Chances are you’ve been to Cades Cove. You’ve most likely driven the 11 mile loop with family and friends. You’ve been there, you’ve seen it… However, unless you’ve spent the day outside of the car in the cove – you have yet to truly experience it. The cove is the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s filled with beauty, history, wildlife and energy that you won’t find anywhere else in the park. The cove is, well.. Magical.
Want to experience that magic for yourself? Want to find the nooks and somewhat hidden spots that most just drive by? Well, today’s your lucky day! Because I’m going to share with you info, tips, special places and photos of just a small amount of what you’ll find on your own adventure in Cades Cove.
How To Truly Experience Cades Cove:
First, you must get out of the car. Within just the first mile of driving the loop, you will have already missed out on the first dose of serenity and peace of the experience.
To prevent a car ride from getting in your way, or better yet – cars getting in your way. Arrive early, on a Wednesday or a Saturday, between early May and late September. During that time, no vehicles are allowed on the loop until 10a.m. A helpful tip, the loop is never closed to foot traffic. You can even do a full moon night walk if you want!
Bike it. Run it. Walk it.
Biking Cades Cove:
Biking the loop is an experience in its own. You’ll still miss some things as your cruise through, but it’s still an absolutely perfect place to bike.
Bring your own bike or rent one at the Cades Cove campground store – just before the loop. Adults can rent bikes for $7.50hr or children, 10 and under, can rent bikes for $4.50hr.
Running Cades Cove:
Training for a marathon? Wanting to clear your mind in the most amazing way possible? Run the 11 mile loop. The coolness of the morning on your face, the beauty of the mountains surrounding you, the silence of peacefulness – without cars. If you choose to run it, you’ll reach restrooms and a place to refill your water at the 5.5 mile mark – the Cades Cove Visitors Center. Just remember, you may have to break for a black bear. Just let him pass and you’ll be back on your journey!
Walking Cades Cove:
This is it. This is the way. You must walk it, at least once – starting just a bit before sunrise. Although, after once, you’ll want to return. By walking the loop, you’ll get to experience everything that Cades Cove has to offer. You’ll pass by the horses as you first begin, you most likely see deer in the first field to your right. The sky will begin to show it’s color, while the fog covers the cove like a blanket. You’ll hear birds sing and even pass a turkey. You’ll say good morning to others, as if you’ve always been friends. About one mile into your walk, you’ll see an unpaved road on your left, going down a hill.
The road is Sparks Lane – it’s the mecca of morning magic in the cove. Take a walk down it. It is on Sparks Lane that you will get the perfect view of the sun rising above the mountains to your left, while seeing it’s glow casting out onto the fields and to the mountains on your right. The fields on both sides of you, as you walk, will be filled with wildflowers, butterflies, indigo buntings, deer, woodpeckers and spider webs glistening in the morning dew.
You may even get to say hello to a bear or two! Once you finish with the sunrise, you can continue with the 11 mile adventure or you can continue down Sparks Lane – making the day a 3.5 mile journey instead. Please note: Sparks Lane does have a water crossing. It’s the only water crossing in the Cove, but – if you choose to continue down Sparks, be prepared to get your feet wet.
Up for the full 11 miles?
You’ll see all of the above and everything that Cades Cove is known for – rolling hills, meadows, views of the mountains, cabins and history. You may pass by a coyote or if you look in the right places, even a heron.
If you do the loop late in the evening, keep your eyes out for the very elusive bobcat. I’ve been to the cove probably a hundred times, I’ve seen him once – down by the Primitive Baptist Church.. Although I’m certain that he’s seen me countless times.
Keep your eyes out for wildlife, explore the cabins and enjoy the view. At 5.5 miles, you’ll reach the Cades Cove visitors center. Use the restroom, fill up on water, take a break and then continue on. However, before reaching the middle point of your day, there are a couple of fun things to look out for. Interested in wandering off the road for a few minutes? Then check out the details for Gregory’s Cave and the Pearl Harbor tree!
Gregory’s Cave is located in Cades Cove. During the Cold War, the cave was a fall out shelter for up to 1,000 people. At that time, it was filled with water, food and emergency supplies. Later on, it was opened to the public. It is now illegal in the GSMNP to enter the cave – public access is not permitted at this cave or any of the other 16 caves within the park. However, it is a neat spot to see. Take a photo and leave it be.
Want to see it for yourself? As you’re walking the loop, you’ll notice an unused dirt road to your right – with a metal gate, to keep cars out. Compared to the millions of people that visit the cove, only a few know that this is the way to Gregory’s Cave. Walk up the road, you’ll see large picnic tables to your right – continue on past that point. It won’t be long until you’ll see the cave to your right. The cave does have bars blocking entrance to it. You’ll also notice boxes on the trees nearby. The boxes are used for studying bats inside of the GSM.
The Pearl Harbor Tree:
On December 7th of 1941, Goldman Myers lived in Cades Cove. He heard on his radio that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. He went outside with the intentions of marking that day in history, on the property of his mountain home. He found a small tree and placed a wheel over it. Goldman later added a tag that read: “December 7,1941 Japs Bombed Pearl Harbor”. Years later, the tag was replaced for political correctness with the tag that hangs there today – above the original wheel. If you would like to see the tree for yourself, it’s located 3.7 miles from the main gate of the loop. You’ll pass by the Missionary Baptist Church on your left and continue past the next large paved parking area on your left.
The loop will then turn right. Once you’re around the curve, you’ll see a large walnut tree on your left and a smaller field to your right. Just past the field, in the next curve – is a gravel and dirt pull-off. There’s an opening in the woods there, with a fallen tree. Step over the tree and you’ll see a well worn path to your left that leads up a steep hill. Take that path and continue to the top of the hill. It is at the top that you’ll see the Pearl Harbor tree on your right. Take a moment to imagine the day that Goldman placed the wheel there and all that has happened since that day.
After The Experience:
Return to the Cove. Try it a different way. Take a hike on one of the many trails located in the area. Go for a horseback ride with the Cades Cove stables. Explore and find the ponds that are hidden. Take an Autumn drive down Rich Mountain Road. Bundle up and spend a Winter morning admiring the frost that sparkles like glitter. Take a journey down Forney Creek Road.
Walk Parsons Branch Road, that is now closed to traffic. Walk the loop on a full moon night or admire the stars on a clear summer night. Attend Sunday church service at the Primitive Baptist Church. Explore. Repeat.
What Not To Do:
Never feed the wildlife, harass them, follow them or approach them. It’s not safe – for you or them. Never leave your picnic leftovers or trash behind. Leave No Trace. Don’t be the person that creates a Bear Jam. Save the ‘art’ and carving for home, Bob was already there, we don’t need to know that you were too. Don’t drive through the loop as quickly as you can, without taking it in for a moment. After all, families lost their homes, schools and churches – so that we would be able to enjoy the cove in the way that it is today. If anything, honor them – by soaking up all of the reasons that they decided to call it home, many years ago.
What To Do:
Respect it, enjoy it and just simply love it.
This post was originally written by Kristi Parsons for Rock/Creek.