Before Mom and I moved to Tennessee 25 years ago, we left Illinois in a motor home with a motorcycle and scooter hanging off the front and back. My goal was to see every national park in the United States, and Canada from Victoria to St. John’s, Newfoundland. We were able to do that, over the course of 17 months, and even better, was the decision to settle in Townsend, TN just outside the Cades Cove Loop Road entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Of all the beautiful places on the North American continent, there is nowhere I would rather live.
I have been in the tourist/hospitality industry ever since, with the last 10 years as the owner/operator of Gracehill Bed and Breakfast. During that time, I have sent and given directions to thousands of people looking for the Cove. Furthermore, if you only have two nights, one full day in the Smokies, I say a drive around Cades Cove with a little hiking on its many trails, needs to be at the top of the list.
The Great Smokies is the most visited National Park in the U.S. and Cades Cove the most visited “attraction” in it. It is a pioneer settlement from the late 1800’s, early 1900’s, in a bowl depression surrounded by lofty mountains. (Think spacious skies and purple mountain majesties…) It’s filled with log cabins, churches, cemeteries, a gristmill and my favorite, the barns.
It helps to know some things about the Cove. It features a newly paved 11-mile, single lane, one-way loop road. It opens at sunrise, closes at dark, and those are the two times you will see the most wildlife. If you are the type to take home a pic of every deer, pull over so the car behind you can pass. It is closed to vehicular traffic on Saturday and Wednesday mornings till 10am, May through September, for bicycle and foot traffic. You can rent bikes at the entrance or bring your own. In the winter or early spring, with no stops, the drive can take an hour and 15 minutes. Weekends in the summer plan on a couple of hours. In October, arrive very early and preferably during the week. I’ll pack you a picnic breakfast to go. Bring your camera and tripod for the mist rising off the water shots. A Saturday afternoon in October, could take four hours. Make sure you have enough gas. The last gas station at the Townsend entrance is the Marathon at the KOA Campground. If you make it out of the Cove on fumes, you can just about coast the nine miles back into Townsend. The only tricky spot is the stop sign at the “Wye.” I tried coasting once. Was probably a little irritating to the driver behind me, but what the heck, I was in pursuit of empirical knowledge!
There are two gravel roads that bisect the Cove going in both directions. If you start going through sugar withdrawal, hang a left on Sparks or Hyatt Lane and it will shorten the trip. A little more than half way around, by the Cable Mill, is a visitor center and restroom facilities. The last 1/3 of the drive is more heavily wooded, but my favorite. Everything is closer to the road and most of the barns are there.
Books have been written about Cades Cove and the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, many of them here on the library table. You can Google Cades Cove and come up with 100s of articles from many different perspectives. The Park puts out a good brochure with numbered stops. You can pick it up at the entrance for $1, or I have multiple copies here, if you want to read it before you go. My intent was to write an article on the Cades Cove Preservation Association, with a little history of the Cove first. Hmmm. Next installment another day. Blessings, mizkathleen@ Gracehill