Russell Field – 3.5 miles from Anthony Creek Trail to Appalachian Trail at Russell Field.
Highlights: Russell Field, big trees, and wildflowers.
Cautions: Muddy areas, stream crossings, and a strenuous hike.
Trailhead: Junction of Anthony Creek Trail, 1.6 miles above Cades Cove Picnic Area.
The Russell Field Trail begins at its junction with Anthony Creek Trail 1.6 miles from the Cades Cove Picnic Area. The trailhead is in a large stand of tall, stately tulip trees. They each measure 20-24 diameter.
The trail turns right here and follows along the left Prong of Anthony Creek. You will begin climbing moderately with a small jump over a spring branch after 100 yards. Another 100 yards will bring you to a second easy crossing of a spring branch. But at 0.25 mile, the trail’s character changes. You will have to rock hop a small branch of Anthony Creek and begin a steeper climb through a cool rhododendron and hemlock stand.
As you approach campsite #10 at 0.75 mile you will have to cross the left prong twice. The first crossing is along a footlog with handrail, but requires a bit of a rock hop to reach the log at high water.
After crossing, you will climb past a massive 46″ diameter hemlock on the left. Campsite #10 just ahead. The campsite is nicely placed between a small spring branch and the left prong. It is a small site.
For hikers pushing on the trail continues to climb but now the path becomes much more difficult. The combination of heavy horse use and rain can quickly turn the trail into a quagmire of mud. You will begin climbing a set of switchbacks, which will take you steeply to the top of Leadbetter Ridge.
The next mile is steep and difficult, plan on frequent stops to catch your breath and admire the surrounding forest. At an elevation of 3,700 feet you finally reach the ridgeline. The trail now levels out for about a half mile.
The more moderate climb of the ridgeline takes you through dry stands of oak and pine. Ultimately the trail will leave the moderate climb of Leadbetter Ridge and climb steeply to Russell Field. Along this half-mile climb, the quagmires return, making travel through rhododendrons real hard even on the path. In the winter and late fall you will get great views of Cades Cove and Maryville. At last you reach Russell Field.
Russell Field is part grassy bald and part forest. The trail does not end here. It pushes on for another 1.2 miles to the Russell Field Shelter and The Appalachian Trail. The AT can take you to the east to Spence Field or west toward Gregory’s Bald.