In the Smoky Mountains, a “cove” is a flat valley surrounded by mountains. Cades Cove is the most popular valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is due to its abundant wildlife and easy access from Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Look for deer, black bears, and wild turkeys.
Before Cades Cove was an auto tour inside the national park, its idyllic scenery was the site of a thriving town. Today, many of the historic building have been preserved, dating back to the late 1800s. There’s even a working grist mill. Come on inside and talk with the miller, open daily March to October and on weekends in November.
An 11-mile loop road circles the valley, and several trailheads take off into the wilderness from here. Even though 11 miles doesn’t sound like a great distance, its many stops and tourist-looky-loos extend the drive time to four hours or more on busy weekends. Cades Cove can get very crowded, so plan to visit early in the day or in the off-season to beat the traffic jams.
In June 2020, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced the implementation of vehicle-free access along the Cades Cove Loop Road each Wednesday from June 17 through September 30, 2020, as part of a study to improve the visitor experience. The park proposed the study because of congested parking areas and disruption of visitor services associated with keeping the road closed to cars before 10 a.m. on Wednesday and Saturday mornings during the summer months that have been in effect for several years.
By eliminating the Saturday morning closures, more travelers in cars can access the Cades Cove area on what usually is the busiest day of the week. In addition, park staff and volunteers can spend less time managing traffic generated in the mornings before the road opened up and can devote more time to visitor programs.