Top things to do in Cades Cove and the Great Smoky Mountains
Originally called Tsiya’hi, or “place of the river otter” by the Cherokee who hunted and sometimes lived there, Cades Cove is a broad, vibrant valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park encircled by mountains and populated by a diverse array of local wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, groundhogs, foxes, raccoons, skunks, and otters.
An 11-mile, one-way loop road surrounds the cove, offering the opportunity for a leisurely, sightseeing tour of the cove, and numerous hiking trails originate here, such as the Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top. If you want a few more days to take in the natural, preserved beauty of this hidden gem in the Smoky Mountains, a campground with over 150 sites is open year-round that can accommodate both tents and RVs up to 35 feet.
But natural beauty isn’t all you get in Cades Cove –– European settlers have lived in the area since the 1820s after the Cherokee relinquished the land through the Calhoun Treaty, and during that time they built up the widest variety of historic buildings available in any area of the park. Located around the loop road you will find churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and other meticulously-restored 18th and 19th century buildings.
In 1927, as Tennessee and North Carolina began to purchase land for the creation of the National Park, Cades Cove was bought and the thriving community of settlers who’d lived there gradually began to disperse. Some sold their land willingly, while others fought it, and those who’d signed life leases on their land lived by the newly-established park rules. The last community facilities closed in the mid-1940s, and were restored in the years since as pieces of the Cades Cove historical area.
Filled with numerous attractions covering many different historical periods, Cades Cove is a truly hidden valley that still continues to surprise and amaze its year-round visitors. Located 60 miles from Cherokee, 30 miles from Gatlinburg, and 10 miles from Townsend, Cades Cove is a must-see for those who’ve come to see the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.