Article Overview: Ultimate Guide to Cades Cove
Planning a trip to Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? You’ve come to the right place. Cades Cove is one of my all time favorite places to visit. There’s something truly magical about the nature here.
Cades Cove is home to some of the absolute best parts of Smoky Mountains including historic cabins, sprawling meadows, deer, elk, and the park favorite – black bears. You’re all but guaranteed to see some incredible wildlife here.
In this article I’ll cover everything you need to know for your visit to Cades Cove based on my extensive experience visiting this special place.
Ready to go? Let’s get started!
Table of Contents: Cades Cove
- Things to Know Before Visiting Cades Cove
- Visiting Cades Cove
- Top 5 Things to See in Cades Cove
- 4. Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church
- Top 10 Things to See in Cades Cove
- Top 15 Things to See in Cades Cove
- Cades Cove Frequently Asked Questions
- Map of Cades Cove
- Summary of Cades Cove
Things to Know Before Visiting Cades Cove
There are no entrance fees to Cades Cove! But, if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be purchased at any national park) and gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
This is the best guide book which can help you plan on the fly once you’ve embarked on your road trip.
The best map for Great Smoky Mountains is without a doubt this one by National Geographic.
Getting to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The park is conveniently located around the mountain tourist town of Gatlinburg, TN, which is just south of the larger tourist town of Pigeon Forge.
You can fly in to McGhee Tyson Airport (Knoxville, TN) on most domestic airlines, from there you can rent a car and make your way into the park which is a little more than an hour away.
Don’t feed or approach wildlife!
Seriously, there have been problems here with visitors feeding or approaching wildlife that have resulted in serious, even fatal incidents. And in many cases the animals involved have to be euthanized.
Be prepared for crowds
It is the most visited national park in the country after all. Thankfully, owing to the layout of the park, we’re not talking about Yosemite or Zion level crowds. But in the summer this park is bursting at the seams with tourists and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a campsite or empty parking space (particularly in the Cades Cove area).
Best Time to Visit Cades Cove
The best time to visit Cades Cove is in the fall. With the hectic and cramped summer season over and kids back in school visitation to the park tapers off and access becomes much easier. The fall also provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities and some of the best fall foliage found anywhere in the world.
Where to Stay Near Cades Cove
Planning a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Here’s our favorite hotel to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Visiting Cades Cove
Top 5 Things to See in Cades Cove
1. The John Oliver Cabin
For the purposes of this article we’ll go in order of what you’ll see on the Cades Cove Loop Road starting with the first things you’ll see and finish with the last.
The first stop on the Cades Cove Loop Road is the John Oliver Cabin. If you’re wondering whether there’s any connection to that John Oliver, sorry to disappoint.
The John Oliver Cabin is one of the oldest structures in Cades Cove having been built in the 1820s by John and Lucretia Oliver. The Olivers were the first permanent white settlers in Cades Cove.
Getting to the cabin itself requires a short and easy 5 minute walk from the parking area located just past Sparks Lane on the right side of the road. Like most of the cabins in Cades Cove, you can walk right into this one and imagine what it might have been like to live here in the 1800s.
Sadly, like many of the cabins, you’ll find some graffiti on the walls where folks have carved their name into the wood. Don’t be that person.
2. Primitive Baptist Church
Getting to the second main attraction in Cades Cove requires a short detour (1 minute), a left turn down Primitive Baptist Church Road, to see the Primitive Baptist Church.
The first church you’ll reach was the first to be constructed in Cades Cove having been built in 1887 to replace the original (far more primitive) structure from 1832.
An interesting fact about this church is that during the Civil War the residents of Cades Cove decided to close the Primitive Baptist Church as the members backed the Union and feared gathering here due to the amount of confederates in the area.
Getting to the church is simple as you can walk right up to it from the road.
3. Cades Cove Methodist Church
The Cades Cove Methodist Church is actually one of the newer structures in area having been built just over 100 years ago in 1902. Believe it or not, today the church is a popular spot for weddings given it’s beautiful setting and rustic charm.
The story goes that this church was built by the pastor and carpenter John McCampbell in 115 days for $115 dollars. The church features two front doors which is a vestige of that age allowing women and children to enter on one side and men on the other.
Walking into the church you can admire McCampbell’s handy work which has lasted a full century.
4. Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church
Tired of churches yet? Me neither! The Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church is the third and final church you’ll come across in Cades Cove.
I think the Methodist Church is the most picturesque of the three found in Caves Cove. The early morning light here is especially beautiful sometimes creating brilliant rays behind the church as the fog burns off.
You’re free to walk into the church to see the rustic interior and explore the grounds.
5. Elijah Oliver Cabin via the Wet Bottom Trail
Of all the cabins in Cades Cove, the Elijah Oliver Cabin may be the most impressive. This cabin was constructed by the son of John & Lucretia Oliver (who built the first cabin on this list), Elijah, in 1865.
