25 Ways to Celebrate the Centennial in Cades Cove


In 1940, some 17 years after the original idea for a national park in the Smokies came about, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the Newfound Gap.

Decades later, on August 25, 2016, the Great Smoky Mountains celebrates not only its inclusion into the National Park Service, but also the 100th birthday of the NPS itself!

At Cabins For You, we encourage you to join the centennial celebration by exploring the beauty of the Smoky Mountains for yourself. Pigeon Forge provides easy access to multiple destinations within the park, including the ever-popular Cades Cove area.

Described as a lush, green valley that provides sweeping views of the mountains, Cades Cove is one of the best destinations in the park for viewing wildlife, exploring historical landmarks dating back to the early 19th century, and bike/auto/hiking tours.

Below, we’ve put together 25 ways to celebrate the NPS centennial just in Cades Cove. But be sure to check out our other blogs with even more ways to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during this exciting milestone celebration!

  1. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains Association website (or click here) to purchase your Cades Cove Self-Guiding Auto Tour booklet. It’s only $1, and it’s filled with information on the history and wildlife of this exciting region within the national park.
  2. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains Association website (or click here) to purchase your handy, pocket-sized map and guide of the nine best day hikes in the Cades Cove area.
  3. With your self-guided tour booklet in hand, start your auto tour of Cades Cove. You’ll drive an 11-mile, one-way loop road that circles the cove and allows you to see this verdant valley at a leisurely pace.
  4. If you want to avoid motor vehicles altogether, get to the Cove before 10 a.m. on Saturdays or Wednesdays between early May and late September. This time is reserved for bicycle and foot traffic only.
  5. Rent a bike at the Cades Cove Campground Store, and cycle the 11-mile loop on a day when the weather is pleasant and you have some extra time.
  6. Visit Cades Cove in the early morning or the late evening, when you’ll have excellent opportunities for sunrise and sunset photos.
  7. Drive slowly around the loop, and have your camera ready for wildlife. Some of the animals you can expect to find in the Cove include white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, raccoons, turkeys, and woodchucks.
  8. Plan for an evening drive around the loop road—many animals are most active at night.
  9. Bring binoculars when you visit Cades Cove. Feel free to get out of the car and find a quiet place to watch for Smoky Mountain birds.
  10. Pack a family picnic and enjoy an outdoor meal inside Cades Cove. This picnic area is one of only a few in the park open year-round.
  11. Plan a hike to Abrams Falls—the popular trailhead is located past stop #10 on the Cades Cove Loop Road and leads to a 20-foot waterfall with an impressive amount of rushing water.
  12. Dip your toes into the long, deep pool at the base of Abrams Falls.
  13. Try an evening hike along the Gregory Bald hiking trail. This 4.5-mile hike offers spectacular views of the valley and leads you to historic sites within the Cove.
  14. Take the kids for a short hike along the Cades Cove Nature Trail.
  15. Visit 2 historic churches within the Cove—the Primitive Baptist Church, established in 1827, and the Methodist Church, established in the 1820s.The current buildings were built in 1887 and 1902, respectively.
  16. Visit the John Oliver homestead, a historic log home that belonged to one of the early settlers within Cades Cove.
  17. Take a walking tour of the grist mill and other historic buildings within Cades Cove. This area provides the widest variety of historic buildings in the park.
  18. Visit the Cades Cove Visitor Center, located half-way around the loop in the Cable Mill historic area. (A bookstore and public restrooms are available at this stop.)
  19. Pick up your Not-So-Junior Ranger card at the Cades Cove Visitor Center and attend at least 3 of the park’s ranger-led programs. These can be found online or in the park’s free Smokies Guide newspaper. Have your card signed by a ranger, and take it back to the Visitor Center for your free patch!
  20. Take a short detour by turning onto the one-way Rich Mountain Road—you’ll be wowed by its scenic views!
  21. Visit other historic homesteads, including the Elijah Oliver place, Henry Whitehead Place (a historic sawed log house), Dan Lawson Place (built in 1856), Tipton Place (built in the 1970s), and Carter Shields Cabin.
  22. Try a more challenging hike to Rocky Top, the first summit of Thunderhead Mountain. The trailhead for this hike can be found in the Cades Cove picnic area.
  23. After reaching Rocky Top, continue your hike to the highest point on Thunderhead Mountain. You’ll find a small sign marking the 5,527-foot summit.
  24. Take the family horseback riding or for a hayride in the valley with Cades Cove Riding Stables.
  25. Learn the Cades Cove Story by purchasing and reading the book by A. Randolph Shields. (Click here for more information.)