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Cades Cove Nat Geo Map
Nat Geo Trails Illustrated Map for the Western Smokies. Includes Cades Cove and Elkmont areas.

Spence Field (via Lead Cove Trail)

Trail Features: Panoramic Views, Mountain Laurel Spence Field
Trail Location: Between Townsend and Cades Cove
Roundtrip Length: 9.4 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 3100 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 660 Feet
Highest Elevation: 4919 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 15.60 (strenuous)
Parking Lot Latitude 35.60673
Parking Lot Longitude -83.7449

Directions to Trailhead:

To reach Spence Field on this hike you'll begin from the Lead Cove Trailhead near Cades Cove. From the Townsend "Y" intersection, drive west for 5.6 miles on Laurel Creek Road towards Cades Cove. The parking lot for the Lead Cove Trail will be on your left. There are parking areas on both sides of the road here, but the Lead Cove Trail is on the left, and will head south from the road.

Trail Description:

The shortest hike to Spence Field is via the Lead Cove Trail. The trail name is supposedly derived from the lead ore that was extracted here in the 1800s.

Towards the beginning of this hike you'll pass an old homestead site on your left. The trail follows along the Sugar Cove Prong for roughly three-quarters of a mile before branching off and climbing steeply up to the Bote Mountain Trail. At 1.8 miles the trail dead-ends into the Bote Mountain Trail. At this point you will have already climbed nearly 1300 feet. To continue on towards Spence Field, hikers should turn right at this junction.

As you ascend the Bote Mountain Trail you'll be hiking through a fairly open pine-oak forest, with intermittent views of Defeat Ridge towards the left.

At roughly 3 miles the Anthony Creek Trail will branch off to the right. Continue by going straight here.

As you continue climbing the Bote Mountain Trail you'll begin walking through a long stretch of trail where the rhododendron forms a tunnel over the trail. You'll also notice that the trail has sunk a couple of feet below the ground on either side of the trail. My guess is that this is a result of a combination of erosion and the trampling of the sheep and cattle that were driven to and from Spence Field prior to the establishment of the national park.

At roughly 4.7 miles you'll reach the Appalachian Trail, and Spence Field. If you turn right at this junction you’ll pass through a series of small grassy meadows. These are pleasant meadows, but nothing compared to what you'll find on the other side of the junction.

Spence Field

If visibility is good you'll have outstanding views of the North Carolina side of the Smokies. And if you're there in June, you'll have one of the most spectacular displays of mountain laurel found just about anywhere. The hillsides and meadows are literally covered in the white and soft pink flowers from this member of the heath family.

You'll only need to walk 100 yards or so beyond the junction to find a great spot to enjoy a picnic lunch, or to just soak in the grand scenery.

Spence Field

Mountain Laurel on Spence Field

Spence Field is named after James Spence who built a cabin in this area in 1830. The History of the Grassy Balds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an online book on the Park website, states that neither Russell or Spence Field are natural grassy balds, but were actually cleared by settlers for the purposes of grazing sheep and cattle.

If you still have the energy at this point, you could continue walking eastward along the Appalachian Trail for another 1.2 miles to reach Rocky Top. You'll also have to climb another 550 feet, but the views from this vantage point just may be some of the best in the Park.