The cabin has multiple rooms including the “stranger room” attached to the porch where strangers passing through the area could stay free of charge.
Getting to the Elijah Oliver Cabin requires a short and easy 1 mile round trip hike via the Wet Bottom Trail.
Top 10 Things to See in Cades Cove
6. Abrams Fall Trail
The hike to Abrams Falls is one of the most challenging in Cades Cove. The reason for this is not because of the trail’s difficulty but the fact that there just aren’t that many difficult trails in the valley.
At 5 miles round trip the hike to the falls is worth every step giving you a great opportunity to stretch the legs from too much time in the car. The trail takes you through beautiful pine forests and eventually leads to falls which you can begin to hear from a distance away.
The falls themselves are only 20 feet tall but are still impressive due to the amount of water that blasts over the drop. I prefer visiting in the fall when the colors are coming in nice and the falls aren’t as strong.
7. Cable Mill Historic Area: Grist Mill, Barn, House, & Visitor Center
Our seventh stop on the Cades Cove scenic drive is a favorite that features 4 different sites including a visitor center with bathrooms.
When you first pull in you’ll see the largest parking lot in Cades Cove where you can hopefully find a spot. At the end of the parking lot you’ll find bathrooms separate from the visitor information station.
Continue past the visitor information station and you’ll come across the first of the sites here.
The Cable Grist Mill
Featuring a stunning 235 foot long flume, the Cable Grist Mill is one of the most spectacular sites in Cades Cove. Built in the 1870s by John Cable, this grist mill is one of the most well preserved in the area.
Be sure to walk the length of the flume and peer inside to see water still running through, diverted from Mill Creek. You can also go inside of the mill when it’s open and see the inner-workings.
The Becky Cable House (Also Known as the Gregg-Cable House)
Constructed in 1879 by Leason Gregg, the Cable House was built using local lumber milled by John Cable at the Cable Mill.
While the Gregg family were the first occupants of the house they eventually sold to John Cable’s daughter, Becky and son Dan, who operated a store (started by the Greggs) out of the home.
The house was actually relocated from its original location after Becky’s death to this site closer to the mill itself.
Just beyond the Becky Cable House you’ll come across and odd looking structure with a massive roof and small “inside” area. The structure is actually a smokehouse used by the Cables to smoke meat and fish.
You can be certain they smoked plenty of pork in here along with turkey, local fish, deer, elk, and more.
John Cable Drive Thru Barn
The last stop at the Cable Mill Historic Area is the epic John Cable Drive Thru Barn. This was one of the most bizarre looking structures I came across in Cades Cove.
It’s amazing seeing this barn in addition to Cable’s other works in the area.
8. Henry M. Whitehead House
The next stop on our Cades Cove scenic drive takes us of the loop road for a quick 6 minute round trip detour onto Forge Creek Road (which closes during the winter).
This house was actually the product of divorce, a rare thing in the Cades Cove community. When Matilda Shields was deserted by her first husband and left without a home, the locals of the valley built her a temporary new cabin.
Along comes Henry Whitehead, husband number two, who built the impressive sawn log home with immaculate precision for which the cabin is named today.
Visiting this cabin today one might guess it was a far more modern home due to the craftsmanship.
9. The Cable Cemetery
It seems like just two stops ago they were right with us! All jokes aside the Cable Cemetery is where, you guessed it, our friends the Cables are buried. There are 46 graves located here in a beautiful plot.
Here you’ll find the industrious John Cable’s marker along with Becky Cable, the Greggs, and more.
All but three of the graves are marked.
10. Hyatt Lane
Located just before the parking area for the Dan Lawson Cabin is a left turn onto a road called Hyatt Lane. At 1.3 miles long, Hyatt Lane is one of two, two-way cut through roads in Cades Cove that allow folks to take shortcuts across the valley to minimize or extend their trip.
The road itself is gravel so bicycles should take caution when riding down. Hyatt Lane is a popular spot to see black bears in Cades Cove as well.
Taking this turn here will drop you back at the Missionary Baptist Church.
Top 15 Things to See in Cades Cove
11. Dan Lawson Cabin
The further down the Cades Cove Loop Road we go the more of the story of its people we unravel. In this case we’re back to the Cables. The Dan Lawson Cabin is one of the older structures in Cades Cove dating back to 1856.
It’s builder, Dan Lawson, was the son in law of none other than Peter Cable, the brother of John Cable.
The cabin construction features both sawn and hewn logs making it somewhat of an anomaly in Cades Cove.
12. Tipton Cabin (or Tipton Place)
The 12th stop on our trip through Cades Cove takes us to the Tipton Place. The Tipton Cabin is a rare (for Cades Cove) two story cabin built by veteran of the Civil War, Colonel Hamp Tipton.
