Trail Miles Completed: 5.7
Trail Miles Hiked: 9.5
22 April 2011
This loop has been on my list to do for quite a while, and today was "Spring Recess" (aka Good Friday) at school so I took the day to go hiking. Out of bed at 7, in the car a little after 8, and at the trailhead a little before 9.
I did the Finley Cane trail a few years ago with Jesse on another loop, but I needed to do the Bote Mtn trail (up to Anthony Creek tr) and Lead Cove trail to help finish off this section.
Finley Cane trail starts at Laurel Creek Road about 3/4 of the way from the Townsend Y to Cades Cove. This particular spot has the trailheads for Finley Cane, Lead Cove, Crib Gap and Turkeypen Ridge trails. Going up the Finley Cane and connecting to the Bote Mtn and Lead Cove trails makes for a good loop hike.
Finley Cane trail is a very nice easy 2.8 mile trail that winds up and down through beautiful Smokies forest. The total elevation gain is only 200 feet, and it's never steep. This time of year it's an amazing carpet of wildflowers. There are huge patches of dwarf crested iris, several different Trillium species, more Squawroot than I've ever seen anywhere in the park, and dozens of other spring wildflowers, not to mention the flowering dogwood, silverbells and magnolias.
It's also both a horse and hiking trail, and the trail was in pretty rough shape from the horses (not to mention the ever present piles of horse crap). But it's a really pretty trail with several small stream crossings.
About 2 miles in there's a wide spot in the trail where horse folks can tie up their horses and take a break, so I decided to as well.
The Finley Cane trail dead-ends into the Bote Mountain trail. Stepping onto the Bote Mtn trail the atmosphere immediately changes.
While Finley Cane wends its way through rich woodlands, the Bote Mtn trail is a dry ridge-side walk up along the eastern edge of Bote Mountain. The trail was originally a road used to reach Spence Field at the crest of the Smokies, presumably to graze cattle in the open meadows at the top of the ridge. The little brown book tells how the Cherokee workers who were helping to build the road chose this ridge rather than the one further east for the road, but since they couldn't say the letter V they "boted" for this ridge, hence its name. The alternative ridge became known as Defeat Ridge.
The section of Bote Mtn trail between Finley Cane and Anthony Creek trails is about 3.7 miles long but has 3 distinct sections. The first mile is unrelentingly uphill and it about kicked my butt. Luckily there were several great places to stop and look across the valley to Defeat Ridge so I had a good excuse to stop and rest.
The middle 1.5 miles is a nice ridge-top stroll with relatively little elevation change - just some meandering up and down. The final 1.2 miles (from the Lead Cove trail junction up to the Anthony Creek trail junction) goes back to tough uphill slogging (and presumably the final 1.7 miles of the trail up to the A.T. are also pretty steep). I enjoy seeing the different kinds of trails in the Smokies. Finley Cane is dark and damp and the soil is rich and loamy. Bote Mountain on the other hand is dry, rocky and sandy due to the underlying sandstone and the lack of appreciable accumulation of organic material.
The next waypoint on the trail is the junction with the Lead Cove trail which would be my path back down to my car after I went the 1.2 miles up to the Anthony Creek trail junction.
As I was approaching this intersection I was startled out of my reverie by a doe jumping across the trail not more than 5 feet in front of me - apparently I startled her as much as she startled me! She didn't go far though, so after I settled down to watch she tentatively came back up on to the trail and let me get her picture.
I stopped for a snack and a drink here before heading the last 1.2 miles UP to the Anthony Creek trail junction.
The wildflowers were very nice along this section of the trail too, with more big patches of dwarf crested iris and a variety of other spring ephemerals. I finally reached the Anthony Creek trail junction and stopped for lunch.
It was all downhill from here. I retraced my steps back down to the Lead Cove trail and turned down back toward Laurel Creek Road and my car. This trail is not long (~ 1.8 miles) but is steep (1200 foot elevation change) so I was happy to be going down instead of up. Lead Cove trail was also graced with beautiful wildflowers, small creek crossings and beautiful trees. More Trilliums, Violets, Dogwoods and Magnolias.
At one point the trail skirted a recent blowdown - the root ball of the tree was so big that when it went down it took a chunk of the trail with it.
About 1:30 I made it back to the trailhead and my car. I finished the 9.5 miles in about 4.5 hours which included LOTS of wildflower watching and photographing and snack breaks. All in all it was a fantastic day to be out in the park, and the wildflowers were amazing! I especially recommend the Finley Cane trail for wildflowers - it's got a lot of diversity and is an easy and pleasant trail.
I plan to go back to this area soon - I want to do the Anthony Creek - Russell Field - A.T. - Bote Mtn - Anthony Creek trails loop as an overnight backpacking trip. I love getting up high in the Smokies and spring is a great time to be out.
til next time, happy hiking!