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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/mobility equipment 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 (433)
Photos (687)
Recordings (189)
Completed (1507)
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Kathy C
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Scenic driving

Heavy traffic. Great views of foliage, creeks. Took us 2.5 hours to drive it.

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Caiti Sloman
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Scenic driving

Cades Cove is cool if you are into the historic buildings, we saw one bear on the Abrams Falls Trail hike. It wasn't too busy on a Wednesday morning! We started around 9:30.

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Darya Zhuraukina
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Hiking
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Lindsey Johnson
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Hiking

saw a few animals and historic sites but almost 3 hours to drive 11 miles. I could have hiked it.

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Dave Finley
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Hiking
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Mark Moenich
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Scenic driving

We drove through the loop twice on a Monday. The first time was at 8 am as soon as it opens(got there about 7:15 and waited in line. We were the 14th car). We saw dozens of deer and turkeys and even a beer! We didn’t stop at all the first time through, except to take a couple of pictures from the car. The second time through was at noon. We didn’t see any wildlife besides a stray turkey or two. We did stop at a couple of old time cabins and pioneer buildings. Was pretty cool to see how people lived 200 years ago.

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Lindaey Baker
Yellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarOctober 3, 2020
Scenic driving

Definitely don’t recommend doing this drive on the weekend, we spent 2hr stuck in traffic, moving so slow. Didn’t see any animals, other than a couple of wild turkeys. Would’ve been much nicer on a bike, when cars weren’t allowed.

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Amy Bridewell
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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
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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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Julie Ghooray
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Road biking

We biked the loop on a Sunday and wish we were in town on a Wednesday to ride without cars! I do not recommend biking with cars. It is not wide enough for both to fit. We were stuck behind cars and had to break going downhill. Abram Falls was a must see!

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Wendy Melton
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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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