Cades Cove is one of the more heavily visited spots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The cove is an open, relatively flat valley in the middle of the very mountainous park. The dramatic change in terrain, from fields to mountains makes for some very pretty scenery. The Cades Cove fields also provide good wildlife viewing opportunities.
The 11 mile one-way Cades Cove driving loop is popular and gets crowded during the summer and most weekends year-round. Allow lots of time to drive the loop. Traffic moves very slowly. Don’t do the loop if you’re in a hurry. It takes a while to get there – about 10 miles from Townsend or 27 miles from Gatlinburg on winding mountain roads. So, once you’re there, take your time and enjoy it.
There are interesting buildings from early settlements all along the loop. Some you can see from the road, others take a short walk to get to. Before you start the loop, stop and pick up one of the loop guide maps. It will tell you what you’re seeing and where the side trails are.
The Cades Cove visitor center is located at about the halfway point along the loop. Its a good place to get out and stretch your legs. In addition to the visitor’s center, there’s a nice old water-powered grist mill here and some other old Appalachian buildings.
Note: The loop road is closed to everything except bicycle and foot traffic on Saturday and Wednesday mornings until 10:00am from early May until late September.
Bring food and drinks with you. Once you’re in the National Park, the only place to get anything to eat or drink is the Cades Cove Campground store (off to the left, before you enter the one-way loop).
Plan on stopping for a picnic. There are lots of little pull-off areas along the loop. It’s nice to get out of the loop traffic for a bit and enjoy the views. Bring a couple lawn chairs and a lunch and relax.
Come early if you want to see wildlife. You may see a few deer and other critters if you’re there in the middle of the day, but the best times to see lots of wildlife are early morning and at the end of the day, around dusk. The loop road is open from dawn to sunset.