Cove Mountain Fire Tower Day Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Cove Mountain Fire Tower Day Hike - Smoky Mountain Hiking

Length: 8.0 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Medium to Strenuous
Highlights: Laurel Falls and the Air Quality Monitoring Station
Caution: Slick rocks occur around Laurel Falls
Note: Best hiked early in the day or off-season to avoid crowds

Hike to Cove Mountain Fire Tower

The quickest route to the Cove Mountain fire tower is to begin on the Laurel Falls Trail. The Laurel Falls trailhead is located in Fighting Creek Gap, between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont Campground on Little River Road. A painted pedestrian crosswalk traverses the road at this location, making it easier to spot the parking area.

In order to get the best parking space and have the most solitude, arrive at the trailhead very early in the morning. The Laurel Falls Trail is perhaps the most heavily used trail in the park. While I’m still doing some research, I believe the name Fighting Creek Gap might have been coined after someone saw two cars battle for a parking space on a summer afternoon.

The Laurel Falls Trail begins as an easy climb on a paved trail. Pavement is necessary to prevent erosion from the heavy amount of foot traffic the trail receives. You’ll soon see why this is such a popular route for day hikers. At just over one and a quarter miles, you’ll see Laurel Falls, a beautiful seventy-five foot waterfall. Cross the footbridge over the clear, cool mountain pool and continue up the trail. You’ll leave the pavement, as well as most of the hikers, behind you at the falls.

The trail becomes a bit steeper as you move through a variety of virgin timber. You’ll pass a junction with the Little Greenbrier Trail at about three miles. Continue on the Laurel Falls Trail. Within a mile, you will join with the Cove Mountain Trail. Take a left and you’ll soon encounter a grassy clearing and the Cove Mountain fire tower.

Unlike the other three fire towers in the park, the Cove Mountain fire tower doesn’t afford much of a view. The third tier of the tower has been transformed into an air quality monitoring station, part of a joint venture between the National Park Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Unfortunately, ground-level ozone is contributing to unhealthy air and decreased visibility in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding area. By monitoring the amount of ground-level ozone present in the air, park officials can better inform the park’s employees and visitors, especially those individuals who are run an increased risk of suffering the effects of ground-level ozone. Children and asthmatics are the first to feel the effects of such pollution, though healthy adults may experience a fifteen to twenty percent reduction in lung function from exposure to low levels of ozone over several hours. Ground-level ozone takes a toll on the environment as well, interfering with the health of plants and wildlife.

After exploring the area, return to your car via the same route.

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Other Park Hikes

Abrams Falls Trail
Alum Cave Bluff Trail
The Boogerman Trail Loop
Ramsay Cascades Trail
Rainbow Falls Trail
Hike to Shuckstack Tower
Chimney Tops
Old Settlers Trail
Hike to LeConte Lodge
Day Hike to Mt. Cammerer Firetower
Cove Mountain Fire Tower Day Hike
Fern Branch Falls Dayhike
Mt. Sterling Fire Tower
Big Creek Trail

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