Cades Cove Loop: A Scenic Mountain Valley Drive

Cades Cove Scenic Drive
Local Expert's Rating:
5.0 / 5

The Cades Cove Loop winds for 11 miles through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a picturesque drive with a backdrop of the mountain peaks and its lush, rolling greens. Europeans settled the Cades Cove area between 1818 and 1821. Today, visitors to Cades Cove can enjoy the largest variety of historic buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When traveling the scenic loop road, plan to get out and visit the restored buildings that include three churches, log homes, cantilevered barns, and a working mill.

Access the Cades Cove Loop from Laurel Creek Road, Parson Branch Road, or Rich Mountain Road—the latter two roads are closed during winter. The Loop is a one-way (one-lane) paved road. The scenic driving tour through the Cades Cove Loop takes approximately two to four hours depending on traffic. Because it’s a single-lane road, be prepared to stop frequently—the slow pace makes it easy to enjoy the amazing mountain landscapes, wildflower meadows, and diverse wildlife.

The gently winding road offers many places to stop, park and stretch your legs while taking in the scenery. Halfway through the Loop, make a point to stop at the Visitors Center. Pick up some trinkets to take home with you: souvenirs and maps are inside the store, as well as other locally made products. Photo opportunities are ample and, luckily, restrooms are available as well. The water-powered mill, named the “John P. Cable Grist Mill” is also near the visitor center and is definitely a must-see for all history lovers.

What Will You See at Cades Cove

Besides the unending views of nature, what are some other historical structures that you will see during your trip to the Cades Cove Loop?

Be sure to read about the history behind each building for a greater appreciation of the area and an understanding of what makes each one so special.

There are also a few waterfalls! Make your way to Abrams Falls, Mill Creek Falls, or Crooked Arm Cascades Waterfall.

So, How Do You Get to Cades Cove Loop?

From Gatlinburg, take the Parkway to the National Park. Immediately after the Sugarland Visitor Center (on your right), make a right on Little River Road. Stay on this scenic road for about 25 miles of winding, beautiful roads. The road dead-ends into Cades Cove.

Note that from early May through late September, only bicycle and foot traffic are allowed on the Cades Cove Loop on Wednesdays. During other months, vehicles can enter on Wednesdays.

Does Cades Cove Cost Money?

Cades Cove is free to enter, but you might have to pay a small $5 parking pass fee if you decide to stop and walk around. For those who just want to drive the loop, you will be surely happy to not pay a dime!

Best Time to See Bears?

If you go in the morning around 6 AM – 9 AM before the crowds arrive, this is the most ideal time to spot black bears. You can also expect them after the crowd dies down and it gets a bit darker outside around 5 PM – 7 PM. You can pretty much always plan on spotting some wildlife when you come, however.

Insider Tips:
-During your drive, keep an eye out for whitetail deer, coyotes, elk, fox, and black bears. Visitors often spy black bears in the late afternoon/early evening hours. Black bears typically can be seen along the Loop during late summer and fall.
-Don’t block the roadway. It gets extremely busy in the Cades Cove Loop at times, and everyone simply wants to enjoy the loop at their own pace. Pull over and let other cars pass to be courteous to other travelers on the loop.
-Needing to use the restroom? There are restrooms near Cable Mill and the Visitor Center as well as the Ranger Station and Camp Ground.