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Guide to Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most popular parks in the United States, and for good reason. It is a beautiful swath of protected land filled to the brim with amazing mountain views, rushing waterfalls, and wildlife. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is incredibly popular partially because of the free access to drive through the park at your leisure.

One of the most popular places to visit within the Smoky Mountains is Cades Cove. Cades Cove is an 11-mile loop trail that visitors go to explore at a “leisurely” pace. There are many different places to explore on the path. Here is the Outdoors Visitors Guide to Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.


Image by Dawn Gaddis

Cades Cove is a part of Cherokee native land and was a valley that they hunted in. Though there was evidence of Indigenous people hunting in Cades Cove, there is no evidence of major settlements in the area. 

European colonizers settled in the area between 1818 and 1821 and by the 1830’s the colony’s population grew to almost 300 people. 

People no longer live in Cades Cove, though you can spend a night at the campground and get a feel for what it might have been like under the stars in days past. Cades Cove also has the widest variety of historical buildings found anywhere within the National Park.

The 11-Mile Loop

Image by Michael Chambers

Part of why people love Cades Cove is because it is an area of the park that you can drive, though several hiking trails begin there as well. The Cades Cove Valley was once a hunting ground for the Cherokee natives, and it still offers excellent opportunities to view wildlife when you’re on the loop.

Most of the time, Cades Cove is a trail for motorists to explore the park, but from May until September, you can walk Cades Cove every Wednesday. This is an incredibly popular trail during the summer, fall, and most weekends, so if you’re planning a trip to the Smokies, make sure you’re courteous of other visitors. You can also plan to visit the area outside of the busy season or go on a weekday if you’re looking to avoid the crowds.


Image by Stephen Ellis

When visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, many people hope to get a glimpse of a bear. Though it isn’t guaranteed anywhere in the park, Cades Cove has garnered a reputation for being a location where there is always something roaming, and often there are opportunities to see black bears, from a safe distance.

Along with black bears, a trip to Cades Cove is an opportunity to see deer, coyotes, and turkeys. If you’re looking to increase your chances of seeing these animals, head to Cades Cove in the early morning or in the evening, as many of these animals prefer to come out at night.

Currently, there are about 1,500 black bears that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the largest population the park has ever seen. 

Just like any wildlife in any National Park, do not feed the wildlife. If you’re camping, make sure you lock all of your food in bear boxes, and make sure your garbage has been disposed of properly. Do not ever try to feed bears if they get close to you or your vehicle.

Camping and Hiking

Image by Ivana Cajina

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is an amazing place to hike and if you just can’t decide between a hike in the park or Cades Cove, that’s okay—there are hiking trails that start in the boundaries and ones that bring you into the boundaries of the area. 

Of course, if you’re bound and determined to walk the eleven miles, make sure you’re heading to Cades Cove during the allotted time of year and on the correct day. 

When it comes to camping along Cades Cove, you have three excellent options; You can book your stay at the Cades Cove campground, which offers primitive camping sites and amenities such as flushing toilets and drinking water.

You can also book a stay at Anthony Creek Horse Camp, one of five located within the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Anthony Creek Horse Camp is 30 miles Southeast of Maryville located near Townsend, Tennessee. Anthony Creek Horse Camp does not offer any amenities so make sure you have all of the gear you need before you arrive. 

If you’re more of a backcountry camping fan, don’t worry, there are opportunities to do so near Cades Cove. You’ll have to make a reservation and have a permit for backcountry camping in this area. When you’re backcountry camping, it is carry-in, carry-out for all trash and garbage, so make sure at the end of each day and when you leave the facility, you have your garbage and leftover food back in your backpack.

When you’re on your trip to Cades Cove, at the halfway point, you’ll reach the Cades Cove Visitor’s Center. There, you’ll be greeted by park staff and be able to explore various exhibits and seasonal staff-led events that will allow you to learn more about Appalachian culture.

Other Activities and Attractions

Image by Stephen Ellis

Though getting to explore the loop is an attraction all on its own, there is plenty to do on the loop that you won’t want to miss when you’re on the trail. If camping, hiking, and visitor centers aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other things to do. 

Take a break from the drive and stretch your legs at the scenic views at Abrams Falls or Spruce Flat Falls, head out on a white water rafting expedition, or explore the park on horseback. Jump into the rushing water at the Sinks and so, so much more. 


Image by Anvesh

Cades Cove has a little something for everyone no matter what kind of outdoor adventure you’re interested in, so make sure you do some research on the things you and your travel partners want to do, and which activities you want to skip this time around.

Cades Cove is a free attraction within Great Smoky National Park, but reservations for other activities or campsites may charge a fee. Though it is free to travel through the Great Smoky Mountains, if you decide to park and hike, you will need to purchase a parking pass.

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