Springtime Landscape at Cades Cove by Nancy J Olds
By Nancy J. OldsOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

It’s no secret that Cades Cove is a favorite destination for many people visiting the Smokies.  In fact, if Cades Cove was its own National Park, it would be the third most visited national park in the country! With more than 11 million people coming through the Smokies each year, and nearly 4 million of them choose a trip to Cades Cove. Here are six reasons YOU should visit Cades Cove on your next Smoky Mountain vacation.

CADES COVE HIKING TRAILS

Cades Cove Nature Trail

The 11 mile, one-way road through Cades Cove makes a scenic drive through an amazing valley.  If you need to stretch your legs a bit more though, there’s no shortage of hiking trails! If you’re looking for something short and gentle for all ages in the family, check out the Cades Cove Nature Trail. This 0.8 mile walk is a loop hike gaining only 210’ in elevation.  Pass over creeks through the dense forest and get a new appreciation for the valley.

Trailhead at Abrams Falls
No machine-readable author provided. Blinutne assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Abrams Falls

If something a little longer is on your list, drive approximately 5 miles on the loop road to the Abrams Falls Trail.  Follow the brown sign pointing you to the right down the gravel road to park. This popular hike gets busy, so make sure to arrive early!  You’ll follow this wide, well-traveled trail out to a 20-foot high waterfall. The forest surrounding is mostly oaks and evergreens on the ridge and makes for a serene setting.

At approximately 2.6 miles, hikers will turn left to the footbridge and come out to a beach area where they can observe the falls. Make sure to stay close to the beach and avoid the falls if you are tempted to cool off in the water.  The unique geologic structure of this waterfall makes the pool incredibly dangerous for swimming. Splash close to the beach or head downstream to enjoy deeper pools. Abrams Falls is approximately 5.2 miles round trip, so give yourself at least 6 hours to enjoy the walk.

Rich Mountain Loop

If a more challenging hike is what you crave, the 8.5-mile Rich Mountain Loop is a great way to spend the day.  Many people choose to hike this loop clockwise. Park at the interpretive pavilion in the large lot on the left BEFORE driving into the loop.  You’ll see the trailhead to your right just before the loop begins. While at first you’ll be hiking at low elevations, the real climb begins just after the historic Oliver Cabin.  Climb for nearly three miles before you reach the junction to the old Rich Mountain fire tower. You will have gained nearly 1800 feet in elevation, or approximately 600 feet per mile, to get here.  

The trail opens up from footpath to wide wagon road before again winding it’s way down the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail. Beautiful views of Cades Cove will be your reward on the way down. Make sure to bring a map from the visitor’s center on this trip, where you’ll be combining a series of trails to create this loop hike.  This hike is 8.5 miles round trip, so be sure to give yourself 9 hours to enjoy the hike and take breaks throughout the day.

CADES COVE HORSEBACK RIDING

If you’re looking for a different way to experience nature in Cades Cove, you could give horseback riding a try!  Cades Cove Riding Stables is the only park-authorized stable for Cades Cove and is a great way to spend the morning or even an entire day!  Take a 1-hour ride in a small group any time of day. Your family (up to 6 people) can enjoy a private carriage tour together. Share the ride with a guide who will take you to historic sites and tell tales of times gone by.  If you’d like to see the loop without having to drive, take a hayride tour departing three times daily. The hayride guides will entertain you with stories of the settlers and teach you about the history of the farming community that once resided here. 

CADES COVE WILDLIFE

A young black bear standing and grasping a tree.

Cades Cove is known by many to be the best place in the Smokies to view wildlife.  The 11-mile loop road circumnavigates the large meadow giving your family incredible views of the creatures inhabiting the area.  With deer, fox, coyote, raccoons and more there’s never a shortage of critters to be seen.

Of course, the Smokies’ most famous animal is the black bear and everyone wants to see one!  Cades Cove is one of the best places to do just that! Make sure to arrive early on your trip, as black bears are corpuscular animals. This means bears are most active at dawn and and dusk.  Don’t just look at the meadows for wildlife – make sure you look up at the trees too! Black bears are natural born climbers and are even BORN in trees. They have to learn to climb trees before they ever walk on the ground!

If you do spot wildlife nearby it’s drive slowly and always make sure to pull out of the roadway as a courtesy to others if you are stopping to get a better look.  If you see wildlife close to your car, do not approach the animals. The National Park Service recommends a distance of AT LEAST 50 yards (half a football field, or 150 feet) to watch.  Remember – animals in Cades Cove are wild and not domesticated, which means they are unpredictable. Never feed or approach wildlife.

CADES COVE PICNIC AREA

If a day of hiking, driving, and horseback riding has you a bit hungry you can take advantage of the Cades Cove Picnic Area.  If you’re heading out of the loop, the picnic area is directly on your right side before heading back down Laurel Creek Road. This picnic area is first-come, first-serve basis with 81 individual sites, each with a picnic table and grill. There are also bathrooms with potable water.  If you’re here on a hot summer afternoon, make sure to cool off in one of the two mountain streams nearby. Some picnic sites are even adjacent to the water.

Didn’t pack a lunch or dinner? No problem! Cades Cove Trading Company is nestled between the picnic area and the campground. The deli offers made-to-order food, as well as grab-and-go options.  The camp store has chips, sodas, snacks, and even ice cream.

CADES COVE FULL MOON WALK

Full moon by Andrew Choy
By Andrew ChoyMoon, CC BY 2.0, Link

You’re in for a real treat if your family is visiting during a full moon.  Cades Cove is an incredible place to walk under the stars since the Loop Road is closed at night. Park at the interpretive pavilion and grab your flashlights. Bonus points to you if you have a headlamp with a red light, or red cellophane for your flashlight.  This will help you maintain your night vision. Walk out and back as far as your family desires, observing the stars and the moon without any light pollution.  Turn off your headlamp and be guided by the moonlight if you’re feeling brave! 

If your crew is feeling ambitious, you can walk down to Sparks Lane, approximately one mile from the parking lot.  Turn left onto the gravel road and follow it until you reach pavement again, approximately one mile. Walk back on the paved Loop Road and follow the signs to the parking area for an approximately 3.5 mile walk. No matter how far you walk, this is one vacation experience your family will always remember!

CADES COVE LOOP BIKING

We know now Cades Cove Loop is closed to traffic from dusk until dawn.  If you’d like to experience the loop road a little faster than your feet can carry you, bike the road!  Bikers are welcome any time of day on the 11-mile loop road.  However, you may be tempted to skip this experience when you see traffic on a summer afternoon!  Luckily, the Smokies makes a few concessions for bikers. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings from May until October, the loop road remains closed to traffic until 10 a.m.  This gives early risers plenty of time to get up, take a ride, and hop back in the car before many people even begin to drive the loop!  

Didn’t bring a bike? No problem! Cades Cove Trading Company offers bike rentals by the hour at a very affordable rate! They recommend you arrive early, as their inventory often sells out before 7:30 a.m. and cannot be reserved ahead of time.

If 11 miles sounds too far for your group, there are two turn off roads to create smaller loops (4 or 8 miles, respectively).  Experience the history and beauty of the Cades Cove and work up a sweat! Always make sure to follow the rules of the road and walk your bike down the two steeper hills where indicated. Always bring water, snacks, and a map on your ride. 

If you want to learn more about this amazing place, check out this video by the Great Smoky Mountains Association:

CABINS NEAR CADES COVE

If you’re sold on visiting Cades Cove for your next vacation, booking a cabin in Wears Valley makes perfect sense! Check out our great Wears Valley area cabins and find your perfect vacation destination!

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