Cades Cove

#4 in Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove picture
Courtesy Gatlinburg Convention & Visitors Bureau

Key Info

10042 Campground Dr.

Price & Hours

Free

Details

Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation, Free Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.7scorecard
  • 5.0Value
  • 3.0Facilities
  • 5.0Atmosphere

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.

See all Hotels in Great Smoky Mountains National Park »

More Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Newfound Gap Road1 of 9
Sugarlands Visitor Center2 of 9
Type
Time to Spend
#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. 

Read more
SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images
See full list of Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park »

Explore More of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.

Recommended

30 Top Florida Weekend Getaways

Spend sun-filled days exploring Florida's beautiful beaches, cities, parks and small towns.

Gwen PratesiDecember 9, 2019

The Best Travel Backpacks for 2020

U.S. News rated the best travel backpacks using recommendations from experts and consumers.

Lyn MettlerNovember 25, 2019

30 Top Wellness Retreats

Rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit at one of these relaxation-focused properties.

Kyle McCarthyNovember 21, 2019

30 Fun All-Inclusive Family Vacations

Book one of these all-inclusive trips that cover food, accommodations and activities galore.

Holly JohnsonNovember 14, 2019

5 Ways Cruise Lines Are Becoming More Environmentally Friendly

Industry considers impact as it looks to the future.

Gwen PratesiNovember 12, 2019

11 Unique and Quirky Cruise Destinations

Venture off the beaten path for an authentic cruising experience.

Christine SmithNovember 12, 2019

The 2020 Best Cruise Lines for Families

Gather up the gang and head out to sea with one of these six kid-friendly cruise lines.

Nicola WoodNovember 12, 2019

The Top Pyramids in Mexico to Visit

Add these ancient marvels to your Mexico vacation itinerary.

Lyn MettlerOctober 28, 2019

30 Top Babymoon Destinations, Trips and Ideas

From romantic beach getaways to big city adventures to glamping in the forest, these locales will inspire your babymoon planning.

Gwen PratesiOctober 15, 2019

15 Tips for Traveling While Pregnant

These tips will help pregnant women travel the world in comfort and style.

Holly JohnsonOctober 10, 2019