The secret is out. Cycling Cades Cove is the best way to visit this spectacular Smoky Mountain valley. Whether you are a seasoned rider, a novice, or a family, biking at Cades Cove will be a fantastic experience.
To help you plan a successful and memorable trip (as in good memories!), we compiled everything you will need to know into five groups:
- When To Ride
- What to Wear
- What to See
- Ride Day Tips
Cades Cove Loop is an 11-mile loop, although our map link has it at 10 miles, which has you climbing 600 feet and descending 580. The average gradient (steepness of a hill) is 3.6%.
What does all of this mean? For a seasoned cyclist, it translates into an easy ride. For someone who doesn’t bike or who is not active, it will take some effort. But before you dismiss this as too strenuous, let’s consider all the facts.
We begin by discussing the loop road. It is a cyclist’s dream! This one-lane, one-way paved road is as smooth as silk. Smooth roads are easier to navigate, allowing you time to relax and enjoy the scenery instead of stressing over potholes or debris. They also require less energy to bike on compared to the bumpy tarmac. Lastly, smooth roads are gentler on your “you know what.” Toss in the fact that there are plenty of downhills to coast, and you have an enjoyable route that riders of any age and ability can complete.
Our next point is this: if you get tired, walk or rest. Signs posted at the steepest section, which is about halfway, urge cyclists to walk their bikes. Take advantage of the opportunity.
Still not convinced? Then take the 4-mile loop or the 8-mile loop that bypasses the climbs. The 4-mile route has 227 feet of climbing, and the 8-mile loop has 490 feet. Both turn onto gravel roads that are in excellent condition and safe to bike.
When To Ride
First, the bad news: Cades Cove is open to cars. If you are a veteran rider and are comfortable with the risk, then the loop is yours all year.
Now the good news! Every Wednesday from May 5 through August 25, vehicles are not allowed in Cades Cove. You read that correctly: bikes and walkers only! Saturday from 8 AM (when the park opens) until 10 AM is another option.
According to the National Park Service, the Cades Cove loop will be closed for repaving from September 8-21, 2021.
What To Wear
Early mornings, even in the summer, can be cool. Dress in layers and avoid cotton that absorbs sweat and can feel uncomfortable. Use lightweight, breathable materials used by outdoor enthusiasts. When the day warms, these are easy to peel off and stash in your backpack.
If you bring your bike, then you will no doubt have shoes you are comfortable wearing. If you plan to rent a bike, wear comfortable athletic shoes or lightweight hikers. These “grab” the pedals better and are perfect when exploring the outbuildings at Cades Cove.
Another tip is to wear sunglasses even when it’s cloudy. Not only will you look Hollywood-cool, but glasses protect your eyes from Kamikaze insects.
What to See
Cades Cove is beautiful! The Smoky Mountains are a stunning backdrop no matter the time or season. Wildlife is abundant. You may see turkeys, deer, or bears. These animals are conditioned to seeing cyclists and may not get off the road when you approach. Believe it or not, deer cross the road without looking. The nerve! So stay alert and be safe.
There are plenty of historic buildings to explore, like the John Oliver Cabin, Primitive Baptist Church, and the Cable Mill.
Don’t have a bike or didn’t haul them on your vacation? No problem! Cades Cove Bike Rental can save the day. Conveniently located near the park entrance, they offer cruisers and some hybrids but operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
Road closure days are their busy times. They open at 6:30 AM, and the last rental goes out a 3 PM so that they can close shop by 5. Because road closure days are a popular time to ride, be prepared to arrive early and stand in long lines. You can avoid the morning rush by scheduling a midday ride.
The price for adults is $8.50 an hour and $5.50 for children, which includes a helmet. You prepay for the estimated time biking, and they adjust your bill when you return.
Their fleet consists of seven-speed Fuji Barnaby, some 21-speed Fuji Absolute hybrids, and single-speed Barnaby models. All are comfortable (you sit upright), and the 2” wide tires provide a cushion of air for a gentle ride.
All bikes come with a water bottle cage so bring your bottles. They also rent GoPro-fitted helmets to capture your adventure.
Lastly, Tennessee State Law requires children under the age of 16 to wear a helmet.
Ride Day Tips
When you arrive, you have several parking options. The best spot is before the one-way portion of Cades Cove Loop Road, but it’s small and fills up fast. Your next options are the campground picnic area or near the stables. Rumor has it that on road closure day, drivers “create” their parking spot off the road. It is uncertain if the Rangers are cracking down on this or not.
The only place to purchase food (and soft-serve ice cream!) is at the campground store, so pack plenty of snacks and water bottles. You can refill bottles at the restroom near the store or the one near Cable Mill.
There is no cell service in Cades Cove, so ride smart and be safe. Alert other riders and walkers when you are passing. When turning left, always glance over your shoulder to make sure the coast is clear.
Most of all, have fun! Enjoy the stunning scenery and explore historic structures. Who knows, you may even spot a bear!