Your Guide to Exploring Cades Cove in Smoky Mountains

If there is one place that epitomizes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s arguably Cades Cove. A prime wildlife viewing spot, a fascinating historical destination, a rest stop before or after a strenuous hike and a scenic route for driving and biking – it’s all here in this stunningly beautiful 6,800-acre valley framed by the towering mountains.

Cades Cove Photos

Photo courtesy of Tonya Damron Photography.

Cherokee tribes once roamed this area for hunting but likely didn’t settle here or stay very long. The leader of one of these tribes, the Tsiya’hi, was named Chief Kade, where the region likely got its name. Later on in the early 19th century, European settlers arrived and established a village that grew to almost 700 residents by 1850. In the following years, Cades Cove had its share of tragedy with the Civil War and its aftereffects, and notoriety with Prohibition. The town was absorbed into the National Park in the 1930’s, and the remaining structures have now become its most popular point of interest.

Wildlife at Cades Cove

Viewing the animals native to the Cades Cove habitat has become an ongoing quest for regular park visitors. While nearly everyone spots the prevailing white-tailed deer at one time or another, people also try to seek the more elusive creatures like turkey, raccoon, groundhogs and black bears. Skunks also live here, so watch out for them. The best times to observe wildlife are in the early mornings when the park is the least busy.

Biking Cades Cove

From May to September, the road becomes a dedicated car-free bike trail every Wednesday and Saturday, until 10 AM. Because there are two cutoff roads – Hyatt Lane and Sparks Lane – cutting through the the loop, you can shorten your ride if you wish. Feel free to bring your own bike, or rent one at the Cades Cove Campground Store or Cades Cove Trading. Also, even if your older than the state-law mandated age 16 to wear a bike helmet, wear one anyway for safety.

Horseback Riding

Another alternative to driving is saddling up and taking a guided tour on horse. Cades Cove Riding Stables is the only authorized stables for the Park, so you’ll want to come here if this is your kind of transportation. You can also ride on a drawn carriage, or take a hayride. Whatever way you choose, you’ll be treated to the same scenic wonders of the area and the Smoky Mountains itself, as well as have knowledgeable guides share stories about the Cove.

Driving Tour of Cades Cove

The majority of visitors to Cades Cove drive the loop, making stops along the way to explore the old homesteads and buildings and to hike its trails that originate in the valley. The road is open from sunrise to sunset every day, if weather permits. When you choose to pullover, be sure to use the turnouts and practice common courtesy to other motorists. Also, grab a self-guided touring booklet at the road’s entrance to maximize your visit.

Explore the Primitive Site

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Cove is the well-preserved group of buildings around the loop that formed a long-standing community. Here you will find six cabins that were private residences, a working grist mill with a cantilever barn and three churches. Also look for the smaller structures that tell of the daily living of its inhabitants, like the corn crib and the smokehouse.

When you come to stay with us at Christopher Place Resort, your Smoky Mountains bed and breakfast, be sure to let us know about your plans to visit Cades Cove. We can offer a few more insider tips to make your trip a memorable one.

Request our free romantic getaway guide to the Smoky Mountains for more things to do and see in the area.