Cades Cove Visitor Center#6 in Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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 is known for its abundant wildlife, including white-tailed deer, black bears, turkeys, raccoons and other animals. The visitor center features both indoor and outdoor exhibits detailing Southern mountain life. Visit the Cable Mill, a gristmill that operates in the spring, summer and fall, and the historic Becky Cable House, or explore the exhibits inside the center and view a short film on the area. Several ranger-led programs are available seasonally and the visitor center offers a bookstore, public restrooms and trail maps for hikers.
Recent travelers complimented the friendly staff members and extensive information available at the Cades Cove Visitor Center, and noted that the center's public restrooms are the only ones available on the loop drive. Many also loved the free film detailing the history of the area and several praised the well-stocked gift shop. Some reviewers noted that on busy weekend days during peak seasons, traffic was very slow on the loop road and parking was limited.
Although the loop road to reach the visitor center is not long, heavy traffic during peak times (summer, fall and holiday weekends) can make it a slow drive, so park officials recommend allowing up to four hours or longer to make the drive and tour some of the exhibits or hike area trails. The road is closed to auto traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 a.m. from May to late September to open the route to bicycles and foot traffic, and the visitor center is open daily except Christmas Day. Inclement weather may close the loop road to traffic, so be sure to check the park's website or hotline before heading out. The visitor center and road are free to access.
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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