Nestled in the picturesque Great Smoky Mountains, Cades Cove is a hidden gem for nature enthusiasts and history lovers alike. Its serene landscapes, abundant wildlife, and rich historical heritage make it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
To make the most of your Cades Cove adventure, here are just a few amazing things you must do! Gather the family, gear up, and read on to find out what you need to experience during your time in Cades Cove – you won’t regret it!
Cades Cove is conveniently located approximately 27 miles southwest of Gatlinburg, making it an accessible and worthwhile destination for a day trip or a longer adventure.
The drive from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove typically takes around 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic and weather conditions.
Scenic Drive through the Great Smoky Mountains
The journey from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove is more than just a means of transportation; it’s an experience in itself. The drive takes you through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, offering awe-inspiring views and glimpses of the natural beauty that awaits you in Cades Cove.
The scenic route is adorned with picturesque vistas, charming streams, and dense forests, creating a sense of anticipation for the wonders that lie ahead.
Plan Ahead for Peak Seasons
Keep in mind that during peak seasons, such as autumn, when the foliage is at its peak, the drive may take longer due to increased traffic and higher visitor numbers.
If you plan to visit during these popular times, consider starting your journey earlier in the day to avoid potential delays and enjoy a more leisurely drive.
Enjoy the Journey
As you make your way from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove, take advantage of the journey to enjoy the stunning landscapes along the route. Several pull-offs and overlooks provide opportunities to pause, stretch your legs, and capture breathtaking photos of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Entrance Fees and Passes
Keep in mind that Cades Cove is located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and there is an entrance fee to access the park.
If you plan to visit other areas within the park during your trip, consider purchasing an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass, which grants you access to all national parks for one year, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Relax and Unwind
After your visit to Cades Cove, take some time to relax and unwind in Gatlinburg. This charming mountain town offers a variety of dining options, shops, and attractions, allowing you to extend your journey with more adventures and create lasting memories.
Things to do in Cades Cove
1. Scenic Drives and Biking
Cades Cove presents a breathtaking 11-mile one-way loop road, weaving through lush meadows, dense forests, and offering majestic mountain views. During the enchanting autumn season, witness a captivating display of red, orange, and gold foliage, creating a picturesque tapestry that’s a feast for the eyes.
Immerse yourself in a mesmerizing experience while driving along the loop, with abundant opportunities for wildlife sightings.
Enhance your adventure by biking through the loop and savoring the stunning vistas at your own pace. Pedal through the captivating landscapes, allowing yourself to pause and appreciate the scenic beauty surrounding you. Whether you’re an avid cyclist or a leisurely rider, this immersive journey promises to be a treat for the senses.
Bicycles are available for rent at the Cades Cove Campground Store during the warmer months.
2. Wildlife Watching
As you explore Cades Cove, be on the lookout for the diverse and abundant wildlife that calls this area home. The cove is renowned for its thriving animal population, which includes majestic white-tailed deer, fascinating black bears, curious wild turkeys, and even the elusive red fox.
To make the most of your wildlife encounters, consider bringing binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens, allowing you to capture these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. Also, for the best chance of spotting wildlife, arrive early in the morning or in the late afternoon when animals are more active.
Respectful wildlife viewing is an enriching experience, but it’s crucial to maintain a safe distance and respect their space. Remember, they are wild animals, and observing them from afar is essential for both their well-being and your safety.
Practice responsible observation and refrain from feeding the animals, as it can disrupt their natural behaviors and lead to potential harm for both the wildlife and visitors. Keep in mind that preserving their natural habitat is crucial to ensuring a thriving ecosystem for generations to come.
3. Hiking and Nature Trails
For those seeking a more intimate connection with nature, Cades Cove boasts several hiking and nature trails that cater to all levels of fitness and interest.
The Abrams Falls Trail, an approximately 5-mile round trip, rewards hikers with the stunning 20-foot Abrams Falls and an opportunity to cool off in its refreshing pool. The trail meanders through a beautiful forest, offering glimpses of various birds and plant species along the way.
