Cades Cove#4 in Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Surrounded by mountains, Cades Cove is an isolated, fertile valley that was once home to many of the early Southern Appalachian settlers. You'll see 18th- and 19th-century cabins, three churches and a working grist mill, as well as other historic outbuildings. The 11-mile, one-way loop road circles the Cades Cove valley and is one of the best places in the park to view wildlife. Once a hunting ground for the Cherokee Indians, the area is now home to deer, black bears and wild turkeys. Several hiking trails, including one to Abrams Falls, begin here. Longer hikes, including Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top, also start here, but are better suited for experienced hikers.
Because the loop road is closed to motor traffic on Saturday and Wednesday mornings until 10 a.m. from early May until late September, it's a favorite among cyclists. If you don't have your own set of wheels, you can rent bikes at the Cades Cove Campground store (rentals for adults cost $7.50 per hour).
Visitors love the mix of scenery and history, although the heavy traffic in the summer season and on fall weekends make the drive a slow one. Past travelers said you should plan to spend several hours to fully explore the area. Families and couples enjoy early morning bike rides on the loop and many spotted bears along the way. Photographers, in particular, say this is worth the time if you're looking for great photos of the mountains. Other visitors recommended bringing food and water and warn that cell service is spotty at best.
Cades Cove is 27-mile drive west of Gatlinburg and the 11-mile, one-way loop is closed to automobile traffic on Saturdays and Wednesdays until 10 a.m., but is otherwise open from sunrise to sunset. There is a small camp store at the campground and the visitor center offers a variety of educational programs. Entrance to the park is free, although visitors may want to purchase the self-guided auto tour booklet (it costs $1) at the entrance.
More Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
#1 Roaring Fork Motor Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a nearly 6-mile-long, one-way loop road, offers spectacular mountain scenery and access to two of the region's most popular waterfalls: Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls. You can actually walk behind the 25-foot high falls at the Grotto via the Trillium Gap Trail. You'll also see historic log cabins and the remains of a mountain village, the Roaring Fork Cemetery and an array of wildlife from birds and deer to black bears.
Recent visitors who raved about the beautiful waterfalls and mountain scenery on this motor trail said this is a must-see and a great place to spot bears in the wild. However, some summer tourists bemoaned the fact that the trail was crowded and offered limited parking areas. To avoid the midday rush of visitors, plan your drive in the morning to beat the crowds.
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