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Cades Cove Loop Road is a 10.5 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Townsend, Tennessee that features a river and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round.

Length 10.5 mi Elevation gain 734 ft Route type Loop
Wheelchair friendly Kid friendly Stroller friendly Camping Road biking Scenic driving Walking Bird watching Paved River Views Wild flowers Wildlife No dogs
Description
Waypoints (18)
Tips

This road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park runs through a lush valley, see wildlife & historic buildings. Only bicycle and foot traffic are allowed on the loop road on Wednesdays all day from early May until late September. Otherwise the road is open to motor vehicles from sunrise until sunset daily, weather permitting. Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokies. It offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park. Large numbers of white-tailed deer are frequently seen, and sightings of black bear, coyote, ground hog, turkey, raccoon, skunk, and other animals are also possible. For hundreds of years Cherokee Indians hunted in Cades Cove but archeologists have found no evidence of major settlements. The first Europeans settled in the cove sometime between 1818 and 1821. By 1830 the population of the area had already swelled to 271. Cades Cove offers the widest variety of historic buildings of any area in the national park. Scattered along the loop road are three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and many other faithfully restored eighteenth and nineteenth century structures. An 11-mile, one-way loop road circles the cove, offering motorists the opportunity to sightsee at a leisurely pace. Allow at least two to four hours to tour Cades Cove, longer if you walk some of the area's trails. A visitor center (open daily), restrooms, and the Cable Mill historic area are located half-way around the loop road. Numerous trails originate in the cove, including the five-mile roundtrip trail to Abrams Falls and the short Cades Cove Nature Trail. Longer hikes to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top (made famous by the popular song) also begin in the cove. Several designated backcountry campsites (camping by permit only) are located along trails. Accessibility: This trail is paved, smooth, wide (typically at least five feet), and most of it has a grade less than 5%. The steepest points are around 2.0 miles and 4.6 miles, where the grade is between 10% and 13%. Wheelchair and stroller users may find these sections too steep without assistance. The Cades Cove Visitor Center, bathrooms, and drinking fountains are accessible, as well as the Becky Cable House in the historical building area. Most of the older, historical buildings are not wheelchair accessible and the surface is gravel or dirt around many of the buildings.

Traffic is heavy during the tourist season in summer and fall and on weekends year-round. While driving the loop road, please be courteous to other visitors and use pullouts when stopping to enjoy the scenery or view wildlife. The best time to view wildlife is early morning or early evening. You are almost certain to see deer at this time. You may also see bear, wild turkey, red wolves, and coyotes. The fall colors in October in Cades Cove are spectacular. But be prepared for heavy crowds, especially on the weekends, in October. Mid-week is the least crowded time to visit. Make sure that you will have enough gas to not only take the loop, but get you back to at least Townsend TN where the closest gas station is.

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Reviews (423)
Photos (665)
Recordings (187)
Completed (1458)
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Amy Bridewell
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 30, 2020
Hiking

Gorgeous!

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Shanna Taylor
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Hiking

Beautiful

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Steve Ellis
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Road biking
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Suzanne Moore
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarSeptember 29, 2020
Road bikingGreat!

A beautiful bike ride with some ups and downs. Scenery was pretty. We only stopped at the visitors center. We rode on a Monday, the loop was moderately trafficked. Traffic was stop and go for a good portion. Cars were patient with us for the most part.

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Wendy Melton
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 26, 2020
Mountain biking

Beautiful bike ride thru the loop. The Wednesdays closed to traffic is awesome. Absolutely beautiful bike ride, best way to see the entire Cove.

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Kevin Kennedy
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 24, 2020
Scenic drivingGreat!

This was a very enjoyable way to spend a morning in the park. As experienced hikers we typically look for the challenging hikes that will take us to fantastic viewpoints, but this time we only had limited time in the area and did not bring any gear. We wanted to experience some history of the park and this easy drive fit the bill. We got there around 9am and the traffic was still pretty light at that time. There are many historical homes and churches to see either right along the road or via a short hike into the woods. We stopped at almost every one as well as the visitor center. Took about four hours. After leaving the visitors center, the road winds through a heavily wooded section where we saw a bear foraging off to one side. Traffic stopped and crawled after that as everyone was trying to grab a look, but we just relaxed and didn’t get impatient. Once you enter you are mostly at the mercy of the one way traffic, so just relax and enjoy the sights. Expect to spend half a day to see everything. There are a few places to bail out if you need to.

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Sydney Finn
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 24, 2020
Great!

We biked the trail and it was beautiful! Go on a Wednesday to bike- the road is closed all day to cars. We hiked abrams falls trail (trailhead is about halfway around the loop) to split up the biking.

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Rachel Robertson
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HikingGreat!
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Brad Waltz
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Hiking
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Steve Ellis
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Paddle sports
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Patrick Kempf
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Hiking
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Carla Throndsen
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HikingGreat!

Definitely recommend this activity on a Wednesday or Saturday. Fun for all ages. We rode the entire lope and stopped along the way to explore the primitive sites. We were amazed at how well the grounds of these historical sites were maintained. We saw a bear, deer and bats. The bats were in the Tipton cabin but they didn’t bother you. I never knew they were so furry. The black bear we saw was 40 feet off the road but didn’t seem to mind us passing by. He did, however create quite a bike jam. Recommend taking at least a half a day if not a full day to enjoy and take in the scenery.

