Cades Cove

The Can’t-Miss Guide to Exploring Cades Cove

When heading to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a visit to the historic area of Cades Cove Tennessee takes you on a journey into the past when pioneers prevailed.

A prime wildlife viewing spot, a fascinating historical destination with well-preserved buildings, a rest stop before or after a strenuous hike, unforgettable mountain and meadow vistas, and a scenic route for driving and biking — it’s all here.

In your travel plans, include plenty of time for exploring, observing, and discovering the history of this valley, which attracts millions of visitors annually.

Cades Cove Loop Road - Cades Cove, Tennessee
Cades Cove Loop Road | photo via @walkthroughlava

About Cades Cove Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and Cades Cove is one of the park’s premier attractions. And, it has a fascinating history!

Cherokee Land

Before it became part of the park, the vast valley was used as hunting grounds by the Cherokees. The abundance of black bears, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, coyotes, and other animals drew many Native Americans to the area, as well as the Europeans who followed.

The Cherokee also inhabited seasonal camps here but didn’t stay for long. In 1819, the Cherokees relinquished their claim to the area when the Treaty of Calhoun was signed.

The leader of one of these tribes, the Tsiya’hi, was named Chief Kade, which is where the region likely got its name.

European Settlers Arrive

For many years, settlers made their way to Cades Cove Tennessee, building cabins and setting up farms. They established a village that grew to almost 700 residents by 1850.

For years thereafter, settlers and pioneers converged on the area while attempts were made to relocate the Indigenous Peoples, which resulted in the infamous Trail of Tears. Cades Cove also had its share of tragedy with the Civil War and its aftereffects, as well as notoriety with Prohibition.

Joining the National Park

On June 15, 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established, and Cades Cove and all its acreage became part of the park.

The residents weren’t keen on leaving, though. The last of them didn’t move out until 1937, and one of the Baptist churches continued to hold services until the 1960s, against the National Park Service’s laws. Ironically, the remaining structures have become the park’s most popular points of interest.

There are many things to see and do here, from standing on the property of original historical homesteads to exploring ancient caves.

Primitive Buildings Smoky Mountains

Things to Do in Cades Cove Tennessee

Cades Cove Loop Road

A popular way for visitors to enjoy the beauty of the Cades Cove landscape is a drive along the 11-mile scenic loop. The one-way loop takes you near several attractions, such as Elijah Oliver Cabin, Abrams Falls Nature Trail, the Henry Whitehead House, Cades Cove Campground, and the Cades Cove Visitor Center.

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. Check with the visitor center for when the loop is closed to traffic and open for visitors to walk or ride a bicycle.

When you choose to pull over, 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.

Biking Cades Cove

As mentioned, Cades Cove Tennessee isn’t open to motor vehicles during certain times between May and September. These times are popular for visitors who want to explore all the sites along the Cades Cove Loop to the fullest extent via foot and bicycle.

Since few roads in the park are suitable for cycling because of the steep and winding terrain and heavy traffic, this gives you a great opportunity to pedal around.

Biking Cades Cove is an enjoyable and safe way to travel the road without dealing with traffic. So you’ll have not only exhaust-free air and safe riding conditions but also easier access to seeing the native wildlife and the primitive sites. Plus, you don’t have to worry about finding a parking place.

Because there are two cutoff roads — Hyatt Lane and Sparks Lane — cutting through 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 Company.

You can choose between geared bikes or non-geared bikes. Also, helmet rentals are available.

Safety Tip: Even if you’re older than the state-law mandated age of 16 to wear a bike helmet, wear one anyway.

John Oliver Cabin - Cades Cove, Tennessee
John Oliver Cabin | photo via @drewmaniac

John Oliver Cabin

The Oliver family lived in Cades Cove Tennessee before Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established. The couple moved to Cades Cove in the 1820s and were the first permanent settlers.

The cabin is Cades Cove’s oldest standing structure and the first historical structure you come to while driving the loop. Just a short distance from the cabin is Gregory’s Cave, which has a passageway of over 400 feet long. 

Horseback Riding

Park your car and reserve time for a guided horseback ride through the park via the Cades Cove Riding Stables, the only authorized stables for the Park. If you would rather sit back and relax, horse-drawn carriage rides and hayride excursions are available too.

Whichever way you choose, riding through the park at a leisurely pace is one of the best ways to experience the natural beauty and wildlife, plus the unlimited scenery that the Smoky Mountains provide. Additionally, the knowledgeable guides share stories about the area.

Henry Whitehead House - Cades Cove, Tennessee
Henry Whitehead House | photo via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Whitehead House

While driving or biking along the Cades Cove Loop, plan a stop at the historic Henry Whitehead House. This is an interesting location because there are two cabins sitting side by side on the property: the Whitehead cabin and the Gregory cabin.

The Gregory cabin is the oldest and was home to Matilda Shields Gregory and her children. She married Henry Whitehead, who built the home for the family in 1898.

Gregory’s Cave

Visitors who have an interest in delving into the history of caves can do so at Gregory’s Cave. This hidden gem is accessible from the Cades Cove Loop near the John Oliver Cabin and offers an interesting look at geological formations.

Back in the day, the Gregory family used the cave for commercial purposes. Currently, the cave isn’t accessible to the public, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

Cades Cove - Animals - Cades Cove, Tennessee
Cades Cove – Animals | photo via @leeannmarieholland

Cades Cove Animals

For anyone who has an interest in wildlife observation, Cades Cove Tennessee offers a landscape within the park that is sure to please. In fact, viewing the animals native to the Cades Cove habitat has become an ongoing quest for regular park visitors.

