Cades Cove, a popular picturesque valley near Townsend, Tennessee, provides a representative sample of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's natural and cultural history as well as its recreational opportunities. There are many things to see and do here, and approximately 2 million people who come to see and do them each year. Since it's 115 miles from Asheville, it's best to plan a trip if you are in the Smokies already. Cataloochee Valley is much closer to Asheville!
Cades Cove offers many different recreational opportunities. An eleven-mile, one-way loop road encircles the valley. It can be traveled by private vehicle, hay wagon, bicycle, or foot. A system of hiking and horseback trails offers a wide range of possibilities from a short nature walk to a multi-night trip. Visitors may camp in the developed campground or in designated backcountry sites.
The Cades Cove district of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is approximately 27 miles from Gatlinburg via Little River Road which begins at the Sugarlands Visitors' Center. The Cove offers limited services and no gasoline, so you should prepare before visiting. Allow plenty of time, since traffic can be heavy and slow.
A variety of guided programs are available in Cades Cove during the summer months, with some programs being offered ithrough October. Programs include slideshows in the campground amphitheater, hayrides around the loop road, walking tours around the Cable Mill area, and Junior Ranger activities near the campground.
One of the most popular ways to visit the Cove is by driving the 11-mile, one-way loop road. A driving tour booklet providing more information about the story of the Cove can be purchased at the start of the loop for a minimal fee. The road is generally open from sunrise to sunset. The opening is postponed until 10 AM on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from approximately May through September to allow walkers and bikers to travel the road without motorized traffic. The speed limit is 20 miles per hour. The one-lane road has parking lots and pull-offs which slower drivers are encouraged to use to allow other traffic to continue moving. Traffic can be heavy, particularly during the height of summer or during the height of autumn colors. Driving time may be as long as three hours during peak seasons. Two parallel, two-way, gravel roads cross through the cove: Sparks Lane on the eastern end of the Cove and Hyatt Lane towards the western end. In addition to the paved loop road, two, one-way gravel roads leave the Cove. Rich Mountain Road leads to Townsend, Tennessee and Parson's Branch Road empties onto 129 on the southwest end of the park.
Many visitors come to Cades Cove to view various wildlife, including deer and black bear. Please don't feed or get too close. View wildlife from a distance for the animals' safety and your own.
Visiting historic structures
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains over 70 historic buildings: many of them located in Cades Cove. These buildings are open for viewing and many for entering.
Picnicking can be enjoyed in the Cades Cove picnic area, complete with tables, grills, and restrooms or at other sites without picnic facilities. The picnic area is located near the beginning/end of the loop road. Some food and drinks are available at the nearby Cades Cove Campground Store. Stoves, grills, and other fires are prohibited outside of the picnic area and designated campsites.
From approximately May through September of each year, the loop road is closed to motorized traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 AM. Many bicyclists enjoy traveling the road during these hours. At other times, both motorized and non-motorized visitors share the road and must be aware of one another. The gravel roads of Sparks or Hyatt Lanes can be used to shorten the loop and to avoid the steepest hills. Drinking water and restrooms are found only at the beginning/ end of the loop and at the Cable Mill area, six miles into the loop. Bikes and helmets are available for rent through the Cades Cove Campground Store. Bicycles are not permitted on trails or off-road.
During the summer months, the loop road can be traveled by motorized haywagon from the Cades Cove Riding Stables. Rides are available throughout the day by reservation with a 15-person minimum.
Camping is permitted only in the developed campground or designated backcountry sites. Camping in bear country necessitates the proper storage of food, and leave no trace principles need to be followed to care for the park. All backcountry water should be treated before drinking. The frontcountry campground, located at an elevation of 1807', offers 159 sites, two of which are wheelchair accessible. Sites can accommodate trailers up to 35' or motorhomes up to 40'. There are no hook-ups. 13x13' tent pads can accommodate two tents and six people. Flush toilets and cold running water are available at comfort stations; however, there are no showers. Sites include picnic tables, lantern hangers, and fire rings.
A system of trails crisscrosses the Cove. Both horses and hikers share some trails while others are for hikers only. Hikes range from a short, easy nature trail to a multi-night trip. Bicycles are not allowed on the trails or off- road. Take a five-mile roundtrip hike to see Abram Falls.
Fishing is permitted year-round in the park, but a Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license is required. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is necessary. Licenses may be purchased in nearby towns. Park fishing regulations are available free of charge at any visitor center or ranger station. Brook trout possession is illegal.
TIPS FOR A BETTER VISIT
- Do not block the roadway. Use pullouts and established parking areas to view the scenery and let faster moving traffic pass. Avoid sudden stops. Be cautious and courteous.
- Do not feed or harass wildlife. If your presence causes wildlife to change its behavior in any way, you are too close.
- From early June to late August, the cove is crowded seven days a week. Weekends attract large numbers of visitors any time of year, but October is especially crowded. If you come in the fall, weekdays are best. Still, allow 2-4 hours to drive the loop.
- On Wednesdays and Saturdays, from early May to late September, the Loop Road is closed to motor vehicles until 10:00 a.m. for bicycle and pedestrian use.
- There are no gas stations or restaurants in Cades Cove. No food or drink is available on the Loop Road. A concession operated camp store with limited grocery and convenience items is located near the campground.
- Restrooms are located at the amphitheater near the campground, and half way around the loop road at the visitor center.
- The Cades Cove Campground Store offers seasonal limited grocery, deli, and souvenir services as well as bicycle and helmet rentals.
Visitors with their own horses may stay in the auto access Anthony Creek horse camp from late March through early November. This camp, with a capacity of 12 horses and people, requires reservations, which can be made through the national camping reservation number. The phone number is 1-800-365-2267. Some backcountry sites also accommodate horses.