Getting the Most out of Your Cades Cove Experience


Still the most visited national park in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to not only a wide variety of flora and fauna, but also rich culture dating all the way back to the early 19th century. Centuries-old buildings and artifacts will transport you to the time when settlers were first making their homes in these hills. This includes the settlement known today as Cades Cove.

Cades Cove is a wildly popular destination because it offers a wider variety of historic buildings than any other area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Originally a hunting ground for Cherokee Indians, Cades Cove was first settled by Europeans between 1818 and 1821. Be sure to plan your visit to Cades Cove when you come to Pigeon Forge, and to help you out, we’ve put together some tips to help you make the most of your Cades Cove experience.

• Learn the Cades Cove story. To really appreciate the churches, grist mill, barns, and log houses that you will encounter when you visit Cades Cove, you should take some time to learn the Cades Cove story. If you’re interested in the full story of the cove, then check out A. Randolph Shields book The Cades Cove Story. This book is available online (click here to order) and is a great way to learn about the home life, religion, agriculture, and education of the settlements you will be viewing in the park.

• Check out the Visitor’s Center. Another way to learn about Cades Cove history as well as modern trails and sites within the park is to check out the Visitor’s Center, which is located halfway around the loop road in the Cable Mill historic area. Information about Cades Cove and the national park in general will be on display, and park employees will also be available to answer any other questions you might have. The Visitor’s Center is open daily except on Christmas and provides access to public restrooms—another great reason to stop!

• Drive or bike the loop road. In the park, an 11-mile, one-way loop road circles Cades Cove and is one of the best ways to see the entire cove at a leisurely pace. The National Park Service suggests allowing two to four hours to tour Cades Cove, and plan for more time if you’re wanting to stop and walk around in some of the area’s trails. Another way to tour the cove is to bike the 11 miles—a great way to really feel and appreciate the natural beauty surrounding you! On Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 a.m., Cades Cove Loop Road is only open to pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s the perfect time to enjoy a leisurely tour of the historic area. Whatever method you choose, consider purchasing an inexpensive self-guiding tour booklet available at the entrance to the road. This will guarantee you don’t get lost and give you a good sense of what you’re looking at while you travel.

• Take a hike. Several trailheads can be found within Cades Cove, including the popular five-mile roundtrip hike to Abrams Falls and the short Cades Cove Natural Trail. Two longer hikes include Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top. Maps of trails in the park are available on the National Park Service website. For more information on trail lengths and tips for hiking in the Smokies, click here. Not a hiking pro? No worries. The trails in Cades Cove range from easy to challenging, with something for almost any skill level.

• Stop for a picnic. To finish off your day, plan for a family picnic in the cove. Pack the cooler before you leave the cabin and keep an eye out as you tour around for the perfect picnic site—there are several to choose from. Enjoying a meal together in some of the best scenery the Smokies have to offer is a great way to end a fun-filled day in Cades Cove.