Green field in front of trees and mountains in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sometimes on vacation, things don’t go exactly as planned. On our summer road trip to the Smoky Mountains, there was a mix up with the cleaning schedule. When we arrived, our cabin was not ready. We decided to make lemonade out of lemons and take an evening drive to Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park while we waited for our cabin to be cleaned. This turned out to be the best lemonade ever!

Long before Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a popular tourist destination, it was a home. Native Americans hunted in the Cove for thousands of years. In the 1800’s, settlers established a small community in the area.

Historic cabin with fence in Cades Cove

Today, park visitors can explore Cades Cove via a loop road. This one-way road offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Also, the loop road provides access to historical structures as well as various hiking trails.

Trees surrounding a green field in Cades Cove

Cades Cove: Getting There

We stayed between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and entered the park through the Sugarlands Entrance. Cades Cove is only about 30 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center via the Little River Gorge Road. However, the road is very windy, so allow at least an hour to get there.

Windy road.

It comes as no surprise that the Little River Gorge Road follows the Little River. The drive is quite scenic, so you may want to allow extra time to pull off and enjoy views of the river.

Little River near Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National National Park.

Cades Cove Loop Road

Cades Cove Loop Road is the 11 mile one-way loop road that circles the cove. Don’t let it’s short length fool you! It can easily take a couple of hours just to drive the loop not including stops to explore the sites. Nothing slows down traffic more than wildlife!

Cades Cove Loop Road with line of traffic.

At the entrance to the loop road, be sure to pick up the Self Guide Auto Tour booklet at the Cades Cove Information Kiosk. Alternatively, you can order it online before your trip from the Great Smoky Mountains Association. The brochure includes information about the churches, cabins, and trails along the way.

Kiosk with auto tour booklets.

Once you start the loop, you have a couple of opportunities to shorten your trip if needed. The first opportunity is Sparks Lane, about 1 mile from the Cades Cove Information Kiosk. Next is Hyatt Lane, approximately 2.9 miles from the kiosk. Alternatively, these are great places to cross for another loop.

Since it was evening, we decided to just the drive the loop and watch for wildlife. It didn’t take long to figure out that Cades Cove is THE place to be to see turkeys, bear and deer!

Two turkeys in a field

We started the loop drive around 6pm. We stopped for a dinner picnic along the way, and we finished the loop around 9pm. During our drive, we were lucky enough to see 17 turkeys, 6 ducks, 27 deer, and 8 bears!

Black bear in a tree in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National Park

There is more to Cades Cove than just looking for animals. This area of Great Smoky Mountain National Park has enough to do to keep you entertained for your entire trip.

Fence and green field with mountains in the background.

For history buffs, Cades Cove offers several cabins, churches, and other historical structures to explore. These buildings provide a glimpse into daily life in the cove in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Historic cabin in Cades Cove

For adventurers, Cades Cove offers 10+ hiking trails. One of the most visited trails in the park is the 5 mile round trip hike to Abrams Falls.

Green field surrounded by trees and mountains.

For those who’d rather ride than walk, Cades Cove Riding Stables offers carriage rides, hayrides, and guided horseback rides.

We visited Cade’s Cove 3 times during our trip: twice in the evening and once in the morning.

Deer eating grass

Great Smoky Mountain Cade’s Cove is a special place. Allow plenty of time to get out of your car and explore this unique corner of the park. It is sure to be a highlight of your national park trip.

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