Cove Hardwoods Nature Loop, Chimney Tops Picnic Area Trailhead, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Cove Hardwoods Nature Loop - 0.7 miles

Chimney Tops Picnic Area Trailhead

Blooming laurel along the Cove Hardwoods Nature Loop

Blooming laurel along the Cove Hardwoods Nature Loop

Round-Trip Length: 0.7 miles
Start-End Elevation: 2,672' - 2,672' (2,907' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +235' net elevation gain (+259' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Cove Hardwoods Nature Loop - 0.7 Miles Round-Trip

Cove Hardwood Forests are considered the most diverse hardwood forest type in North America. Cove Hardwood Forests are typically located from 3,000' - 4,500' in heavily watered, west-facing valleys that carry debris down from higher slopes and deposit mineral rich nutrients in a fan delta.

Cove Hardwood Forests feature up to 30 canopy tree species and dozens of flowering shrubs and perennials. Primary constituents include silver bell, yellow poplar, basswood, sugar maple, buckeye, beech, and hemlock. Hickory, red maple, and various oak may also be found. Magnolia, dogwood, beech, holly, laurel, and rhododendron fill out the understory.

While many old growth forests have been felled by loggers, remote and largely inaccessible ones such as those found in the Greenbrier and Deep Creek areas of Great Smoky National Park have remained untouched.

The Cove Hardwoods Nature Trail tours a pristine swath of old growth hardwoods, and features a spring wildflower display considered tops in the Park. In April the forest floor comes alive with phacelia, trillium, bishops cap, spring beauty, toothwort, bleeding heart, and many more. Cove forests produce brilliant autumn colors in mid-late October.

Leaf Season
Leaves change color in the fall as chlorophyll, or green pigments, cease production and allow less dominate pigments a chance to be seen. Carotenoids produce orange and yellow colors, while reds and purples come from anthocyanins, a pigment formed when sugars in leaves break down in bright sunlight.

The autumn leaf season typically lasts several weeks, beginning at northern latitudes and higher elevations, and traveling south and down slope as the season progresses. Fall colors depend on so many variables that exact peak dates are difficult to predict.

Color change may begin as early as mid-September at the highest elevations with the turning of yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry.

Mid-Lower elevations, which arguably boast the Park's most colorful displays of sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and hickory, typically peak from mid-October to early November.

Facebook Comments

Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N35 38.193 W83 29.528 — 0.0 miles : Cove Hardwood Nature Loop Trailhead
  • N35 38.170 W83 29.633 — .1 mile : Begin Loop
  • N35 38.193 W83 29.528 — .7 miles : Complete loop

Worth Noting

  • A Cove is defined as a sheltered recess or valley on the side of a mountain.

  • Old-growth canopies can reach heights of 100' - 175' tall, led my maple and hemlock.

  • Pick up an interpretive brochure at the trailhead and travel counterclockwise to match corresponding points of interest.

Camping and Backpacking Information


Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park. Before planning your backcountry trip, please read through this important information about reservations and permits, regulations, bear safety, trail closures, and more.

Reserve your Backcountry or Thru Hike permits here:

Please direct questions concerning backpacking trip planning to the Backcountry Information Office at (865) 436-1297. Phone calls are the preferred method of contact. The information office is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). In addition to answering your backpacking questions, the experienced backpackers in the Backcountry Information Office can provide you with tips to make your trip safe and enjoyable.

Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

General Backcountry Regulations

1. Camping is permitted only at designated backcountry campsites and shelters.

2. You may not stay at any backcountry campsite for more than 3 consecutive nights. You may not stay consecutive nights at campsite 113 or at any shelter.

3. Maximum party size is 8. Two parties affiliated with the same group may not stay in the same campsite or at the same shelter on the same night(s). Special permits may be issued for a few sites that accommodate parties of up to 12.

4. Fires are only allowed at designated campsites and shelters and must be contained in a fire ring. Constructing new fire rings is prohibited. You may only burn wood that is dead and already on the ground. You may not cut any standing wood.

5. It is illegal to possess firewood originating from a location from which a federal or state firewood quarantine is in effect. Read information about this quarantine and the states affected.

6. Building a fire in the fireplace of any historic structure or removing any parts of a historic structure, including brick or rock, is illegal.

7. Backcountry permit holders may not use tents at shelters.

8. Hammocks may only be used within designated backcountry campsites. They may not be used inside shelters and may not be attached to shelters in any way.

9. All odorous items (e.g., food, trash, lip balm, toothpaste, stock feed, hay etc) must be hung on the bear cable system at each campsite or shelter.

10. Human waste must be disposed of at least 100 feet from any campsite, shelter, water source or trail and must be buried in a hole at least 6 inches deep.

11. All food, trash, clothing, equipment or personal items must be packed out.

12. Burning food, trash or anything other than dead wood is prohibited.

13. Carving into or defacing trees, signs, shelters or other backcountry features is illegal.

14. Soap, even biodegradable soap, may not be used in any water sources. Bathing and washing dishes should be done well away from water sources and campsites.

15. No dogs or other pets are allowed on any park trails except the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. No dogs or other pets may be carried into the backcountry.

16. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the backcountry.

17. No hunting is allowed anywhere in the park

18. Feeding, touching or teasing wildlife is prohibited. You may not willfully approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of elk or bears.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted year-round, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset.

  • The park allows fishing in all streams except Bear Creek at its junction with Forney Creek, and Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong.

  • A valid fishing license from Tennessee or North Carolina is required to fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns or online.

  • Daily Possession Limits: Five (5) brook, rainbow or brown trout, smallmouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish. Twenty (20) rock bass may be kept in addition to the above limit. A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.

  • Size Limits: Brook, rainbow, and brown trout: 7 inch minimum. Smallmouth bass: 7 inch minimum. Rockbass: no minimum. Trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.

  • Lures, Bait, and Equipment: Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used, with up to two flies on a leader.

Rules and Regulations

  • There is no entrance fee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

  • Pets, motorized vehicles, and bicycles are not permitted on backcountry trails in GSMNP.

  • Leashed pets are allowed in developed areas and along roads, but are not allowed on park trails.

Directions to Trailhead

The Chimney Tops Picnic Area Trailhead - Cove Hardwood Nature Loop is located 4.8 miles south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center off of Highway 441 in the Chimney Tops Picnic Area. The trailhead is located on the south (west) side of the road.

Contact Information

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Visitor Information - Recorded Message

Backcountry Office - Camping and Reservations
The Backcountry Reservation Office is open from 8 am - 6 pm daily (EST)

Backcountry Information Office - Trip Planning Questions
The information office is open daily 9 am - 12n (EST)

Oconaluftee Visitor Center (North Carolina side - south entrance)

Sugarlands Visitor Center (Tennessee side - north entrance)

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


No one has written any comments


Add Comment

Only used to identify you to ProTrails. Will not show on comments list.
Tell us when your experience with this trail happened.