Teeming with rich history and wondrous wildlife, Cades Cove is one of the most popular areas to visit in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From majestic mountain views and preserved historic structures to fascinating wild animals and never-ending forest trails, this valley area is a great place to see the Smokies like no other. Truly, you will not have to look far for unforgettable sights and unbelievable experiences at Cades Cove.
Take a Drive Through History
A leisurely way to see the stunning views, Cades Cove Loop Road winds around the entirety of — none other than — Cades Cove, providing visitors with easy access to some of the most treasured historic sites and landscape views around. At 11 miles long, this one-way road usually takes around 2-4 hours to complete, so be sure to plan accordingly. Don’t forget to include time for all your surprise stops and must-have photos!
If you need to cut the ride short for any reason, take a left onto Sparks Lane or Hyatt Lane to get around the loop a bit faster (Warning: you will miss out on some amazing views!). For a helpful, free guide to the cove, print out (or save a picture of) Cades Cove Map, which shows many of the original churches, old cabins, and fun nature trails (check out some below). Beware: Google Maps may not be able to help you as weak signals are common in the valley.
Additionally, timing is — as with most things in life — crucially important when traveling the loop. For one, on Wednesdays and Saturdays from May through September, motor vehicles (including motorcycles) are prohibited in the early morning hours until 10:00 a.m. to temporarily allow cyclists and hikers an auto-free course. Also, it’s best to travel the road during the week to avoid heavy traffic. Most importantly, for a higher chance of seeing wildlife, make sure to go during the morning or evening hours.
Trek to Abrams Falls
Reconnect with nature and your innate instincts as you hike your way to a breathtaking sight: a 20-foot waterfall surrounded by a seemingly endless forest. Midway through your Cades Cove Loop Road journey, you will come across a gravel road just beyond Abrams Creek that leads to the trailhead of Abrams Falls — named after Chief Abraham of the Cherokee. With a roundtrip length of 5.2 miles, water is essential and snacks are recommended, so bring plenty!
Along your trek, keep an eye out for white-tailed deer, black bears, foxes, woodchucks, turkeys, racoons, and coyotes. Especially look out for river otters, as the original Cherokee name for Cades Cove was Tsiya’hi, which means Otter Place. Abrams Creek is a prime hangout for them since they were reintroduced to the area in the 1980s. Once you arrive at the enchanting falls, really take time to let the soothing sound of falling water entering a serene pool relax your spirit and renew your soul.
Grab a Souvenir!
After your waterfall adventure, head over to the Cades Cove Visitors Center to purchase a memento for your home, ask your most pressing questions to real park rangers, or just take a bathroom break — after all, you did just walk 5 miles! From postcards, area maps, and history books to homemade jams, clothing, and bags of flour (from Cable Mill — another local site on the route), there’s something for everyone.
If you’re there on a nice day, you may even run into local storytellers or folksingers — or both! Imagine listening to the riveting tales and songs from the locals themselves. What a special treat that would be. With the look of an old cabin, the Visitors Center fits well with the landscape and is open every day of the year, except Christmas, starting at 9:00 a.m. However, before you go, remember to check the National Park Service website for their closing hours as they change with the seasons.
Still not convinced?Enjoy a picnic at a table by a lovely creek at the Cades Cove Picnic Area, which has gravel paths for wheelchair access and is open daily until sunset or 8:00 p.m. (whichever comes first). Stay the night at the Cades Cove Campground to give yourself an extra opportunity to see the beautiful wildlife of the area. Tents are allowed of course, but RVs up to 35 feet are also permitted. Plus, the Cades Cove Camp Store is nearby, so you won’t have to go back into town for any camping essentials. Experience travel in the past and get a true feel of the land — literally! — by taking a guided carriage ride from Cades Cove Riding Stables. Hay rides are also available for larger groups (make sure to schedule ahead of time), and for a more personal experience, trail rides are offered as well (all experience levels are welcome). Just keep hiking on the 800+ miles of trails found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Play in Gatlinburg, where you’ll find dozens of fun attractions, great restaurants, and unique shops that will give you a break from the outdoors.