Rich Mountain Road is closed in the winter.
A backcountry permit is required to stay in campsites and shelters. Camping is restricted to established campsites or shelters throughout the park.
Campsites #4 and #7, shown on older maps, were closed by the park service in January 2009, so make plans to stay at Campsite #3 or #11 for the night if you are planning an overnight trip.
While the first part of the trail is a little rocky, the trail is a well packed and not heavily used. Even though its a narrow trail, you may find yourself alone on the trail.
To reach the trailhead, you can either take the Rich Mountain Road from Cades Cove to the park boundary at Rich Mountain Gap or access the area through Dry Valley.
There is a small parking lot at the trailhead that serves both the Ace Gap Trail and the Rich Mountain Trail
, which is on the opposite side of the road. As the trail departs the gap, a small side trail leads off to the left to Bull Cave. Bull Cave is very deep and requires a permit from the National Park Service to enter due to threat of White Nose Syndrome to the bats that live there. Legend has it that a bull fell into the cave during a cattle drive one summer, and thus the name Bull Cave. There is also a large sinkhole in the area, a reflection of the limestone underlying the area. As the main trail moves through the forest, its fairly flat making for a pleasant journey in the woods. Even though there arent sweeping views most of the year on this trail, in the fall, its a great place to get away from the crowds and view the fall colors. Winter offers better views, but they are obscured by trees.
At 2.3 miles, the trail approaches the park boundary and drops through Kelly Gap, where Campsite #4 existed. Campsite #4 and Campsite #7, which is further along the trail, were closed down by the park service several years ago and are not open for overnight camping. Private homes can be seen on the other side of the park boundary, examples of what the area would be like if it wasnt a national park. The trail climbs out of Kelly Gap and continues along the western boundary of the Smokies. Around mile 4.0, the trail begins to descend again until it reaches Ace Gap at mile 4.8. An old railroad bed used by the Little River Lumber Company when it logged the area, crosses here. The gap received its name from the card games that were played here by the lumbermen in their free time.
The trail climbs out of Ace Gap and continues for another .9 miles until it reaches the Beard Cane trailhead at the site of old Campsite #7. At this point, you can retrace your steps back to your car or continue on the Beard Cane Trail
to Campsite #3 or #11.
There are a number of side trails that lead out of the park and onto private property. Unless you have the owner's permission, you should remain on the main trail that runs inside the park. Unlike the rest of the park, there isnt a great deal of water sources on this trail, so make sure you have an adequate supply before your head out.
Pink lady slippers, which bloom in May, can be found in abundance between Kelly Gap and Ace Gap.