Beginning January 5th, 2020 and in effect until February 29, 2020, Laurel Creek Road in the Smokies is closed. Repair work is being done to Bote Mountain tunnel for the first time since being built in the 1940s. The road will remain closed to cars, pedestrians, and bicycle traffic. This road is the only access to Cades Cove – a popular motor nature loop with multiple hiking trails, historic sites, and campground. Since many tourists flock to Cades Cove on pretty weekends during the winter months, we have put together a list of alternative places you can visit when Cades Cove is closed.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center
The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located on the North Carolina side of the park, approximately 30 miles from Gatlinburg. Drive highway 441, also known as Newfound Gap Road, to visit this special place. While there aren’t as many buildings as the 11 mile drive at Cades Cove, the visitor center is a great place to visit when Cades Cove is closed. The main visitor center is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in January and February. The outdoor farm museum is open throughout the day. Park visitors can walk the grounds and see a beautiful collection of log structures, including a house, barn, smokehouse, apple house, corn cribs, and fencing work reminiscent of days gone by. Learn more about this great option to visit while Cades Cove is closed by visiting the National Park’s website.
This site is also one of the best in the park to spot a reintroduced species – the elk. While Cades Cove is known for wildlife viewing, Oconaluftee comes in a very close second. Not only can you spot elk here, but turkey, deer, and maybe even a black bear can be spotted dotting the fields.
While Mingus Mill doesn’t have staffed hours during the off season, it is still a great place to visit in the Smokies when Cades Cove is closed. Only 2 miles north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, this historic grist mill is a turbine powered mill that still grinds corn and oats. This historic structure is in great shape and consists of both the mill and the flume and dam system. It’s an easy walk from the parking area over to these structures.
Mingus Mill, originally built in 1886 by the Mingus Family, was built for a total cost of $600. Not only did the mill serve as a place to grind your corn, wheat, or oats, it also served as a community center of sorts. Saturday’s were busy days at the site, with families gathering to have the miller grind their crops for them and catch up with their neighbors from the community. Imagine a time gone by when you visit this beautifully restored historic site in the Smoky Mountains.
Luftee Baptist Church
Only a few miles up the road from Minus Mill and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, you’ll find the Luftee Baptist Church. Using the turnoff for the Smokemont Campground, you’ll find Luftee Baptist Church approximately 4 miles from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. This beautiful church is stunning on the hillside, painted a bright white, and is well-maintained by the National Park Service. The church was originally built in 1912, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The Luftee Baptist Church is a great place to visit when Cades Cove is closed.
Sugarland’s Visitor Center
Closer to Gatlinburg you’ll find Sugarlands Visitor Center. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in January and February, this visitor center boasts a great gift shop and a popular museum. See the natural history exhibits and watch a 20-minute film all about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you’re excited to get out and explore after that, there’s a great family friendly nature trail right behind the visitor center. Hop on the nature trail and follow it 0.7 miles out to Cataract Falls before returning to the parking lot. If you’re excited to see a historic building, taking the nature trail for a 1-mile loop out to the John Ownby cabin will definitely hit the spot. Find out more about this historic site to see when Cades Cove is closed by using the itinerary on the National Park’s website.
Elkmont Historic District
Many people remember several years ago a “hidden ghost town” was discovered right here in our park! Of course, Elkmont wasn’t considered a lost place to anyone who has ever visited! Access to this “hidden ghost town of the Smokies” is very easy. Approximately 5 miles from the Sugarland’s Visitor Center, guests can find signs to Elkmont. Drive back to the Jakes Creek and Little River Trailheads and you’ll find parking. Take a stroll through the once prestigious Daisy Chain neighborhood. While the buildings are currently off limits due to structural instability and renovations being done by the NPS, walking around the properties you’ll get a good look at these historic sites.
Looking to do a little bit of a longer hike? Follow the Jakes Creek Trail for approximately 0.75 miles out to the Avent Cabin. This well-preserved historic cabin is set off to the right side of the creek. You’ll find a cairn, or rock stack, marking the side trail down to the stream and a foot bridge. Cross this stream and head up the short hill to the site. This cabin was originally built in 1845, but sold to the Avent’s in 1918. Mayna Treanor Avent used this cabin as an art studio until 1940. Step inside and you can see why. The large window let in plenty of light! Use the Hiking in the Smoky’s website for full directions, a map, and an elevation profile.
