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Cades Cove Guide: What To Do And See

Cades Cove loop
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Cades Cove

The Great Smoky Mountains have many amazing sights, but none are more popular than Cades Cove. This 11-mile, one-way loop road allows motorists the opportunity to enjoy a scenic drive in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at a leisurely pace.

We are sharing everything you need to know about visiting Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Everything that makes Cades Cove so special, is it worth the drive, the many sights to see, how long it takes to drive through, and the best times to visit. We have gathered up everything you need to know to plan your trip to Cades Cove.

What is Cades Cove?

Cades Cove is an open valley that is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the most visited area in the National park.

What Makes Cade Cove So Special?

The Cave Cove loop is the ultimate auto tour of the Great Smoky National Park! Driving the 11-mile loop is the best way to see the park’s stunning mountain vistas, historic buildings, and diverse wildlife from the comfort of your car. All of the valley’s major landmarks, historic buildings, and wildlife are easily found along the Cades Cove loop.

Photo by Martina/adobe.stock.com

Cades Code Loop

The Cades Cove Loop is a scenic drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The loop is an 11-mile paved one-way road that has breathtaking views of the mountains, wildflower meadows, and the park’s diverse wildlife. The entire loop takes anywhere between two and four hours to drive through.

What To See At Cades Cove

There are so many sights to see at Cades Cove. Visitors can enjoy viewing breathtaking mountain vistas, fields and wildflower meadows, many popular hiking trails, well preserved historic buildings, a variety of wildlife, and the stunning waterfall Abrams Falls. 

Abrams Waterfall in Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Photo by Luis Sandoval/stock.adobe.com

Hiking Trails

Cades Cove has numerous trails for all hiking levels. Cades Cove Nature Trail, Cooper Road Trail, and Rocky Top are just a few of the many trails in Cades Cove.

But the most popular trail is Abrams Falls. Abrams Falls is a 5.2 mile trail that leads to Abrams Falls, which is a 20-foot waterfall. This trail attracts 1,000 hikers a day and is one of Cades Cove’s longer hikes.

Other longer hikes that begin at Cades Cove are the hikes to Rocky Top (made famous by the popular song) and Thunderhead Mountain. You can download a trail map here.

White tail dear, turkey, and black bear photo collage
Deer photo by Tony Campbell/stock.adobe.com, turkey photo by @GreatSmokyMountainsNationalPark, black bear photo by Luis Sandoval/stock.adobe.com, photo collage by A Roberts/discoverthegreatsmokies.com


Cades Code offers some of the best opportunities for seeing a variety of wild life in the park. Some of the most popular animals to see at Cades Cove are the black bears, wild turkey, foxes, and white-tailed deer.

Some animals are plentiful throughout the year, while others might be more likely to appear during a specific time of year. For instance, the best times to see black bears are during late spring and early fall. The black bears are also most active during the early mornings and late afternoons.

picture of a cabin in the woods in cades cove.
photo by Mark Baldwin/adobe.stock.com

Historic Structures

Cades Cove has an array of different well preserved historic structures. The historical buildings that can be found at Cades Cove are cabins, churches, barns and other restored eighteenth and nineteenth century structures.

The John Oliver Cabin is the first building you will see in Cades Cove. The cabin was built in 1818 and is the oldest standing building in the national park. 

Another historic building you can see in Cades Cove is John P. Cable Grist Mill. John P. Cable Grist Mill is a working grist mill that was built in 1867. The mill is still used by the national park service in April through October. So you can see how the mill works, and you can even buy a bag of cornmeal made fresh from the mill.

Cades Cove also has many other historic structures that are amazing pieces of history. The park offers a self-guided tour booklet at the entrance to the loop road for information about the buildings.

History of Cades Cove

The Cades Cove valley has a very rich history. For hundreds of years it was the hunting grounds of the Cherokee Indians. Archeologists have not found any evidence of major Cherokee settlements, just evidence of the valley being used for hunting.

The first European settlers came to Cades Cove in the early 1800s. By 1830, the population of Cades Cove grew to 271 people. During this time period, many of the historic buildings in Cades Cove were built by the settlers.

In 1927, Tennessee and North Carolina began buying land to create a national park. Cades Cove was part of the land being sold that would make up The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Now, Cades Cove is enjoyed by many of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s visitors. 

When Is The Best Time To Visit Cades Cove?

Cades Cove is a wonderful place to visit year round, but it is most popular in the fall. Cades Cove is one of the most popular places to witness the views of autumn in the Smokies during a scenic drive. The ideal time to visit to see the trees changing to the stunning fall colors is in October.

But be prepared because Cades Cove can be very busy in October, especially on the weekends. Traffic often gets backed up on the loop during the Autumn “Leaf Peepers” season.

Other popular times to visit the park are during the summer months. June is probably your best bet since July and August are the busiest months of the summer. If you want to plan your visit to the park when it’s not super crowded, April or November are the best months.

Cades Cove loop in the fall
Photo by aheflin/abobe.stock.com

Cades Cove Vehicle Free Days

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers vehicle-free access on the Cades Cove Loop Road each Wednesday from May 4 through September 28. Visitors can either bike or walk the loop on vehicle-free day.

How Long Does It Take To Go Through Cades Cove?

Cades Cove can take 3-4 hours to take an entire loop, but a full day is recommended to get the most out of your visit to the park. 

Is Camping Allowed In Cades Cove?

Cades Cove has a camping ground that is open year round. It allows both tents and RVs up to 35 feet. The park requires that you reserve a camping spot at Cades Cove.

Photo by dfikar/adobe.stock.com

Where is Cades Cove Located?

Cades Cove is located just 12.0 miles from the Townsend Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance inside the National Park. Cades Cove is easily accessible from from Townsend (9 miles), Pigeon Forge (29 miles), Gatlinburg (27 miles) and Cherokee (57 miles).

Cades Cove is about 33 miles from downtown Gatlinburg. The drive to Cades Cove alone will definitely be worth the trip. Take the Parkway to the Great Smoky National Park. Take a right onto Little River Road, immediately after the Sugarland Visitor Center. This scenic road dead-ends into Cades Cove after about 25 miles.

Cades Cove Hours

Cades Cove is open from 8:00 AM to sunset and is open throughout the year.

How Much is Cades Cove Admission?

Cades Cove’s admission is FREE. There is no fee to enter and enjoy Cades Cove. The park also offers an auto tour booklet for $1 at the Loop Road entrance.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove is a great place to experience the breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From Cades Cove’s wildlife to its amazing trails, there is something for everyone to enjoy at Cades Cove. 

Cades Cove brings with it the beauty of the smokies with an array of things to do that will leave everyone satisfied. There is a reason Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Traveling to the Great Smoky Mountains National park? Check out our visitor guide for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or our list for the Best Waterfalls In Gatlinburg TN.

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