John P. Cable Grist Mill, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

8 Reasons You Must Visit Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains

You can support this website, at no additional cost to you, by using our links to purchase; hotel stays, rental cars, travel products and more. Learn more.

With over 12.5 million visitors in 2019, 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 it’s unique setting, and so much to see and do, Cades Cove is a must visit for any trip to the Smokies.

Here’s 8 reasons to love Cades Cove.

View of Appalachians, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

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.

Easy To Spot Wildlife

Black bear lounging in tree, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

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 reside in the area, so you may get lucky. Especially if you go first thing in the morning, or for sunset.

Enjoy The Scenery Car Free

Senic Visita of Mountains, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

 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. 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.

In 2020, from 6/17 to 9/30, every Wednesday is vehicle-free.

Historical Homesteads Of Cades Cove

John Oliver Place, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

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.

Note: Most buildings were open to walk through during our August 2020 visit.

Historical Churches

Primitive Baptist Church, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains, TN
Inside Primitive Baptist Church, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

Three historical churches sit in the cove.  Though established in 1827, the oldest church standing today is from 1887, Primitive Baptist Church. Inside, the stunning simplicity of the wood paneling is beautiful.

1870's Water-Powered Grist Mill

John P Cable Grist Mill, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

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.

Stretch The Legs With A Hike In Cades Cove

Hiking Path through sunflowers, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

In addition to the short trails leading to 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.

Enjoy Lunch In A 5 Star Setting

Cades Cove picnic area, Great Smoky Mountains, TN

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 a lot of space between them. It’s a really clean area 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.

You can support this website, at no additional cost to you, by using our links to purchase; hotel stays, rental cars, travel products and more. Learn more.

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 a 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:

Planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains? Bookmark or pin this page to find us later.

Check out our other guides on the area:

Pinterest Image Cades Cove Must Visit
Travel Resources

We recommend and use these companies to arrange our travel plans; they make travel planning easy and affordable. If you have questions on our experiences, feel free to ask us!

Book Flights
We use Skyscanner to compare flights all over the world. Their “anywhere” feature shows the cheapest destinations from wherever you want to fly.

Book Accommodation has been our go to hotel booking site since 2007. They are easy to use, with a great selection of accommodation, and usually have the best deals.

Book Rental Cars make comparing offers across various companies easy. We find them the quickest and easiest way to identify the best deal, no matter the country.

Buy Travel Gear
Amazon consistently has the best range and availability of travel gear online.

If you found this post useful, share it. 

Thanks so much!

Your email address will not be published or used outside of this comment. You can also subscribe if you wish.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Become a Travel Expert!

Join the Expert Explorers community for exclusive access to travel resources, discounts, and special events.

Though we aim for accuracy, travel is an ever-changing world. Please check information with the facility you plan to visit. 

Scroll to Top