It’s one of the most visited sites in the nation’s most visited national park. And if you’ve ever visited Cades Cove, you certainly understand the attraction. Located approximately 25 miles west of Gatlinburg, Cades Cove embodies all the best that Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer in terms of beauty and historical value. A journey down the 11-mile, one-way road that loops its way around the cove should be added to your list of things to do when visiting the Smokies.
The land now known as Cades Cove was first used as Cherokee hunting grounds, and in the early 19th century, it was acquired by the State of Tennessee and parceled out to white settlers. From the mid 1800s until the establishment of the national park in the late 1920s, the area was a thriving frontier community, at one point reaching a peak population of 685. The cove was originally called “Kate’s Cove,” named after the wife of Cherokee Chief Abrams.
Today, Cades Cove is virtually a living museum, serving as home to many of the dwellings and other structures that stood during the community’s heyday. As you travel the loop, you’ll see the homesteads of early settlers like Elijah Oliver and John Cable as well as some of the churches that were so important in the lives of the cove’s residents. Of particular interest is the Cable Mill area; there, you’ll find the Cades Cove visitor center and several remaining vestiges of pioneer life, such as a corn mill, sorghum mill and blacksmith shop.
Even if it weren’t an historical treasure, Cades Cove would be worth visiting for its scenic beauty alone. Rolling green pastures are framed on all sides by foothills or towering peaks. Grazing cattle, frolicking deer and blooming flowers paint a picture of pastoral Smoky Mountains beauty.
When touring the cove, be sure to make time for exploring nature. At the loop’s midpoint you’ll find the trailhead to Abrams Falls. The 2.5-mile, one-way hike takes you along the banks of Abrams Creek to a beautiful waterfall. Just past the Cable Mill area, look for the Cades Cove Nature Trail, a half-mile route that provides insight into the ways that the cove’s residents used their abundant natural resources.
While automobile is usually the quickest means of touring Cades Cove, it’s not your only option. Many people take on the loop as a hike, while others prefer experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the cove on bicycle. The best times to try these alternative modes of travel are on Wednesday and Saturday mornings since the one-way road is closed to auto travel before 10:00 am.
And while you’re touring historic cabins, check out some of the modern but affordable Gatlinburg cabins we have in our inventory of first-class overnight rental properties at Heartland Rentals.