Cades Cove is an isolated wide green valley surrounded by mountains and it is one of the most popular sights in the Great Smoky Mountains. It is located in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is a mountainous National Park located on the border of the states of Tennessee and North Carolina. Cades Cove attracts more than two million visitors each year for its well-preserved buildings, scenic views and wildlife. A visit to the valley offers a good chance to see the animals found in the National Park. Deer are seen very often, but sightings of black bear, coyote, woodchuck, turkey, raccoon, skunk and other animals are also possible.
Cades Cove is a limestone valley formed by erosion of the Precambrian sandstone which exposed the Paleozoic limestone. Rich Mountain to the north and Elkmont and Thunderhead to the south are more resistant to erosion, these mountain ranges surround the valley and make it relatively isolated among the mountains. The limestone became fertile due to the valley’s weather and made Cades Cove suitable for growing crops.
The valley has a rich history. Cades Cove wasn’t always a place to visit for a day, it was a place to live. More than a hundred years before it became part of the National Park, many families worked and lived in the valley. Before the Europeans settled there, the Cherokee Indians traveled through the valley to hunt deer, bison and bear. Cherokee Indians hunted there for hundreds of years, but archaeologists have found no evidence that they lived there. The first Europeans moved into the valley between 1818 and 1821. By 1830, the population of the valley had grown to 271 people. In Cades Cove you can visit the most and best preserved buildings in the entire National Park.
Although Cades Cove was previously a self-sufficient community, pioneers did purchase items such as medicine, salt and oil in the village of Maryville. Around 1880 a small shop was opened, the Giles Gregory store, where seeds, sugar, medicines and gardening tools were sold. Products could be purchased with money but also exchanged for eggs, for example. The larger village of Maryville also had more to offer and the residents of the valley continued to go there to trade. It took them three days per horse; a day there, a day to sell or buy products and a day to travel home again. What they sold in Maryville were mainly chestnuts.
The Cades Cove Tour
There is a 17 kilometer long ring road through the valley that offers motor vehicle drivers a chance to quietly enjoy the views and the animals. The maximum speed is 40 kilometers per hour. Allow at least two to four hours to drive this bypass and longer if you plan to hike one or more trails along the bypass. Traffic is very busy during the tourist season in summer and autumn and also on all weekends throughout the year.
When driving on the ring road you must be considerate of other road users and use the parking spaces on the side of the ring road if you want to stop to enjoy the view or the animals. Driving the ring road can take extra long if there are bears in sight, and despite the regulations, people often stop in the middle of the road to take beautiful photos and get a good look at the animals. Scattered along the ring road are three churches, a working mill, barns, log cabins and many other successfully restored buildings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The guide that you can take with you at the start of the ring road contains a lot of information about the various buildings along the ring road and the people who lived there. This guide costs $1.00 (in 2016) and also includes a map of the area.
Seeing the animals
Deer, black bears, coyotes, turkeys and other animals are common in Cades Cove. Because the animals are most active at night, you have the best chance of seeing them early in the morning and around sunset. It’s a good idea to bring binoculars. Some people like to sit quietly next to a trail and watch what animals emerge. Don’t forget to look closely at the bushes and trees, many animals spend their days among the leaves.
From the beginning of May to the end of September, you can only visit the ring road on foot or by bike every Wednesday and Saturday until 10:00 am. Outside of that, the ring road is open to cars and motorcycles from sunrise to sunset, depending on the weather. You can rent a bicycle at the Cades Cove camping shop at the start of the ring road. Children aged 16 and under are required to wear a helmet but it is recommended that all cyclists wear a helmet, wear good sunglasses and ride a bicycle that is in good condition. Keep an eye on the traffic signs along the ring road.
There are many hiking trails that start from a parking lot along the bypass, including the 5-mile hike to Abrams Falls and the short Cades Cove nature walk. Longer hiking trails such as Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top also start in the valley.
Distance to Cades Cove
- From Cherokee 91 kilometers
- From Gatlinburg 43 kilometers
- From Townsend 14 kilometers