FEATURES: Spence Field, Water Footbridges, Appalachian Trail, Historic Rocky Top
THE HIKE: This 13.8 mile round trip hike is strenuous. It is definitely a tough one. Like so many hikes in the Smokies, there are multiple ways to get there, but for this hike we will focus on the most popular and direct route, via Anthony Creek Trail.
As you begin your hike on the Anthony Creek Trail you will find that water is abundant at the beginning and you will cross over several footbridges in the early going over the water. The calm serenity of the beginning of the hike might fool you into thinking it is easy. Think again. This hike will climb over 3,500 feet before you are done. Each time you pass a trail intersection, it gets a little tougher.
At the 1.6 mile mark, you will come to your first trail intersection. The Russell Field trail will be on your right. You will want to stay straight on the Anthony Creek Trail. You will continue to follow this for the next 1.9 miles until the trail dead ends into the Bote Mountain Trail. Take a right here. You will begin to notice changing vegetation as you climb and views will begin to open up. They will only get better. 1.7 miles later, you will dead end again with the historic Appalachian Trail. At this point, take a left to join this historic footpath.
Once you are on the AT, you will come almost immediately to Spence Field. The open area has views that are spectacular and make a great place to stop, have some water, and snap some pictures. From here, you can begin to see the rocky face of good, ole, Rocky Top only 1.2 miles away.
Rocky Top is actually part of a larger mountain called Thunderhead. Thunderhead has three peaks that gain in elevation with each one you reach. Rocky top will be your first and offers some of the very best views in the entire national park. Once you have snapped enough photos, the next peak, dubbed Rocky Top II, is only .3 mile away and has many of the same rocky features as the first Rocky Top. Again, the views are amazing. The terrain here is very steep, but you will be glad that you are almost at the end. Again, .3 mile from Rocky Top II is the summit of Thunderhead at 5,527 feet. Sadly, heavy foliage at the top really prevents much of a view here, but you will feel good when you reach the sign telling you that you have made it!
No doubt that you will be exhausted at this point, but you are only halfway. Retrace your steps for a grand total of 13.8 miles and collapse exhausted back into your car. This is a must do hike for any serious hiker, and with the difficulty, the crowds are never bad even though it is located in the busiest section of the Smokies.