Cades Cove is one of the most iconic in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Not only does this region of the park have beautiful, preserved homesteads, but it also provides one of the best opportunities to see wildlife like white tailed deer, black bear, turkeys and more!
Before you visit, you should know that Cades Cove is one of the most visited destinations in America's most visited national park. Understandably, this peaceful valley can become crowded from time to time.
To help you get the most out of your visit to Cades Cove, we've made this handy guide with tips on how to avoid crowds in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains!
1. Arrive Early
As with most big sights in the Smokies, arriving early is an excellent way to beat the crowds. Please note that the Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to vehicle traffic until 10 AM every Saturday and Wednesday Morning from early May to late September.
While the road is closed to vehicle traffic, it's the perfect time to go bike riding around the cove or to enjoy a leisurely walk. Bike rentals are available at the Cades Cove campground store. Better yet, animals are most active in the morning hours, so it's the perfect time for viewing wildlife.
From November to April, the cove is open to vehicle traffic at all times. During this period, it's still a good idea to arrive early to beat the crowds. Arriving in Cades Cove before 9 AM most days will give you plenty of time to explore the valley without running into large groups of people.
2. Visit During The Offseason
Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park should note that summer and fall are the busiest seasons in the Cove. Winter and spring are less busy, but major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years bring large numbers of visitors to Cades Cove. Holiday weekends like Labor Day and Memorial Day are also big visitation days in the national park.
3. Visit on Weekdays
In Cades Cove, weekends are typically much busier than weekdays. If you have the flexibility to visit this beautiful sight in the national park on a weekday, we highly recommend it. You'll have even more time to enjoy this historic homesteads, fascinating wildlife, and lovely hiking trails of Cades Cove.
4. Avoid The Loop Road
If you are visiting during a busy time of year, but you still want to experience Cades Cove, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy this beautiful valley in the Smokies without having to deal with the crowds.
Probably the best advice for enjoying your visit is to avoid entering the loop road on a busy day. On especially crowded days, this 11-mile route can become clogged with traffic. Since the loop road is a narrow, one-way road with one exit, it's not surprising that this valley can become filled with motorists. Additionally, traffic can slow even further when visitors want to stop to see wildlife. Locals like to call this event a "bear jam" or a "deer jam." On a particularly bad day, it can take 2 or 3 hours to drive the entire loop road.
Rather than joining the crowd, it might be best to park outside of the cove and explore some lesser traveled areas of the cove. After all, it's easy to explore Cades Cove without driving the iconic loop road.
5. Explore Cades Cove Sights Off The Beaten Path
Popular Stops along the loop road like the Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church, Abrams Falls, and, The Tipton Place draw big crowds. Luckily there are less crowded parts of the Cove that you can explore. We've picked sights that can be accessed without driving the loop road.
- Rich Mountain Loop Trail – The Trailhead begins just after the start of the Cades Cove loop road, so you can park outside of the entry to the loop road and walk there. This nice hiking trail takes visitors past the John Oliver Place, a historic cabin built in 1822.
- Sparks Lane Loop – Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane are two roads that bisect the valley of Cades Cove. These roads are useful for exiting the loop road early, but they can also be used to make a nice short hike in the cove. You'll find Sparks Lane on the left side of the loop road about 1 mile from the gate. If you follow this road and then make another left, you can reach the exit of Cades Cove. This route passes through the heart of Cades Cove, so you can enjoy the beautiful mountain fields and views of the towering peaks above this valley. Altogether, this makes a nice 3-mile loop through the valley.
- Anthony Creek Trail To The Cades Cove Horse Trail – The horseback riding stable in Cades Cove uses the Cades Cove horse trail, but it is also opened to other hikers as well. Better yet, this area of the cove is virtually free of crowds (except for the occasional group of horseback riders.) Simply Follow the Anthony Creek Trail from the Cades Cove Campground for .25 miles. You'll see a trail branching off to the right. This is the horse trail that meanders through a forested section of the cove for about a mile. Please note, this trail does not appear on most maps of the national park.
- Cades Cove Nature Trail - A nice short walking trail that begins in the Cades Cove Campground. This trail passes by verdant forests and babbling creeks. Best of all, it is off the beaten path in Cades Cove.
Map of Cades Cove Off The Beaten Path
Though Cades Cove can become crowded from time to time, there are lots of opportunities to explore it during more peaceful times of the year and there are plenty of lesser-known areas to explore inside the cove. Better yet, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is filled with gorgeous areas regions to explore.
In fact, Cataloochee Valley just outside of Cherokee, NC is a great alternative if Cades Cove is busy. This beautiful valley on the North Carolina side of the Smokies also features beautiful historic homesteads and it's also home to one of the only wild elk herds in the Eastern United States!
Another excellent way to enjoy a scenic valley in the Smokies is to visit nearby Wears Valley. You can even rent a cabin in this beautiful area of the mountains that's just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Written by Mark Frazier