If you’ve ever visited the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in Tennessee, you’ve heard of the beautiful Cades Cove. Deemed one of the most beautiful places on earth, Cades Cove is nestled in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a lovely valley with wide open vistas of the surrounding mountains. Boasting the Cades Cove Loop Road, it’s a must-see when visiting the area and is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. No matter what the season, there is always something to see in Cades Cove.
Cades Cove history is rich and evident in the cabins, barns, churches and mill that are still residing in the Cove. The families who lived here before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created have left their mark for all to see. Many of the names prominent in the area today can trace their beginnings to homestead in and around the park.
When visiting Cades Cove, visitors are treated to a scenic drive through the park to get to the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop. Whether driving from Gatlinburg and the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center via Little River Road or coming from Townsend on TN-73 there are many pull-offs to stop for a minute and take in the view.
Many visitors pack a picnic lunch and a great place to dine is the picnic area just before the one way Loop Road. It’s on the left just before the Cades Cove Campground road. Picnic tables, restrooms and ample parking allow for a leisurely lunch before you enter the Cove. Visitors need to remember that bears do roam freely in the park and all trash must be placed in bear proof containers. Don’t feed the bears or any other animals you may see. Once they become accustomed to receiving food from humans, they become a threat. Please don’t be the reason a bear has to be put down. A fed bear is a dead bear, as the saying goes.
If you don’t want to stop at the picnic area before the loop, another great place to stop and relax for a leisurely lunch is at the far end of the Loop at the Cable Mill Area Visitor’s Center. There are no picnic tables but a blanket on the grass will do. Restrooms are available and John P. Cable Grist Mill is an interesting stop along the way. The Mill still has a water wheel and a mill race. The Visitor’s Center has information and a gift shop and be sure to take a look inside the preserved Cantilever Barn, a structure with a larger upper story than the base. This type of barn is mostly found in and around the Sevier County area. Also at the Cable Mill area is a smokehouse, once used to smoke pork, the primary meat of the time. The Gregg-Cable House also stands near the mill and is the first frame house built in Cades Cove. Built in 1879 by Leason Greeg, John Cable’s son Dan and daughter Rebecca purchased the house, thereby adding the one acre tract back into the Cable family from which it was purchased. Go inside the house and take a look around. Other buildings are the corn crib, where corn, a major staple for man and animal, was stored and a blacksmith shop. There is much to see at the Cable Mill Visitor’s Area so be sure to take your time while there. The Cable Mill Visitor’s Area is approximately 5.5 miles from the Cades Cove Loop Road entrance.
As you travel the Loop Road, take your time and be courteous. There are pull offs along the road to allow time to view the beautiful sights and also the animals of the Cove. Don’t forget your camera! It’s possible to see deer, turkeys, fox, elk and of course, black bears. Black bears are very popular and everyone wants a glimpse of them. In early summer, visitors are sometimes treated to the newest generation of native black bear—cubs. Cubs are cute, extremely entertaining but don’t be fooled…they are wild. Keep your distance while you watch bear cubs. You can be sure Momma bear is nearby and the worst thing a person can do is get between a mother bear and her cubs. Elk are majestic but also can be dangerous, as any large animal can be. Be aware of the animals. Since Cades Cove is such a popular destination, the animals have become accustomed to automobile traffic. They will cross the road in front of you without a second glance. And when an animal is spotted near the road, be prepared to come to a complete stop as visitors stop to look and take photos. Be courteous, pull to the side so others can go around you. It is a one-way road and at times narrows. Stopped traffic can sometimes be frustrating but it is exciting to see the animals in their natural habitat. Be patient and enjoy your surroundings.
There are multiple sites to stop for a visit in the first half of the Cove, before Cable Mill Visitor’s Center. First is the John Oliver Cabin. It is on the right not far after you enter the Loop Road. Picturesque, the cabin is set back from the road at the tree line and is preserved very well. It is a short walk to the cabin along a trail through a pasture. The beauty of the homestead is breathtaking.
Next along the Loop Road is the Primitive Baptist Church. You can reach the church by turning left on the first road past the John Oliver Cabin and driving a short distance through the forest. A stately church, visitors are welcome to come inside and sit in the quiet solitude or meander around the church in the small clearing in the woods.
Returning to the Loop Road by traveling back the way you came, next on the Loop is the Methodist Church on the right. A beautiful stark white church, the Methodist Church is backed by an aged cemetery with the woods beyond. There are various parking areas near the church so don’t be disappointed if the first parking area is full. Drive a bit further where there are a few pull offs, park, and walk the short distance back to the church.
Moving along the Loop Road, next up is Hyatt Lane on the left. Hyatt Lane is two-way traffic but be aware that if you turn onto it at this point you will be taken across the center of the valley and come out on Loop Road as it heads back toward the entrance on the other side of the cove. Don’t turn here you’re first time around the Loop as you will miss quite a few historical sites.
