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 Newfound Gap Road
Also known as notches or passes, gaps are the low points in a mountain ridge. The Newfound Gap, which sits at an elevation of 5,046 feet, is the lowest drivable pass in the park. The 31-mile, scenic Newfound Gap Road – U.S. Route 441 – runs through the center of the park from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, over the mountains and into Cherokee, North Carolina. Mile markers denote several interesting attractions along the way, including the Newfound Gap, Mingus Mill, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum, and the Smokemont Campground and Nature Trail.
Recent travelers who drove along this route raved about the mountain views and photo ops, although some called the twisting mountain road "an automotive roller coaster." Many recommended the Newfound Gap visitor area for its quality facilities and access to trailheads, noting that the Appalachian Trail also crosses here. If you're visiting on a holiday weekend, prepare for crowds: some travelers said they were unable to find parking at many of the stops.
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