Q: What is the most visited area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
A: Cades Cove
Cades Cove is a beautiful 6,800-acre valley dotted with log cabins and churches. These structures date back to the 18th and 19th centuries and are among the most historic buildings in the Smokies. It’s also home to verdant forests, flowering meadows and some of the most diverse wildlife in Tennessee. Located close to the towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, it’s a great place to explore during your Smoky Mountains vacation.
Go for a Drive
Cades Cove Loop is an 11-mile road that meanders one way through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It usually takes about two hours (sometimes four depending on traffic) to complete the drive. Be prepared to stop frequently as other motorists are constantly on the lookout for white tail deer, coyote, elk, fox and black bear. The best time to get a glimpse of black bears is in the late afternoon or early evening during the ending days of summer and beginning of fall.
Cades Cove Loop is closed to motor vehicles at various times throughout the year to allow bicycle riders and hikers the freedom to safely travel along the road. Beginning in early May and continuing through September, the loop is closed until 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. In December, the road is not accessible by car until noon on Saturdays.
Toward the middle of your journey, you’ll find a working water-powered mill located near the Visitor’s Center. It’s a great opportunity to take a few photos, relax and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere.
Take a Hike
Exploring Cades Cove by foot allows you to experience everything this area has to offer at your own pace. Numerous trails are available and each possesses its own set of challenges. Always be sure that your fitness level matches the trail you choose to hike. A difficulty level of 5 is considered to be easy. Levels 5 to 10 are moderate, and trails with a 10 rating or higher are strenuous. Get a Cades Cove park trail map here.
Hop on a Bike
For a truly breathtaking experience, pedal your way around the cove. Bicycles can be rented at the Cades Cove Campground Store or you can bring your own. Please be aware that the state of Tennessee requires anyone under the age of 16 to wear a helmet while riding a bike. Be sure to obey all posted traffic regulations and visit the camp store website for more information.
One of the most interesting is Abrams Falls, a stunning waterfall just 20 feet high but spills large amounts of water into a deep pool below on Abrams Creek. The falls are named in honor of the Cherokee chief whose village once occupied the land a few miles down stream. Hiking to Abrams Falls begins just past the #10 Stop on Cades Cove Loop Road. At 5 miles round trip, the hike is considered to be a bit of a challenge and moderately difficult to navigate. If you decide to embark, it will take approximately three to four hours to complete.
Laurel Falls consistently ranks as one of the most popular spots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Taking its name from the gorgeous mountain laurels that grow throughout the region, this waterfall stands 80 feet tall and features upper and lower sections divided by a walkway that crosses over the stream of the upper falls. A round trip hike around the falls will take about 2.5 hours and covers approximately 2.6 miles.
Located along the path of an old logging railroad, Lynn Camp Prong Cascades offers a big time rush of water. Hikers of all skill levels will enjoy the trek on Middle Prong Trail that leads to this incredible waterfall. These falls are unique because they actually flow over many of the smaller Cades Cove waterfalls found on this trail.
You’ll be surrounded by undisturbed nature and unmatched views of the Smoky Mountains landscape during this adventure.
To ensure the best experience possible, always check the weather in the Smoky Mountains before heading out into Cades Cove.
Not far from Cades Cove is Bluegreen’s Laurel Crest™ Resort. Your Smoky Mountains adventure begins with Bluegreen’s Explorer offer. Take a look!
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