The Walker Sister’s Cabin
The Walker Sister’s Cabin is the site closest to Cades Cove on our list. Access from Wears Valley, Townsend, or even Gatlinburg is still easy even during the months of January and February. One of our favorite secret spots in the Smokies, the Walker Sister’s Cabin is a great site to visit while Cades Cove is closed.
Take the Metcalf Bottoms Trail. This trail is located on Wear Cove Road, just over the wooden vehicle bridge from the picnic area. Follow the trail for approximately 1.5 miles to the old schoolhouse.
To reach the cabin from the Schoolhouse, take the Little Brier Gap Trail. This trail is an old road bed. It’s wide and well-worn, making a great walk for all the members of your family. Enjoy the sounds of the nearby streams as you hike. It is approximately 1.1 miles from the schoolhouse to the Walker Sister’s Cabin.
When you head back to the homesite, you’ll pass the springhouse and corn crib on your way. Feel free to explore the grounds of the old farm and imagine what it was like for these five sisters living in the cove.
Return back to your car the way you came.
After taking your walk, have a few snacks or a meal together at the first-come, first-serve picnic area if it’s a warm and sunny day. There are 122 picnic sites, each with tables and a charcoal grill. There is no fee to use the picnic area.
The Noah “Bud” Ogle Cabin
Just outside of downtown Gatlinburg is an incredible place to visit when Cades Cove is Closed. Taking the Historic Nature Road off stoplight #8 in Gatlinburg will bring you toward the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. While this loop is closed during the winter months, the Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin is still accessible by car and easy to reach on foot from the parking area.
This historic farmstead was built by the Ogle family in the late 19th century. This cabin, on closer inspection, is two cabins joined together by a single chimney in the middle. Located next to the cabin is a four-pen barn as well. Follow the self-guided nature trail behind the Noah “Bud” Ogle Cabin and visit the last working tub mill in the park. While these structures were once common place, there are now very few left in the region at all.
The Messer Barn and Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Cabin
In the Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park you’ll find one of the most popular family hikes in the park. Head back to the popular Porters Creek Trailhead. Park and begin your walk up the wide graveled road bed. Along the way, you’ll spot old farm sites, rock walls, and even a cemetery. The old road bed makes a circle in a grove of tall hemlock trees. Spot the sign at the back pointing you to the old barn and cabin.
Following the sign off to the right, you’ll only walk a few feet before the stunning cantilever barn comes in to view. Further past the barn, you’ll spot a small stream, spring house, and the cabin. When you arrive at the cabin, closer inspection will show you that this historic structure is actually two different cabins from a time gone by, sandwiched together with a chimney in the middle. Imagine what life must have been like for the European settlers in this area living in only one half of this already small home!
Return back to your car the way you came, making for a 2.25-mile round trip.
If it’s a pretty and warm day, make sure you give yourself plenty of time, as this is a stunning wildflower hike!
The Tyson McCarter Barn
While this site can be tricky to find, the quick walk will take you to a stunning barn, smokehouse, and corn crib. To find the Tyson McCarter Barn, you’ll drive outside of Gatlinburg for approximately 13 miles on highway 321. When you pass Arrow Creek Campground on your left, begin to slow down and look for the pulloff to this site on your right. The unassuming pulloff is a gravel hill blocked by an orange and white park service gate. Be courteous to park staff and other visitors by not blocking this gate. There is parking for approximately 3 cars without blocking the gate.
To visit the site, simply walk around the gate and up the gravel road. Walking along the old road, off to your left you’ll be able to spot rock walls, chimneys, and even old buckets and barrels in the woods along the way. At approximately half a mile, you’ll come to a sign pointing to your left and leading you to the Old Settler’s Trail. Instead, head off to the right and you’ll have the barn visible. Take in the stunning wood shingled roof and marvel at the unique design of this historic site. Just beyond the barn, the old homesite of the no longer standing McCarter home comes into view. The springhouse has been rebuilt here as well.
On your way back to the cars, it is worth the detour to head over to the Old Settler’s Trail. From here, you’ll be able to see the longest and tallest rock wall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Book an Off Season Trip
Even though Cades Cove is closed until February 29th, 2020, there’s still plenty to see and do in our area! Unlike the past, many area businesses are still open during the off season. With Winterfest running until February 17th, you’ll witness millions of glittering lights and still feel plenty of cheer during the cool winter months. American Patriot Getaways even offers plenty of specials to book a stay during this time of year. Take advantage of fewer crowds and lower prices and book that cabin in Gatlinburg with a hot tub for two, or bring the whole family and book an incredible property with a theater room for those long winter nights.