Rich Mountain Loop, a 8.5-mile hike, offers panoramic views of the cove and surrounding mountains, making it a favorite among avid hikers and photographers.
For an easier option, try the Laurel Falls Trail, a paved 2.6-mile round trip, leading to a lovely 80-foot waterfall.
Make sure to wear comfortable footwear and pack plenty of water and snacks before you hit the trails.
4. Step Back in Time (Cable Mill Historic Area)
Cades Cove is a living museum of pioneer life in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
The Cable Mill Historic Area houses a collection of well-preserved 19th-century buildings, including a grist mill, sawmill, blacksmith shop, and a cantilever barn. Park rangers and volunteers dressed in period clothing offer demonstrations and insights into the lives of the early settlers.
The area is also an excellent spot for learning about traditional Appalachian craftsmanship and historic agricultural practices. Take your time exploring the historic buildings and imagining what life was like in the cove during its early settlement.
As the sun sets behind the mountains and darkness envelops Cades Cove, the starry night sky emerges, providing a breathtaking celestial display. Away from city lights, the cove offers exceptional conditions for stargazing and astrophotography.
Bring a blanket, lay back, and gaze at the constellations, shooting stars, and the Milky Way in all its glory.
Stargazing in Cades Cove is a meditative experience that allows you to disconnect from the world and connect with the vastness of the universe.
7. Horseback Riding
For an unforgettable and authentic adventure in Cades Cove, consider embarking on a horseback riding tour. It offers a nostalgic experience reminiscent of the early settlers who once roamed these lands.
Several stables in the area offer guided horseback tours, providing an opportunity to explore the cove just as those pioneers did centuries ago. Joining a guided tour ensures a safe and enjoyable journey through the cove’s enchanting landscapes.
Guided Horseback Tours
Cades Cove stables offer a range of guided horseback tours, suitable for riders of all levels of experience. Whether you’re an accomplished equestrian or a first-time rider, the knowledgeable guides will ensure a safe and enjoyable journey through the cove’s enchanting landscapes.
Connect with Nature and History
Horseback riding in Cades Cove allows you to immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature while gaining a deeper connection to the region’s rich history.
As you traverse the trails, you’ll feel a sense of awe and appreciation for the pioneers who once relied on these noble animals to navigate the rugged terrain.
Scenic Beauty and Serenity
The cove’s breathtaking landscapes take on a new perspective from the back of a horse. Enjoy the gentle rhythm of your horse’s hoofbeats as you journey through lush meadows, serene forests, and alongside babbling streams. The slower pace of horseback riding provides ample opportunities to absorb the natural beauty surrounding you.
Suitable for All Ages
Horseback riding in Cades Cove is a family-friendly activity that caters to all ages. Many stables offer gentle horses suitable for children, making it a memorable experience for the whole family. The skilled guides prioritize safety and provide helpful instructions, ensuring everyone feels comfortable and at ease throughout the ride.
Tips for Horseback Riding in Cades Cove:
- Wear comfortable clothing and closed-toe shoes suitable for riding.
- Listen carefully to the instructions given by the guides and follow their lead during the ride.
- Respect the horses and treat them with kindness and patience.
- Bring along a camera to capture the breathtaking views and memorable moments during the ride.
Booking Your Horseback Riding Tour
To ensure availability, it’s recommended to book your horseback riding tour in advance. Check with the various stables in the area for tour options, prices, and any specific requirements.
Whether you’re a seasoned rider or a novice seeking a unique experience, horseback riding in Cades Cove promises a remarkable journey back in time and a chance to create cherished memories in this picturesque corner of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Cades Cove offers endless opportunities for photography enthusiasts to capture its natural beauty and historical charm. With its diverse landscapes, abundant wildlife, and well-preserved buildings, there’s something captivating to photograph at every turn.
Whether you’re a professional photographer or just enjoy snapping pictures with your smartphone, Cades Cove provides a stunning backdrop for your creative expression.
Early mornings and late afternoons offer the best lighting conditions for photography, especially when the sun casts a golden glow over the landscape. Capture the diverse wildlife, stunning landscapes, historical buildings, and the play of light and shadows that make Cades Cove a photographer’s dream.
