Rich Mountain Loop
|Trail Features:||Views, Wildflowers, History|
|Trail Location:||Cades Cove|
|Roundtrip Length:||8.5 Miles|
|Total Elevation Gain:||1736 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||408 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||3691 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||11.97 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||35.60664|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-83.77821|
Directions to Trailhead:
From the Townsend "Y" intersection, drive west on Laurel Creek Road towards Cades Cove. To reach the Rich Mountain Loop trailhead you'll drive 7.7 miles to the parking lot located on the left just before reaching the one-way Cades Cove Loop Road. The trailhead for the Rich Mountain Loop is no more than 25 feet beyond the gate on the right side of the road.
Do you hate sitting in Cades Cove Loop Road traffic? If so, the Rich Mountain Loop just might be the perfect hike for enjoying the beauty of Cades Cove, without having to waste time sitting in gridlock. The Rich Mountain Loop is also easily accessible on Wednesday and Saturday mornings in the summer when the park closes the loop road for bicycles.
During the first leg of this hike you'll pass by one of the meadows that makes Cades Cove one of the most famous destinations in the National Park System. During late spring the meadow becomes covered in purple phacelia, among many other wildflowers.
At roughly one half-mile you'll enter the loop portion of the hike. For purposes of this description, we hiked the loop in a clockwise direction, so we'll turn left at this junction.
During the early portions of the hike we noticed mountain laurel sprinkled throughout the woods as they were just beginning to bloom. The din of cicadas could also be heard, as the first of the 17-year brood was beginning to emerge from the ground as adults (in 2008). We were also greeted by a turkey as it crossed over the path roughly 30 feet in front of us.
At just under 1.4 miles hikers will reach the John Oliver cabin. A veteran of the War of 1812, John Oliver, his wife Lucretia (or Luraney), and their young child arrived in Cades Cove in 1818, and were among the first white settlers to settle in the area. The cabin dates from the 1820s, and is one of the oldest structures in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If you're looking for an easy hike in the Cades Cove area, this would be a good place to turn around. However, if you're looking for the wildflowers that makes this trail famous, you'll have to continue on the loop. In fact, the Rich Mountain Loop might have the most diverse amount of wildflowers we've seen in the Smokies. We saw mountain laurel, flame azalea, purple phacelia, rattlesnake hawkweed, yellow ragwort, violets, butterfly weed and many other wildflowers we couldn't identify.
After passing the Oliver Cabin the trail begins a long steady climb towards the junction with Indian Grave Gap Trail, roughly 2 miles away. Right before reaching this junction you'll pass a small dirt clearing that looks like an old camp site. This spot will provide you with one of the best views of Cades Cove along the trail.
The Indian Grave Gap Trail junction arrives roughly 3.4 miles into your hike. To continue the loop hike, turn right onto Indian Grave Gap Trail. Although you'll continue to climb on this new trail, the terrain won't be as steep as the previous section.
At 4.2 miles hikers will reach the Rich Mountain Trail junction, which branches in from the left. Stay to the right here and continue on the Indian Grave Gap Trail.
Roughly one-third of a mile from the junction, begin to look for a faint, unmarked trail that branches off towards the left. This short, but steep path will take you to Cerulean Knob, the highest point on Rich Mountain. You won't have much of a view here, but you can check out the concrete remains of the old Rich Mountain Fire Tower.
Back on the main trail, as you proceed beyond this point, you'll begin to have some decent views of Townsend and Tuckaleechee Cove on your left (looking towards the north). You'll also notice that the trail has flattened out for a stretch, before it begins heading downhill in just another half-mile. From time to time you'll be able to sneak a few glimpses of Cades Cove on your right as well. As you might expect, the views of the Cove are much better in the winter when there aren't any leaves on the trees.
Roughly 5.9 miles from the trailhead you'll reach another trail junction where the Scott Mountain Trail branches off to your left, and the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail turns to the right. You'll want to turn right onto the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail at this junction to complete your loop hike. Less than a half-mile from this junction will be your last decent view into Cades Cove.
At just under 8 miles from the trailhead, Crooked Arm Falls will appear on your left. This small 25-foot falls is roughly 50 feet off the trail.
A short distance from the waterfall you'll return back to the Rich Mountain Loop Trail. Hikers should turn left here to return back to the parking lot.