TO THE TRAILHEAD: To reach the trailhead, head out to the Cades Cove area of the Smokies and park in the picnic area. The trailhead is here. The area for vehicles is small, but you will not likely have a problem parking there unless it is a very busy day.
THE HIKE: If you have spent any time in the Smoky Mountains, you know that Cades Cove is the single busiest area in the national park. Popular hiking trails like Abrams Falls and landmarks such as John Oliver Cabin maintain crowds nearly year-round. There is no doubt that Cades Cove is one of the most beautiful parts of the park. But if you are like me, I hate crowds. And sometimes there are times that I just want to get on trail without the aspiration of going all the way to LeConte. This hike checks all of those boxes.The Crib Gap Trail is a simple trail that is more about being on the trail than arriving at a big destination. This hike is an easy 1.6 mile one-way hike (so double that if you are doing a round trip). I’ll talk more about that in a minute. To begin, you start on the Anthony Creek Trail, but after only .2 mile, you will take a left and leave everyone behind. So what is your destination? Nothing. Nothing? That’s right. It’s a hike about nothing. And before you say that it is a terrible idea, remember that Seinfeld was a show about nothing. That went pretty well I think. This trail is all about hiking for the sake of hiking. There are no big waterfalls, rushing creeks, mountain vistas, historic landmarks, or anything else. It is simply about getting on trail, taking in the mountains, and slowing down to enjoy it. The great thing about this trail is that it is easy to access from the road at the start and end points. Most trails like this are far more difficult to reach. You will be near the road for the duration of this hike, so you will likely hear traffic as you go, but I enjoy the experience nonetheless. A good pair of earbuds will filter out any other noise you might hear. Though it is unlikely that you will see other people, you may see a couple on horseback. This trail is used for hikers and horses. As always, just watch your step for what they leave behind.
As you hike at a leisurely pace, take in the forest and enjoy your feet on the earth. The one obstacle you might have is a short rock hop over water. That will conclude any excitement. You will know your hike is coming to an end when you reach the trail junction with Turkey Pen Ridge Trail. It is just a short walk down to the road from here. You terminate when you reach Laurel Creek Road, which is the main road leading into Cades Cove. You can easily turn around and go back for a total of 3.2 miles. However, with this road right on the way to your trail, hitching a ride back to your car is a breeze. I’m not necessarily advocating that you go that route, but I have done it several times without issue.
If you want a more challenging or longer experience, you can get it with this trail. Since Crib Gap Trail is technically a connector trail, you can take several different turns to turn this into a long there and back hike or make it a loop. Any of those options will add a minimum of six extra miles and much higher difficulty. But there are more than twenty options here with all of the trail junctions in this area, so check that out if that is something you are interested in doing.
Overall though, if you are looking for a hike to just relax, clear your head, and take in your surroundings, this is the one for you.