For hikers looking for distance over elevation, the Laurel Creek Loop is a good choice. Conveniently located between the Townsend Wye and Cades Cove, it starts at the Schoolhouse Gap Trailhead, where parking is plentiful. You’ll follow along five different trails—Schoolhouse Gap, Turkeypen Ridge, Crib Gap, Finley Cane, and Bote Mountain—for a 10-mile loop through the forest and along the creek. It’s also easy to add mileage if you’re looking for an overnight trip, or it makes for a great trail run.
What Makes It Great
From the parking lot, follow the Schoolhouse Gap Trail for one mile to the Turkeypen Ridge Trail. Loop around to where Turkeypen intersects with Crib Gap, hang a left, cross Laurel Creek Road, and follow to the point where Crib Gap connects to Finley Cane. The elevation increases a bit here, but it’s manageable for even the most novice of hikers. From here, it’s about three more miles to Bote Mountain, which comes back over to Laurel Creek Road and the parking lot at Schoolhouse Gap. The loop is easy to follow, but take a map just in case.
The perk of connecting trails is that there are enough options for distance, elevation, and time to suit every hiker’s interests. One way to make the loop longer is by choosing the Lead Cove Trail instead of Finley Cane from Turkeypen Ridge. Conversely, it can be shorter by turning around where Schoolhouse Gap meets Turkeypen Ridge.
This route is a good choice for the summer because the canopy cover provides a good amount of shade, and keep an eye out for wildlife (like bears) in the warmer months, too. The loop is also in a convenient location—campers from Cades Cove, picnickers from the Townsend Wye, and those staying overnight in Townsend hotels can all access it easily.
If you are taking this hike after a rain, be prepared to get your feet wet!
Who is Going to Love It
Hikers who want a longer trail without steep climbs and descents will appreciate the mostly even loop. Elevation creeps a bit on the Finley Cane Trail, but just about anyone can manage it with a bit of effort.
Because there are so many trails in the area, it’s easy to adapt this hike for families, overnight backpackers, or day trippers.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Townsend, Tennessee, follow U.S. 321/Lamar Alexander Parkway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance. Take Townsend Entrance Road to the Townsend Wye and turn right on Laurel Creek Road. Parking is ample at the Schoolhouse Gap Trailhead, located approximately 3.6 miles ahead on the right.