Blount County High Point Trip Report

Thunderhead (5,527 ft)

Date: April 12-13, 2003
Author: Ron Tagliapietra

I repeated this one for Drew Fields and so that we could detour to Blockhouse Mtn (an Eastern Highest 100 peak).

The shortest route to Thunderhead is to hike the Anthony Creek Trail for 3.5 miles until it ends after a gain of 1750 feet, turn right and hike the Bote Mountain Trail until it ends after 1.7 miles and gains another 1200 feet, and finally turn left and hike about 1.3 miles on the Appalachian Trail gaining 700 feet. The benchmark is in the middle of the trail, and the cohp is to the right at the rock cairn. Stand on the cairn for a fair view. Along the AT, you will pass the first false summit at 0.2 mile, the Jenkins Ridge Trail at 0.3 mile, the second false summit at 0.4 mile (which involves a 100 foot gain on the return), a beautiful view from Rocky Top (the third false summit ) at 0.8 mile, and the fourth and final false summit at 1.0 mile. The first two false summits are much lower, but Rocky Top and the fourth false summit are very close to Thunderhead in height so be sure to find the benchmark if it is foggy. In nice weather, you have a great 360 degree view from Rocky Top. You can see at least Thunderhead, Mt. Le Conte, Clingmans Dome, Blockhouse Mountain, Fontana Lake, Shuckstack (with the fire tower in the GSMNP), and Cades Cove (where you parked). Plan to eat lunch on Rocky Top.

There are two back-country camping options. The Anthony Creek Campsite (back-country camp #9) is right on your route at mile 2.8. Another option is the Spence Field Shelter which is 0.2 mile west (right) on the AT, and is therefore close to but not on your route. Both these campsites require reservations (even if you call on the day of your trip like we did). Either of these options will add 0.4 mile each way but no extra gain, because you must park at the ranger station (at the car campground) just before the entrance to the Cades Cove loop road and walk back down the road into the day use area.

If you have two cars, you can reduce your gain by hiking from Clingmans Dome to Thunderhead on the AT and to the second car by reversing the above route. It is 16 miles from the Clingmans Dome parking area to Thunderhead by this route, but it will reduce the gain to about 2000 feet. You can save 1500+ feet of gain, but only by hiking an additional 10 miles. You will have more shelters to choose from as camping options: Double Spring Gap Shelter (mile 3.1), Silers Bald Shelter (mile 5.3), and Derrick Knob Shelter (mile 10.2). All shelters require advance reservations.

To add Blockhouse Mtn (5,470 feet) to either hike, turn south onto the Jenkins Ridge Trail. Hike 2.8 miles to Haw Gap (the first gap) with a gain of 360 feet. Then hike about 0.3 mile to the summit cairn, gaining 510 foot at a bearing of 60 degrees. This bushwhack is not too bad, but is through woods with occasional briers (waist to chest height). There is a larger brier patch at the top, which you can see at least see through. In April we could see Clingmans Dome to the east, but I am sure it would not be visible when the trees have leaves. You will gain another 450 feet on the way back to the AT after the major creek crossing (rock hopped in April).

Our group of four hikers camped at Anthony Creek Campground (after hiking to Abrams Falls from Cades Cove). The next morning we climbed Blockhouse Mountain, then Thunderhead, and then returned to the car. The campground was low enough that there was no snow, but along the Bote Mountain Trail were patches of snow. Snow thinly blanketed the mountains along the Appalachian Trail, but the trail was usually free of it.

Trip statistics -

Round trip: 13 miles with over 3650 feet gain.
Round trip with campsite at Anthony Creek: 13.8 miles with over 3650 feet gain.
Round trip plus Blockhouse Mountain and no camp: 19.2 miles with over 4970 feet gain.

One way hike: 22.5 miles with over 2000 feet gain.
One way hike with shelter or camp: 22.9 miles with over 2000 feet gain.
One way plus Blockhouse Mountain. and no camp: 28.7 miles with over 3320 feet gain.