A few of the animals that you may encounter include black bears, beavers, bobcats, coyotes, deer, foxes, otters, turkeys, and raccoons. While nearly everyone spots the prevailing white-tailed deer at one time or another, people also try to seek the more elusive creatures. Skunks also live here, so watch out for them.

The best time to observe wildlife is in the early mornings when the park is the least busy. During your visit, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t attempt to touch or feed the wildlife.

Cades Cove Nature Trail

Take a break with a leisurely walk along this easy trail located on the back half of the Cades Cove Loop. The trail is lined with chestnut and dogwood trees.

During the spring, the dogwood trees are in full bloom. During the fall, expect a colorful palate as the leaves change to a multitude of colors. Along the trail, expect mountain views and the possibility of seeing wildlife traversing the area.

biking cades cove tennessee

Mollie’s Butt

There are more than a few officially designated locations in the Smokies with names ending in “butt.” The word is used as a general term to describe the ending point of a mountain or a ridge.

Along with Mollie’s Butt, there are also Rich Butt Mountain, Cobb Butt, Holy Butt, and Butt Mountain. Mollie’s Butt has a peak with a 3,573-foot elevation that can be clearly seen once you enter the Cades Cove Loop. 

The Pearl Harbor Tree

Dec. 7, 1941, is a day in American history that will never be forgotten. It’s the day the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service.

After hearing the announcement on the radio, Golman Myers, whose home was in Cades Cove, immediately set up a memorial on his property, which was included a sweet gum tree sapling with a plaque that said, “We will remember this forever.”

The 60-foot Pearl Harbor tree still stands tall today in Cades Cove Tennessee as a memorial to those who lost their lives that fateful day.

Cades Cove - Animals - Cades Cove, Tennessee
Cades Cove – Animals | photo via @leeannmarieholland

More Primitive Historical Sites

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’ll 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 lives of their inhabitants, like the corn crib and the smokehouse. Below is a short list of sites to visit:

  • The Primitive Baptist Church
  • Tipton Place
  • The Cades Cove Methodist Church
  • The Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church
  • The Becky Cable House
  • The Elijah Oliver Place
  • John Cable Grist Mill
  • The Myers Barn
  • Carter Shields Cabin 

Rich Mountain Road

Rich Mountain Road could be compared to that of “The Road Not Taken,” a poem written by Robert Frost. This scenic road runs for 7 miles through a serene landscape, providing a way to exit Cades Cove without dealing with traffic.

Rich Mountain Road connects to Tuckaleechee Cove in Townsend Tennessee, which offers an interesting side trip for a guided tour of the underground Tuckaleechee Caverns. 

John Cable Grist Mill - Cades Cove, Tennessee
John Cable Grist Mill | photo via @barrysnapp

Fun Facts About Cades Cove

What is Cades Cove Tennessee?

Cades Cove Tennessee was a long-standing but scattered community of homes, farms, churches, and businesses at the base of the Smokies, with most residents working in farming and logging. Before that, it was a hunting ground and a temporary settlement for Cherokee tribes.

Where did the name Cades Cove come from?

It’s believed that Cades Cove got its name from Chief Kade, the leader of a Cherokee Tribe in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Although not much is known about him, a European trader confirmed his existence.

However, the valley was named Cades Cove by the European settlers. The Cherokee called the area Tsiya’hi, which means “Otter Place” because otters were once abundant in the Smoky Mountains.

In addition, it’s believed that Chief Abraham of Chilhowee was the inspiration for naming Abrams Creek, which runs through Cades Cove Tennessee.

What time does Cades Cove Tennessee open?

Currently, Cades Cove is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., June through August. In September and October, the hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. In November, visitors can access Cades Cove from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. During December, the area is accessible from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

If you’re planning a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cades Cove, it’s best to check the park website for any updates on opening and closing times. Also, there are times of the year when Cades Cove is traffic-free, so, you’ll want to check for these dates.

How far is Cades Cove Tennessee from Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge?

Located within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove is 33.4 miles south of Gatlinburg Tennessee, which is about a 1.5-hour drive. Pigeon Forge Tennessee is 31.3 miles away, which is approximately a 1.25-hour drive.

Can you visit the John Cable Grist Mill in Cades Cove Tennessee?

Yes, you can visit the John Cable Grist Mill in Cades Cove. It was originally constructed in 1868, rebuilt in the early 1930s, and still operates today. It’s the last of six or seven grist mills that once operated in the area.

From April through October, volunteers demonstrate how wheat and corn are turned into flour.

Many surrounding buildings that you see were moved from elsewhere. A traditional blacksmith shop replica was also built nearby.

When is the best time to see bears in Cades Cove?

Cades Cove Tennessee is a top spot for viewing wildlife because of its wide-open space. The best opportunities for seeing bears are in late spring and early fall in the mornings from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and again in the early evenings from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

There’s no guarantee that you’ll see bears, but if you do, don’t approach them. Stay a minimum of 150 feet away, and adhere to any instructions from a ranger when bears are in the area.

Cades Cove Photos
photo via Your Reflections Photography

Cades Cove Tennessee & Great Smoky Mountains National Park | The Perfect Pair

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a true adventure for visitors of all ages to enjoy. Whether you’re hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, or taking pictures of resident wildlife, there’s something exciting for everyone to enjoy.

Add the Cades Cove valley, its interesting history, and its many historic sites and hidden gems to your itinerary. You’ll return home with memories you won’t forget.

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