You can walk right in and explore both floors of the cabin. The tight quarters with short ceilings make one feel especially tall.
Tipton Cantilever Barn
On the grounds you’ll also find some other structures including a beautiful cantilever barn. The cantilever barn that is on the grounds today is a replica of the original barn.
I found this to be one of the coolest structures in the valley.
13. Cades Cove Valley View
Arriving at our next stop we’re nearing the end of our journey through Cades Cove. Valley View represents the best opportunity to get a vantage of the Cades Cove Valley and snap a shot. Or, to just reflect on the shear beauty of the place.
Take a pause here if you need, and then continue on down Cades Cove Loop Road.
14. The Carter Shields Cabin
Reaching the Carter Shields Cabin we’ve arrived at our final historic building in Cades Cove, saving one of the most picturesque for last. Carter Shields was another Civil War veteran, disabled in the battle of Shiloh, who ended up in the valley after the war.
Walking into the cabin you’ll find it to be quite a modest place with a single room and a loft.
Photographers love this spot in the spring because of the magnificent dogwoods that bloom on the grounds and the split rail fence. I prefer the fall when the foliage adds nice pops of color behind the cabin.
15. Sparks Lane
Well folks, we’ve reached the last point of interest on our drive through Cades Cove. Sparks Lane is the second of two cut through roads (the first on your way in) and the last chance you’ve got to do the loop again without getting stuck in the queue of cars that surely awaits trying to enter the valley by now.
The road is a beautiful, well-maintained gravel surface, at just under a mile long (.8 miles). There are some great photo opportunities along it for anyone looking to nab a nice road shot or overviews of the valley.
Cades Cove Frequently Asked Questions
Cades Cove is open from 8am to sunset, 365 days a year.
The best time to visit Cades Cove is around 7:30am. When you arrive you’ll likely find a queue of cars lined up but not as many as there will be later. Arriving early ensures you’ll have a good chance of seeing some interesting wildlife.
The best month to see Cades Cove is October, within the first two weeks when the fall foliage is spectacular.
Yes, while the traffic caused by “bear jams” can be quite severe at times, Cades Cove is a magical place that everyone visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park should see. Going early in the morning as soon as the road opens is your best bet to avoiding traffic.
Yes, Cades Cove is the best place to spot one of the estimated 1,500 black bears that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can spot them almost anywhere in the valley. During the day time they like to relax in trees so keep you eyes peeled!
In Cades Cove you can spot all kinds of wildlife including black bears, elk, white tailed deer, turkeys, rabbits, coyotes, wild boar, and more.
The Cades Cove Loop Road is 11 miles long with a couple of cut through roads that allow you to shorten or lengthen your trip.
Yes, the Cades Cove Loop Road only permits one way traffic. However, there are two cut through roads, Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane which allow you to cut your trip short or extend it further.
Generally it takes about 2-3 hours to complete the 11 mile loop Cades Cove loop depending on traffic and how many stops you make. I would plan for at least 4 hours to be safe
I recommend planning to spend a half day (the morning) in Cades Cove. This should give you enough time to see all of the sites, spot some wildlife, and get out before the afternoon traffic jams really set in.
Watch the Award-Winning Great Smoky Mountains National Park Video
Camping in Cades Cove
There is a single campground in the valley located just before the start of the loop road. Cades Cove Campground has 159 sites available. That may sound like a lot but given the 2 million people who visit the valley annually, competition for these campsites is fierce.
The Campground has flush toilets, RV hookups, & 11 ADA sites.
A campground store has some basic items like firewood, limited food & drink items, and basic conveniences for folks who may have forgotten something.
For reservations visit the Cades Cove recreation.gov site.
Map of Cades Cove
Printable Map of Cades Cove
Download this map: Printable Cades Cove Map
Summary of Cades Cove
- The John Oliver Cabin
- Primitive Baptist Church
- Cades Cove Methodist Church
- Missionary Baptist Church
- Cooper Road Trailhead
- Elijah Oliver Cabin
- Abrams Falls Trail
- Cable Mill Historic Area
- Henry Whitehead House
- Cable Cemetery
- Dan Lawson Cabin
- Tipton Cabin
- Valley View
- Carter Shields Cabin
- Sparks Lane
About Our Travels to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
I visited Great Smoky Mountains back in 2014 with my brother to make what would become an award-winning film on the park – it’s vast forests, awe-inspiring wildlife, spectacular fall color, and misty mountain charm has had me coming back for years.
The fall color in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is quite possibly the best of all the national parks.
We spent several weeks in the park visiting all of the main attractions and filming them to bring you the best things to do and see in the park.
This vast and beautiful park is like no other and I’m happy to share the best things to do there with you.
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