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Julie Hamsa
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarSeptember 14, 2020
Hiking

I hate to be overly negative, but I don't see the big deal about this driving loop. People were literally going 5 mph through the loop. It took well over an hour to get through it. While there are gorgeous views, it was not worth the time I invested in it. As for bikes, I would not recommend going when cars are allowed. Some bikers were trying to ride it on a weekend, and it seemed very unsafe for them- cars have no room to pass so the bikers had to keep pulling over. Even though cars are going slow, the bikers just didn't have room.

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Craig Best
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarSeptember 12, 2020
HikingGreat!

Had a beautiful day to walk the 11 mile loop. Saw some bear, deer, turkeys and a coyote. This trail is moderate because it of distance.

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Darlene Ralicki
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Bike touringGreat!

We did this trail on our bikes. Paved trail, great views and wildlife sightings. Highly recommend going on a Wednesday when the loop is closed to automobiles... hikers and cyclists only.

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Sandy Paterson
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 10, 2020
Road bikingGreat!

We biked this on Wednesday when they close the road for only biking and walking. We enjoyed it. We aren’t pro bikers so we had to walk our bikes up a few hills but still would prefer biking over walking it.

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Kevin Buckely
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Road biking

Biking is an absolute must, especially on Wednesday when they close the roads

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Kendra McClanahan
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 10, 2020
Bike touring

Highly recommend biking this on days the park is closed to cars, the one-way pretty is narrow and can’t imagine sharing it with cars. I’d also get there early for easier parking but plenty along the side of the road if you don’t. We had a blast riding and stopping at the different sites - we also added on Abrams Falls. The back half is pretty hilly, we were struggling at the end. Would definitely recommend this loop.

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Matt Moore
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarSeptember 10, 2020
Scenic drivingGreat!

Nice scenic drive, but very crowded and very slow. Plenty of areas to pull off road if want to stop and take pictures. Took over an hour to complete entire loop. Plan accordingly.

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Steve Ellis
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Paddle sports
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mark Lister
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Off Road DrivingGreat!

Crowded

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Adam Nolan
Yellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarSeptember 8, 2020
Scenic driving

There are several signs that ask drivers to not stop in the road and use the pull-offs. We thought this would be fun after a long day hike. However, we ended up getting stuck in a chain of cars where the front driver constantly stopped and at one point made everyone stop for about 10 minutes to get a picture of a doe and two fawns. Another time, a truck used a pull off but left all 4 of their doors open blocking traffic. Don't be those people! What waste, the park should do something to keep people moving along.

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Samantha Casselman
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 5, 2020

Beautiful drive. Take the time to get out and explore the old restored homes and churches. Try to stay away from the long lines of cars, you may have a better chance of catching wildlife since everyone else may stop in the middle of the road and you won't be able to see anyways. We saw two deer and 1 baby bear (thankful right before the end of the drive). We arrived at 5 pm and were done around 8. Remember the park closes at dusk.

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Stuart C. Forth II
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSeptember 3, 2020
WalkingGreat!

Arrived to the Cove around 0650 this morning (Thursday, September 3, 2020) and there were already about 10 cars in line waiting for the gate to open at 0800. I would recommend anyone who is able to walk the loop do so! It gives you so much more time and freedom to take in all the beauty of the place, without stopping the car every so often and blocking everyone behind you just to snap some crappy picture of a deer or flower that will be blurry or too far away anyhow. The sunrise through the Cove is amazing. The soft light and mistiness of the meadows really make it special to get there and be able to walk in and enjoy that before all of the cars arrive. If you are going to walk, you can go at any time of the day. I felt safe walking - there is plenty of space to walk along the edge of the pavement or even on the gravel next to the road while allowing cars to get by. There is a steady stream of cars, yes, but they come and go in spurts/groups and people stop off at the different viewing areas. Motorists were really respectful, drove slowly, and even asked if I was walking the whole loop in amazement. 5 hours to complete, with a detour to Elijah Oliver Place and the Visitor Center. 13.5 miles total.

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Steve Ellis
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Road bikingGreat!
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Lynsi Ernst
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Scenic drivingGreat!

So happy this is free to the public! We drove this loop on the way to Abrams Trail. Very beautiful. We went on a Tuesday and it was busy. Lots of cars. Next time we will go on a Wednesday and ride the loop on the bike. We did get to see a bear! The area is drop dead gorgeous!

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Carrie Schneider
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarAugust 27, 2020
Road bikingGreat!

I biked this loop yesterday (on a traffic free Wednesday) and it was absolutely gorgeous! We saw two bears, one big guy RIGHT off the trail (scared the absolute crap out of us and we almost crashed), and one baby cub in a different spot also right off the trail. Possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, but we knew mama was close by so we did not linger. Breathtaking mountain valley views, lots of cool primitive churches and cabins full of history along the way. The ladies at the visitor center were so friendly too! I highly recommend checking this out, but only bring your kids on the ride if they’re used to that length of a trip, there are a few tough spots and I saw lots of crying kiddos along the way!

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Stephen Hammers
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Hiking
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Rebecca H
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Really only for hiking or biking on Wednesdays.... LOTS of cars. If you like history many historical sites. You can park and hike to some of the sites. Or just drive the whole loop.

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Diego Rodriguez
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarAugust 19, 2020
Road bikingGreat!
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