It's difficult to say one destination is better than another in Great Smoky National Park, because all of the destinations in the Smokies are worth seeing. But Spence Field really is one of the coolest spots in the whole park. This roughly 200-acre grassy bald sits atop a 4,920 foot peak and offers stunning views of the surrounding area. The Appalachian Trail cuts through the field, but the route we're recommending is the Anthony Creek Trail.
What Makes It Great
This somewhat strenuous 10 mile out and back hike begins in the Cades Cove picnic area and takes you up roughly 3,000 feet to the grassy summit. About 3.5 miles in, Anthony Creek merges into the Bote Mountain Trail, which takes you the rest of the way. You'll have another mile and a half of climbing and then you'll reach your reward at Spence Field. Do not forget the camera, the views are worth remembering!
This trail has its perks for all seasons, but perhaps the very best time to go is during the summer when the rhododendron and mountain laurel are in bloom. This makes your hike not so much a "green tunnel" but a more explosive pink and white, flowery tunnel. It's really beautiful! At the top, you can use the nearby AT shelter to have a picnic, or you can simply lay out a blanket in the grassy meadow and soak up the sun while simultaneously watching the hundreds of chipmunks in the area scurry about in search of your food. Their bear friends are probably close by doing the same, so keep an eye out!
Who is Going to Love It
This hike is more strenuous than many others in the park, but if you are feeling up to it, or have never hiked in this area of the Smokies it is well worth it. Hikers will love the climb, and everyone will love the expansive views at the top. Backpackers looking for a longer hike can absolutely make a route that includes this bald, and can get permits to stay at the AT shelter as a first night's stop. No matter how you get to the top, stopping in the bald to enjoy lunch before hiking down is always enjoyable.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To find the parking area, head towards Cades Cove and turn into the Campground (follow the signs to the Picnic Area). The trailhead is at the far end of the picnic area.Anyone wishing to camp needs to get a backcountry permit at any ranger station/visitor center beforehand.