Rocky Top (Strenuous)
Nuts & Bolts: This is a strenuous hike of 12.5 miles and more than 3,600 feet in elevation gain. Start from the Anthony Creek trailhead in the Cades Cove Picnic area.
Trail Highlights: You'll huff and puff up the mountain for the first 5 miles of this hike, but all your hard work will pay off once you reach Spence Field. If visibility is good, the grassy meadows up here will afford you with outstanding views of the North Carolina side of the Smokies.
If you can arrange it, hike the trail in late spring when Spence Field showcases the most spectacular display of mountain laurel you'll see just about anywhere. The hillsides and meadows are literally covered in the white and soft pink flowers from this member of the heath family.
Spence Field is a destination in and of itself, but the views get even better if you continue along the Appalachian Trail for an additional 1.2 miles. After another stiff climb of 550 feet you'll finally reach Rocky Top, the first of three peaks on the summit of Thunderhead Mountain.
The panoramic views from here, in my opinion, are the best in the Park. From good ole Rocky Top you can see Fontana Lake, Cades Cove, Townsend, Maryville, and beyond.
Trivia Tidbit: Yes, this is the same Rocky Top that inspired Felice and Boudleaux Bryant to write the famous lyrics of the University of Tennessee fight song and one of the official songs for the state of Tennessee.
More: Get Fit With Hiking
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