Things Not to Do in Cades Cove
While Cades Cove is a haven for nature lovers and history enthusiasts, it’s essential to follow responsible practices to preserve its beauty and protect wildlife.
Here are the things you should avoid doing in Cades Cove:
1. Do Not Approach or Disturb Wildlife
Cades Cove is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, black bears, wild turkeys, and various bird species. While encountering these animals can be an incredible experience, it’s crucial to remember that they are wild and should not be approached or disturbed.
Approaching wildlife too closely can provoke defensive or aggressive behavior, posing risks to both you and the animals. Always maintain a safe distance; generally recommended to be at least 50 yards from most wildlife and 150 yards from bears.
Use binoculars or a zoom lens to observe them from a respectful distance and appreciate their beauty in their natural habitat.
2. Do Not Feed the Animals
Feeding wildlife, intentionally or unintentionally, is strictly prohibited in national parks like Cades Cove.
Feeding animals can lead to negative consequences for their health and well-being. They may become dependent on human food, which disrupts their natural foraging behaviors and can lead to malnutrition.
Moreover, animals that associate humans with food can become bold and potentially dangerous. Feeding wildlife also encourages them to approach vehicles and visitors, leading to traffic hazards and harmful interactions.
Preserve the natural behavior of the wildlife by refraining from offering them any food.
3. Do Not Pick or Damage Plants and Flowers
The flora in Cades Cove plays a crucial role in maintaining the ecosystem’s balance. Refrain from picking flowers or damaging plants, as it can have a negative impact on the delicate environment and deprive other visitors of experiencing the beauty of the natural surroundings.
4. Do Not Leave Trash Behind
The principle of “Leave No Trace” applies in Cades Cove. Carry out all the trash you generate during your visit and dispose of it properly in designated receptacles outside the park. Litter not only spoils the scenic beauty but also poses serious risks to wildlife. Animals may ingest or become entangled in trash, leading to injury or death. Additionally, littering diminishes the natural charm of the area and detracts from the experience of other visitors. Be responsible for your waste and help keep Cades Cove clean and pristine.
5. Do Not Stray Off Designated Trails
The designated trails and paths in Cades Cove are carefully established to protect the fragile environment and minimize human impact on the ecosystem.
Straying off the trails can disturb plant and animal life, lead to erosion, and harm the delicate balance of the natural habitat. Stay on marked trails and follow park guidelines to preserve the integrity of the landscape.
By respecting the designated paths, you can help ensure that future visitors can also enjoy the area’s beauty without causing undue harm to the environment.
6. Do Not Remove or Disturb Historical Artifacts
Cades Cove is steeped in history, and many remnants of the past are preserved for visitors to appreciate. However, it’s essential to leave historical artifacts and structures undisturbed. Taking items as souvenirs or climbing on historic buildings can damage the site’s integrity and cultural heritage.
7. Do Not Ignore Park Rules and Regulations
Familiarize yourself with the park’s rules and regulations before your visit. These guidelines are in place to protect both visitors and the natural environment. Follow posted signs, stay within the designated areas, and adhere to park guidelines for a safe and enjoyable experience.
8. Do Not Harass Wildlife for Photos
While capturing photographs of wildlife can be rewarding, it’s essential to prioritize the well-being of the animals over getting the perfect shot. Harassing or chasing wildlife for photographs is unacceptable and can be harmful to the animals.
Stressing wildlife for the sake of a photo disrupts their natural behaviors and can lead to negative consequences for their health and survival.
Remember to use zoom lenses or telephoto lenses to get close-up shots from a safe distance.
Photographing wildlife in their natural settings without disturbing them results in more authentic and meaningful images.
Cades Cove is a place where time seems to slow down, allowing visitors to reconnect with nature and immerse themselves in the history of the region.
Whether you choose to drive through the scenic loop, hike the trails, embark on a horseback riding adventure, or simply enjoy the abundant wildlife, each experience in Cades Cove is bound to leave a lasting impression.
So, pack your bags, charge your camera, and prepare for an unforgettable adventure in this enchanting corner of the Great Smoky Mountains.