Rich in history and flourished with wildlife, Cades Cove offers a moderate break from the busy streets of Gatlinburg near by.
Settled by Europeans in the early 1800's Cades Cove is a valley within the Great Smoky National Park. The specific area of the valley had a surprisingly large population for its remote location deep within the mountains. The population in early history by 1830 had reached 271 people and by the 1850's the population had more than doubled to around 700. The fertile valley soil accompanied by a wealth of wildlife for trapping and hunting was what drew particular interest to this land. Another being an established community with churches, schoolhouses, and mills like the one seen above.
The establishment lasted until North Carolina and Tennessee begun to buy up land for the creation of the National Park. The first major piece of land bought was the mountain area to the north of Cades Cove in 1927. Shortly after Tennessee was able to buy land from the remaining residents of Cades Cove or negotiate life-leases for residents not willing to leave their land. By 1944 the schoolhouse closed down and in 1947 the post office was decommissioned as well.
Today the area has been restored to its historic past with an 11-mile bike or drive loop road going around the valley and self-guided tour stops for old cabins, churches, barns, and mills.
What You Can Expect
Although this area is deep within the mountains it does draw a heavy crowd of tourism from nearby Gatlinburg. The full loop road is an 11-mile drive (I believe biking wasn't allowed due to Covid) and takes between an hour to 2 hours plus depending on how many stops along the self-guided road you make. The main village stop is the John P. Cable Grist Mill but others include cabins, barns, and fields. The area has a resemblance of the community in the M. Night Shyamalan movie, The Village.
Another major factor for how long the road will take is how much wildlife you encounter or wish to stay and view. The wildlife is heavily advertised and likely very common as without expecting or searching was able to come across numerous horses, cows, turkeys, deer, and bears while journeying around the road. The valley is comprised of large fields and wooded forest and with hunting restrictions in the areas animals are commonly out in the fields. Similar to other driving safaris when animals like bears are spotted you will likely find yourself in a traffic jam as people stop to take photos.
The best time to spot bears is at dusk and dawn so going early or late would be in your best interest.
Getting There and Important Information
Cades Cove is 27 miles from Gatlinburg and slightly more from Pigeon Forge. This trip is about an hour's drive one way because the road is essentially one way in, one way out, and extremely windy with a slow speed limit. Also with no passing lanes, it's common to get stuck behind cautious drivers or run into traffic from bear sightings along the road.
If you have more time than a day trip I would recommend staying at the National Parks Caves Cove Campground which is only one of two campgrounds of the park open year-round. This campground is well equipped and complete with 159 sites and runs about $25 per site per night.
Other than the Cades Cove drive there is plenty of actual hiking to do in the Cades Cove area. Numerous trailheads are a short driving distance from the campground for hikers of all abilities looking for variety. Below a shot from Spruce Flat Falls, one of the best waterfalls in the area.
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Photography exclusively by Dan Oliver unless otherwise stated and cited. Embedded maps are provided by Embed Google Map (embedgooglemap.net) and map images shown are provided as stated and cited.
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