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Cades Cove picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Courtesy Gatlinburg Convention & Visitors Bureau

Key Info

Details

  • Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation Type
  • Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.7
Overall
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Scorecard

  • Value
    5.0
  • Facilities
    3.0
  • Atmosphere
    5.0

Read about how we rank Things to Do.

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.

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#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 ... Read more » SuperT76 / Getty Images

#2 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 ... Read more » SeanPavonePhoto / Getty Images

#3 Sugarlands Visitor Center According to recent travelers, the Sugarlands Visitor Center should be your first stop in the park. The visitor center features extensive natural history exhibits and screens a free 20-minute film ... Read more » jcarillet / Getty Images

#4 Cades Cove 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 ... Read more » Courtesy Gatlinburg Convention & Visitors Bureau

#5 Clingmans Dome Clingmans Dome is not only the highest point in Tennessee, but also in the park itself. On a clear day, you may be able to see more than 100 miles ... Read more » Wray Sinclair / Getty Images

#6 Cades Cove Visitor Center The Cades Cove Visitor Center is located about midway on the 11-mile, one-way Cades Cove Loop Road. One of the most popular areas in the park, the Cades Cove valley ... Read more » NPS

#7 Abrams Falls Trail Named for a Cherokee chief whose village once occupied a spot alongside the creek, Abrams Falls is small, but mighty. While the falls are only 20 feet high, they pump ... Read more » JimVallee / Getty Images

mhare2000 / Getty Images

#9 Laurel Falls Named for the mountain laurel (an evergreen shrub) that blooms throughout the park, Laurel Falls is one of the most popular trails in the park. The path has an upper ... Read more » Brian W. Downs / Getty Images

#10 Chimney Tops One of the most popular trails in the park, Chimney Tops is one of the few mountains that has a bare rock summit and the views from the summit are ... Read more » GreenStock / Getty Images

Roaring Fork Motor Trail picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Newfound Gap Road picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Sugarlands Visitor Center picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Clingmans Dome picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove Visitor Center picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Abrams Falls Trail picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Grotto Falls Trail picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Laurel Falls picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Chimney Tops picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Roaring Fork Motor Trail picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Newfound Gap Road picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Sugarlands Visitor Center picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Clingmans Dome picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove Visitor Center picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Abrams Falls Trail picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Grotto Falls Trail picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Laurel Falls picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Chimney Tops picture in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Stop along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail to walk behind a waterfall at Grotto Falls. SuperT76 / Getty Images

The Newfound Gap, which sits at an elevation of 5,046 feet, is the lowest drivable pass in the park. SeanPavonePhoto / Getty Images

Most visitors recommend making Sugarlands Visitor Center the first stop to pick up trail and road maps, find out about closures and learn more about the park through the center's free film and extensive wildlife exhibit. jcarillet / Getty Images

Cades Cove is one of the most popular spots in the park, especially with hikers and cyclists. Courtesy Gatlinburg Convention & Visitors Bureau

Clingmans Dome is not only the highest point in Tennessee, but also in the park itself. On a clear day, you may be able to see more than 100 miles.  Wray Sinclair / Getty Images

The Cades Cove Visitor Center offers both indoor and outdoor exhibits, including access to the historic Becky Cable House. NPS

The Abrams Falls hike is not for novices, but experienced trekkers love packing a picnic lunch to enjoy at the base of the falls. JimVallee / Getty Images

Located at the No. 5 stop on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Grotto Falls sits along the 3-mile Trillium Gap Trail, offering a cool respite from the summer heat. mhare2000 / Getty Images

The Laurel Falls Trail, one of the most popular in the park, is named for the mountain laurel that line its path. Brian W. Downs / Getty Images

One of the most popular trails in the park, Chimney Tops is one of the few mountains that has a bare rock summit and the views from the summit are spectacular.  GreenStock / Getty Images

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