Just past Hyatt Road on the left is the Missionary Baptist Church. The Church sits a bit higher than the others, on a sloping crest but what makes it look even taller is the foundation. The church building is raised from the ground, standing on stacked stone pillars. Impressive, the steeple seems to reach for the beautiful sky above.
Looking to the right is Rich Mountain Road. You can follow the sometimes steep and winding road, going one way for part of the distance, then beginning two way traffic soon after. Traveling this road toward its exit at Townsend, the drive will make you feel as if you’ve gone back in time, the wilderness of the mountain and forest now a place that time seemingly forgot. Rich Mountain Road is best enjoyed on a visitor’s second trip around the Loop, unless of course the plan is to circle back through Townsend to US 73 and reenter Cades Cove to finish the full circle.
Between Rich Mountain Road and the mid-point of the Loop at the Cable Mill Visitor Center, the Loop Road meanders through pastures, fields and some wetlands. Waving field grass sometimes provides cover for white tail deer and more. Cooper Road Trail, an old wagon trail, begins in this section and just past that trailhead on the right is the Elijah Oliver Place.
Next along the serene drive, a short road snakes off to the right, leading to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Park. The Abrams Falls trailhead begins at the end of the road in the parking area. Travelers can make a day of it, hiking to the Falls and exploring the river. Visitors shouldn’t be surprised to see a few fly fishermen in this section of the river at certain times of year.
Once arriving at the Cable Mill Area Visitors Center, and spending a bit of time to peruse the historical buildings, Cove visitors will have the choice of continuing along the Loop or taking a left out of the Cable Mill Area on Forge Creek Road, a gravel road not traveled much by visitors. If you decide to take the gravel road you will be treated to a visit to the one and only remaining sawn log home in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is left standing—the Henry Whitehead Place. It is considered to be one of the most unusual cabins in the park due to its construction. The squared off logs are fitted together so well that no chinking was needed. Be sure to visit this great historical find. Do remember that the Forge Creek Road is a two-way road for traffic. To get back to the Loop Road to continue your tour, turn back the way you came and rejoin the Loop Road at the Cable Mill Area and take a right to continue on through the Loop.
Along this section there is a hiking trail deemed the Cades Cove Nature Trail which may be an interesting side trip for the adventurous.
Moving along the Loop Road, Hyatt Land will make another appearance on the left. Take the left onto Hyatt Lane and return to the other side of the Loop Road to make another round if a particular site was missed or the beauty of Cades Cove has enticed you to go around for a second time.
Past Hyatt, the Dan Lawson Place can be seen on the right. The cabin and barn, along with a few others out buildings are easy to access. Just park along the split rail fence that borders the front of the property and take in the beauty of the fields and pasture that span out front of the homestead with the opposite mountains as a backdrop.
One of the most visited is the Tipton Place Cades Cove. A fully appointed homestead, the Tipton Place is the essence of what the Cove once held in the way of a working family farm. The cabin rests on the right side of the road, along with a spring house and some old, round wooden bee hives. Across the road from the cabin is a well preserved cantilever barn. Bordering each side of the road is an ancient version of what in present day would be as close to a picket fence as possible. Deer roam the property as well as possible bear sightings. Remember, animal sightings can occur anywhere in the Park.
Continuing on to the Carter Shields Cabin is next on the journey through the Loop. Nestled in a clearing between stately trees, it is one of the most picturesque cabins in the cove. The cabin sits in a small, sun-lit clearing, surrounded by tall trees.
Just past the Carter Shields Cabin is Sparks Lane on the left. Sparks Lane is two-way traffic and if there is a desire to make another trip around the Loop, turn here to end up just before the John Oliver Cabin on the other side.
Passing Sparks Land and around a curve, the Loop Road comes to an end. Using the option to turn left, visitors will be returned to the picnic area and the Little River Road. Should visitors turn right, there is more to be explored. If camping in Gatlinburg, Cades Cover is a beautiful place to set you tent or camper. Turning to the right out of Loop Road leads to the Cades Cove Campground. The campground has 159 sites and is open year round. Tents and RVs up to 35 feet are welcome in the campground. Also located in this area is the Ranger Station, bike rentals, horseback riding, an amphitheater and a general store.
Cades Cove hours are from dawn to dusk. Motorized traffic is allowed at all times except on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from dawn to 10 AM. Those days and times are reserved for walkers and bicyclists only and closed to motorized vehicles for that period of time.
Directions to Cades Cove are as follows:
From Gatlinburg, follow the Parkway through Gatlinburg to the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Reaching the Sugarlands Visitor Center on the right, take the exit on the right and continue straight on Little River Road for approximately 26 miles through the beautiful scenery of the Park. Little River Road ends at the entrance to Cades Cove.
From Pigeon Forge, take US 321 South to Townsend, TN. Turn left at Townsend onto TN-73. Follow the signs to Cades Cove.
From Cherokee, NC, follow Newfound Gap Road through the Park until you arrive at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, which will be on the left. Turn left onto Little River Road and follow it for 26 miles to end up at the Cades Cove Loop Road entrance.