. 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, Mt LeConte and Cades Cove. Return via same route.

6 days 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.

1 month 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.

2 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.

3 months ago

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

3 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.

4 months ago

8 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.

8 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!

8 months ago

The views at the end of the trail are mesmerizing.

9 months ago

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.

10 months ago

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.

11 months ago

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!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

This is a Brutal hike but has spectacular views. It is extremely strenuous. It's 7 miles each way with an elevation gain of 3500'. For most of the trail you climb 100' per .1 mile, about a 10% incline. Overall you climb 4000' It is a horse trail, so it's very muddy / horse crap. Start at Cade's coves picnic area, go towards the back and look for Anthony Creek Trail. Follow to Bote Mountain trail, about 3.5 miles. You arrive at Spence Field to the left, gorgeous views. Continue past Spence Field for 1.2 miles to Rocky Top. You can see Rocky Top from Spence Field, it's the bare mountain spot on the 2nd ridge. I found the climb to rocky top to pretty tough. I was exhausted after reaching Spence Field & I still had to go the additional 1.2 to Rocky Top. It was a great hike with unbelievable views but extremely tough. Be prepared. It took us about 4 hours to climb it & 2.5 to decent. 9 hours total. We ran out of water so we hiked to the shelter on Spence Field area and refilled our water supply.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

5 stars for the view which as others have said is one of the best in the GSMNP, I've seen a lot of views in the smokies but I can't think of another that will give you a 360 degree view like at Rocky Top. The view is awesome with Cade's Cove to the right and Fontana lake to the left. To the East and behind you will be mountains and Thunderhead. The Thunderhead summit is another .3 miles and adds another view but no where near what can be seen at Rocky Top.
The trail is pretty tough with a lot of elevation climbs, plan on using most of your day for the trip. I started too late in the day and hiked the last 3 miles back down by headlamp. The picnic/ trailhead area gates close at dark but in my case where not locked when I got back. i was able to open the gates to leave.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

We started this hike via Lead Cove Trail. It was mostly up hill all the way to Spence field. We kept thinking we were nearing the top only to find more uphill awaiting us. We took a break at Spence Field and enjoyed the view of Fontana Lake. Then we headed off to Rocky Top. Once we arrived there we enjoyed a spectacular view. I then dropped to one knee and proposed to my girlfriend who is now my wife.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This trail is absolutely fantastic. Not too many crowds, great condition (although you'll want to watch your step as horses share the trail part of the way)... and the view at the top of the mountain was worth every minute. Be prepared for a strenuous climb--coming back down was a breeze!

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