With over 12.5 million annual visitors, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the US. Over 2 million of those visitors make their way to the historical and stunning Cades Cove.
Located deep in the Smoky Mountains, Cades Cove’s 11-mile loop road can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to visit. With its unique setting, and so much to see and do, Cades Cove is a must visit for any trip to the Smokies.
Here are 8 reasons to love Cades Cove.
1 - Scenic Vistas of Cades Cove
Surround by mountains on all sides, the long flat valley of Cades Cove is unique for the Great Smoky Mountains. This unusual combination of thick forested mountains, grassy field lands, marshy wetlands, and mountain streams bring an abundance of animal and plant life.
2 - Easy To Spot Wildlife
With a safari like feel, visitors creep along the loop road in their cars. Scanning the tree lines, they hope to catch a glimpse of the park’s famous black bears. We spotted this guy, lazily sleeping away his day in a large oak in the field just across from the Dan Lawson Place.
Other animals you’re likely to see are white-tailed deer and wild turkeys. Tons of other animals live in the area, so you may get lucky. Especially if you go first thing in the morning or for sunset.
3 - Enjoy the Scenery Car Free
As so many visitors come to Cades Cove for wildlife viewing, traffic can be horrible. The second anyone spots a lounging bear or a grazing deer they seem to forget how to pull over. In summer and fall this becomes a major issue.
So, the Smokies have come up with a solution. Vehicle-free hours in summer. Typically, they do this on Wednesdays from May to September.
Guests are invited to walk or bike the 11-mile route without the hassle of maneuvering through idling cars. Rental bikes are available at the Cades Cove Campground Store.
4 - Historical Homesteads of Cades Cove
Offering the widest variety of historical buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains, Cades Cove is a treasure trove of history. We found it fascinating to see the progression of the buildings, from log cabins made with no nails, to timber frame homes.
Grab a Cades Cove Tour book for $1 at any of the Smoky Mountain visitor centers, or at the Orientation Shelter at the start of the loop road. It’s full of history of the buildings and the pioneering families that built and lived in them.
5 - Historical Churches
Three historical churches sit in the cove. Though established in 1827, the oldest church standing today is from 1887. The stunning simplicity of the wood paneling inside the Primitive Baptist Church is beautiful.
6 - 1870's Water-Powered Grist Mill
One of the more popular attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains are the old mills. The John P. Cable Grist Mill is one of four in the Smokies, and the only one in Cades Cove. Built around 1870, the mill still runs for exhibit purposes.
7 - Stretch the Legs with a Hike in Cades Cove
In addition to the short trails leading to the historical buildings, like the Elijah Oliver Place, there are several longer hiking trails in the area.
Abrams Falls is by far the most popular and can get quite busy in summer. Listed as moderately difficult, it takes around 3-4 hours to hike this 5-mile round-trip path.
Other popular trails include the Rich Mountain Loop Trail, Anthony Creek Trail, Crib Gap Trail, and Gregory Ridge.
8 - Enjoy Lunch in a 5 Star Setting
Don’t waste your precious time leaving the park to eat. The picnic area at Cades Cove is one of the best we’ve found. It’s a huge area with lots of tables and it’s really clean with great facilities.
Best of all, it’s wonderfully shaded. If you’re lucky, grab a spot along one of the creeks that line the area. Few restaurants could offer a more beautiful setting.
Where To Stay for The Smoky Mountains?
Both Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC make great locations for visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All four of these hotels are in great locations, with clean comfortable rooms, and free onsite parking.
Gatlinburg Hotel Suggestions
Cherokee Hotel Suggestions
What Are the Best Books on The Smoky Mountains?
If you are spending a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains, or plan on doing a few return trips, it’s worth picking up a book on the area. Here are a few suggestions:
- Travel Guide: Moon Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Hike, Camp, Scenic Drives
- Hiking Trail Guide: Falcon Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- History of the park told through historical images: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Looking for more history on Cades Cove, check out the book Cades Cove, Images of America
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Also, check out our other guides on the area: