Hike: Russell Field – Spence Field Loop
Trails: Anthony Creek / Bote Mountain / Appalachian / Russell Field
Surface: Packed Dirt, Forest Trails with Rocks and Roots
Distance: 13.2 miles
Time: 7-8 hours
Foot Traffic: Crowded
Restrooms: Cades Cove Picnic Area
Highlights: Spence Field, Scenic Views, Cascades, Streams, Wildflowers, Fall Colors
Russell Field / Spence Field Loop Trailhead
Russell Field / Spence Field Loop begins on the Anthony Creek Trail located at the back side of the Cades Cove picnic area.
The large brown sign on Laurel Creek Road leads the way to the picnic area, however, you will not find the words “Picnic Area” on the sign. Look for the words “Riding Stables & Hayrides, Restrooms, Store, and Vending.”
Turn left here and you will immediately see another small brown sign with an arrow pointing left for the picnic area. Follow the road to the back of the picnic area where you will find the trailhead.
IMPORTANT: Arrive early for this hike. Not only does it take 7 hours or more to complete, but the picnic area fills up quickly, especially in the high season. You may need to park at the Cades Cove Information Kiosk and walk back to the picnic area if it is crowded.
Russell Field / Spence Field Loop Trail Description
Although “Loop” is part of the name, in reality, it is a lollipop trail. As you begin your hike on Anthony Creek Trail, expect to see many other hikers along this crowded trail. Even though it is rated “strenuous”, many hikers utilize it. The loop encompasses four trails.
After hiking 1.7 miles or so, you can elect to turn right onto Russell Field Trail to begin the loop section or continue straight on Anthony Creek Trail. If you go straight, the trail intersects with Bote Mountain Trail after another 1.8 miles. Turn right at this junction and continue until you reach the Appalachian Trail on the ridge. Turn right again and soon you will be at the Spence Field Shelter.
The Spence Field Shelter is a very popular backcountry campsite where you can meet other hikers, take a lunch break, and enjoy the scenery. There are plenty of places nearby to picnic.
Spence Field is a man-made bald created by James Spence in the early 1800’s. He and his wife used the area for grazing cattle. Gregory Bald (via Gregory Ridge Trail) is another nearby grazing area utilized by residents of Cades Cove in the hot summers.
After a nice rest, continue on the Appalachian Trail until you reach the junction of Russell Field Trail, about 3 miles. Turn right onto Russell Field Trail and the Russell Field Shelter is on your left. Begin your 3.5-mile descent to Anthony Creek Trail. Turn left at the junction for the final 1.7 miles back to the trailhead.
IMPORTANT: On 10 May 2016, a black bear attacked an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker near the Spence Field Shelter as he camped. He fought off the bear, but not without injuries. An air ambulance transported him to a nearby hospital for treatment. Doctors released him after treatment.
WBIR Story on Bear Attack:
RELATED: What to Do If You Encounter a Black Bear
Nearby Points of Interest
Campgrounds are just a around the corner from the picnic area and the trailhead. Of course, Cades Cove is a great place to tour via car, bike, or even walking. If you have never visited, you need to. Great history, wonderful historic buildings, and beautiful scenery.
Abrams Falls Trail inside Cades Cove is one of the most popular trails in the Smokies. Gregory Ridge Trail is another trail less traveled, but has great views of Cades Cove.