Historic buildings, beautiful mountain views, and tons of animals including bears (we saw more than half a dozen of them)
Crowded, get there early.
Cades Cove – Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Townsend, Tennessee
Distance: 11 miles total
Type: Biking or driving loop (a few people walk it) with short side trails
Difficulty: X of 10 – we drove it, so can’t rank difficulty.
Total score: 10 of 10
Website – Cades Cove Loop- Great Smoky Mountains- NPS
Open – Sunrise to Sunset. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, closed to car traffic until 10 AM (best time to bike it)
Bike Rentals – Available at Cades Cove Campground Store
Terrain – Gorgeous woods and meadows with mountain views
Trailheads – 35°36’24.23″N, 83°46’39.60″W
Directions – Check with NPS site.
Parking – Limited parking along the way. Plenty of parking at Visitor’s Center halfway around the loop
Markings – Just drive, hike, or cycle along the road.
Camping – Closest campground is Cades Cove Campground right by the loop. Lots of other campgrounds in and near the park as well.
Description – Our last day in the Smokys, we decided to drive around this loop. With a four month old baby, we weren’t really able to cycle (he would have just yelled the whole time), but when (not if) we go back, that’s totally what I’d recommend doing – bringing or renting bikes and stopping to hike along the way.
For those of you driving it, get there are early as possible to avoid crowds. Try to avoid Saturdays or Wednesdays because, with the bikes having the roads to themselves, there will be a backlog of cars ready to go at 10 AM.
Heading around the loop, you’ll have chances (hopefully, depending how crowded it is) to stop and check out various historic houses, churches, and buildings. It’s really awesome.
Now that the people have moved out, the wildlife has moved in. This loop is one of the best spots in the park to spot a bear. We got very lucky, spotting them on four different occasions during the loop.
About halfway around, you’ll come to the visitors center, centered around an old mill. Make sure to stop and walk around.
While there aren’t any bad parts to the National Park, Cades Cove definitely stood out as a highlight, especially for my wife who had never seen a bear in the wild before.