Cades Cove: Why you don’t want to miss it!
This was probably my favorite part of our trip! And if you ever go to Great Smoky Mountains NP, you don’t want to miss Cades Cove.
We were told to go there early in the morning; 1. to beat traffic, but most importantly, 2. to have the best chance of seeing all of the wildlife! If we were lucky, we could see deer, coyotes, wild hogs, river otters, elk, groundhogs, wild turkeys, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, black bears, and much more! The kids were so excited to find some animals!
Reminder!: Don’t be like me and forget your nice camera! Such a bummer, because everything had to be photographed on my iPhone, which is pretty nice, but nothing like it could have been, especially on the zoomed in pics!! Still upset about it 🙁
Although Cades Cove is within the National Park, access into the area is closed from dark until sun up. We left our hotel just after 6 AM, and it took about an hour to drive from Gatlinburg, through the National Park, and arrive at the primary access gate. When we arrived it was closed, and we waited a good 45 minutes until the park ranger opened the gate. The rangers like to wait until the sun is up to open the it because it is safer for the animals. This was great, because we got there early, the kids and I went back to sleep in the car while we waited, and Hubs got some information about the area and what to expect. There were maybe a dozen other cars waiting in front of us. But, getting there early was the smartest thing we did, because by the time the gate opened line behind us was out of control!
Tip: Before entering the cove, stop at the Orientation Shelter by the gate entrance and pick up a $1 Cades Cove Tour Booklet. It includes a map and information about the area, the history and the places to stop along your drive. We found it was worth the buck!
There are a couple of access roads into Cades Cove, but the primary access is the 11-mile, one way Cades Cove Loop Road. This is where we started and it took us completely around the cove and right past everything. There is also the option of biking or walking the loop instead of driving, but for us driving was ideal.
When we entered the cove, the sun was still rising but it was light enough to see everything. There was a thin foggy, mist hanging above the ground and swirling around the hills and trees. It was gorgeous! It felt like we had stepped into Narnia (minus the snow)!
Cades Cove was first settled in 1821 by families coming from East Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. By 1850 there were 132 families living in the cove. In 1927, when the National Park was beginning to form, many of the people left Cades Cove and sold their land to the federal government. The last resident of Cades Cove moved in 1999 after living their his entire life. The history is amazing and very interesting! Being able to see many of the original buildings and settlements of the area is exciting.
As soon as we got going, the kids were searching for animals. The first couple of meadows we saw nothing but mist and dewy grass. But after passing a couple of the historical stops, they were rewarded for their patience.
In a small meadow we found a group of deer enjoying their breakfast. The kids were thrilled! After that it was like the animals could sense the kids’ excitement, because they were everywhere!
We found more deer, bucks, wild turkeys, a woodpecker, tons of squirrels (the kids made us stop for each one), and best of all…
Just off the side of the road, we spotted a mama and her two cubs. They were rooting around for their breakfast. Little Miss was in heaven watching them through the window. And even though we were in our car and yards away, it was mandatory that we whisper, so we didn’t scare them away!
Eventually, we had to continue on. We were holding up the line of cars behind us, and there was more to see!
Cades Cove has its own visitor center, which can be found at the Cable Mill Historic Area. It’s about half way around the 11-mile loop and the perfect stopping point for a leg stretch and bathroom break. It was chilly, but with our jackets on and moving around it was just fine.
We spent some time walking around exploring the old buildings used by some of the early settlers of Cades Cove. You can walk through the house and get an idea of what it was really like to live back then. The old grist mill is really cool and the kids liked peering into the flume, which was filled with water, as we walked past the old barn to the river. We were hoping to see some river otters but didn’t have any luck.
The visitors center is small but filled to the brim with souvenirs and information about the park. We spent a few minutes warming up and perusing before we continued the loop drive.
As we were leaving the Mill Area, we spotted another small group of deer. These ones were challenging each other while taking breaks to eat. It was quite the sight, and Bubs told Little Miss they were playing tag.
We drove past one of the old farmsteads and were just about to finish the loop to make our way back to Gatlinburg, when the cars in front of us slowed down. Right along the side of the road was this fuzzy guy, oblivious to the crowd gathered around him in our cars watching him find his breakfast. We were literally two feet from him, and if Hubs had reached his arm out the window, he could have touched him. It was awesome!
THEN, as we were exiting Cades Cove area, we spotted another black bear in a ditch along the side of the road. In total, we saw FIVE black bears on our trip! And, all in all, driving the loop plus stopping as many times as we did, took about 2 hours. That’s not counting the driving time to and from Gatlinburg. It was worth every minute!! We highly recommend you not miss out on what Cades Cove has to offer, and check it out!