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Cades Cove Guide

Cades Code, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cades Cove is a historic section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that is very popular throughout the year for many reasons:

  • There is a very nice 11 mile loop road that takes you through Cades Cove and the incredible scenery.
  • Cades Cove is one of the most popular and common places to see Black Bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • There are a number of historic churches, homes, and buildings to see
  • Numerous hiking trails, and one of the most popular waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Abrams Falls.

Cades Cove is large valley, surrounded by the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains.   As visitors travel the 11-mile loop road, they have one of the greatest opportunities to see wildlife of all kinds in the park, including: Deer, Black Bears, coyote, turkey, ground hogs, raccoons, skunks, and many other animals. 

Where is Cades Cove?

Cades Cove is located on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Townsend TN.

Touring Cades Cove by Vehicle

One of the most popular activities in Cades Cove is touring the 11-mile loop road by vehicle, including motorcycles.

Vehicle free access is available on each Wednesday from June 17th - September 30th, for those wishing to hike the loop.

Traffic on the loop road is often very heavy, especially during tourist season from the Spring to Fall.   You will want to allow at least 4 hours to tour Cades Cove, especially if you plan to stop to see some of the historic buildings or walk some of the trails.    Weekends are even busier, so bring plenty of patience with you.  

The loop starts just past the parking area down from the campground on Laurel Creek Rd.  and is one way.  Once you are on it, you cannot turn around.   There are a couple of cut-through roads you can use to make the trip shorter, notably Hyatt and Sparks Lanes.   Bathroom facilities are located at the Store and at the visitor center at the half way mark on the loop. 

The loop road provides plenty of pull-outs and parking areas along the way to get out, enjoy the scenery and stretch your legs out.

Additional access to the loop road is via Parson Branch Road or Rich Mountain Rd, both of which are closed during the winter.

What to do in Cades Cove?

There is lots of things to see and do in Cades Cove, including:

  • Hiking
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Visitor Center
  • Camping
  • View historical buildings

Hiking in Cades Cove

A number of hiking trails begin in Cades Cove, including the very popular out and back hike to Abrams Falls.  

Shorter trails are the Cades Cove Nature Trail and the short trail up to Bud Ogle cabin.   Much longer hikes up to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top begin in Cades Cove as well.

Wildlife Viewing

Cades Cove is full of various Great Smoky Mountain wildlife, including deer, black bear, coyotes, ground hogs, and much more.    Many of visible just by driving along the loop road, and keeping your eyes open and not being in a hurry.    

Most wildlife area seen early in the morning, and late afternoon into the evening.   The most popular times for Black Bear are late afternoon and early evening.   Deer is very prominent in Cades Cove, and probably the most common wildlife you'll see.   Seeing Black Bears is also pretty common.  We often see Deer out on the trails.

When you see wildlife, and want to view it, please pull over to avoid blocking others behind you.  This will not only avoid additional traffic jams, but will also allow others to see the wildlife as well.   Always maintain a safe viewing distance, especially around Black Bear - Remember, these are wild animals.

The Cades Cove Visitor Center

The Cades Cove Visitor Center, located half-way though the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop is a popular stopping point, both for the restroom facilities, which are very busy, but also due to the running water mill (Cable Mill) located behind the visitor center.   We often see deer and other wildlife in the field next to the visitor center as well.

The Visitor Center has a number of exhibits, ranger led education programs, and the popular and beautiful Cable Mill and Becky Cable historic home.  

Camping in Cades Cove

Campsite at Cades Cove

Cades Cove Campground is open year-round, and provides the feel of remote backwoods primitive camping, combined with fresh water toilets and drinking water.  The nearby camp store provides essentials, along with bike rentals.

RVs are allowed on RV sites.   Sites accommodate 30-40 units, and the dump station is open year-round.   Standard Nonelectric, and tent only nonelectric sites are available.  There are no hook-ups or showers available.

Cades Cove Historical Buildings

Cades Cove contains the largest number of historical buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There are 12 historical sites, with numerous buildings.

  • John Oliver Cabin
  • Primitive Baptist Church
  • Cades Cove Methodist Church
  • Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church
  • Myers Barn
  • The Elijah Oliver Place
  • John Cable Grist Mill
  • Becky Cable House
  • Henry Whitehead Cabin
  • Dan Lawson Place
  • The Tipton Place
  • The Carter Shields Cabin
About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.

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