Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Cades Cove Campground
The first inhabitants, the Cherokees, called this mountain paradise "Shaconage" or "The place of the blue smoke." Haze from the abundant trees emitting volumes of water vapor into the air creates this famous smoke for which the Smokies are known and named. To experience the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, we chose Cades Cove Campground for our camping and hiking base.
Part of the magnificent Appalachian Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses land on either side of the Tennessee and North Carolina border of which 25 percent remains old growth forestland. The United States created this national park in response to the substantial loss of ancient forest due to logging in the early 20th century. With over 11 million visitors in 2018, the Smoky Mountains has the highest visitation of all the national parks in the US.
Cades Cove Scenic 11-Mile Loop
During our time at Cades Cove Campground, we drove the 11-mile, one-way picturesque Cades Cove Loop Road three times: morning, afternoon, and evening. Two times were driving with an occasional stop for wildlife and one time, we stopped at each of the historic buildings to explore.
Things to Know:
- Drive Time Needed (with occasional stop): 1.5-2 hours.
- Drive Time Needed (with exploring each stop): 3-4 hours, minimum
- If you need to shorten the drive, you can turn left onto Sparks Lane for 4 mile loop or turn left onto Hyatt Lane for a 8 mile loop.
- Purchase the Cades Cove Tour Booklet ($1) before touring; available at the kiosks at the loop road entrance or at the visitor centers.
- Wednesdays & Saturdays (early May to late September): only bicyclists and pedestrians on loop road until 10am; no motorists allowed.
- Narrow road: watch for bicyclists and pedestrians
- Use pullouts to stop and observe wildlife.
John Oliver Place
Take a short stroll down the 1/4-mile shaded, well-groomed path to the John Oliver Cabin. Following the zig-zag of the split rail, you'll arrive at one of the oldest structures in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Built around 1820, the Oliver family lived in the 1 ½-story hand built home for 100 years. Make sure to look at the fine examples of craftsmanship of these early settlers: half dovetail notches, handmade shakes or wooden shingles, and the mud chinking.
Cable Mill Visitor Center
Near the midpoint of this scenic drive, this is an excellent place to take advantage of the only restrooms available on the Cades Cove Loop Road. The center is open daily throughout the year, except during inclement wintry weather. Here you can purchase books, guides, Junior Ranger booklets, and various other gift shop goods. A stop here also gives you the opportunity to take a walking tour of the Cable Mill Area which includes a grist mill, black shop, corn crib, and various other historic community structures.
Cable Grist Mill
John Cable built this water-powered grist mill in 1868 to provide the meal and flour needed by the locals for their daily bread. The original granite millstones continue to mill corn as a historic exhibition. From April to October, you can watch the operation and purchase a bag fresh cornmeal to take home as a tasty reminder of your time in the Smokies.
Abrams Falls Hike (Located past stop #10 on the loop)
A moderate 5-mile round trip, the Abram Falls hike leads to a powerful 20-foot waterfall named after a Cherokee Indian chief. Arrive early to avoid crowds at this very popular hike. Leave yourself 3-4 hours to complete the trek and remember your water, food, and a sturdy pair of shoes. Look for otters along this trail.
A word of warning - the enticing pool at the base of Abrams Falls hides dangerous currents that have resulted in drownings.
Cades Cove offers plentiful opportunities for wildlife viewing. We kept track of the number of critters we observed on our different times around the loop.
- Morning 6:30am-8am: 30 deer, 12 turkey, 1 bear, 1 pileated woodpecker
- Afternoon 2-5pm: 5 bear (3 adults, 2 cubs), 2 deer, 3 salamanders, 1 snake
- Evening 5-6:30pm: 3 bear, 3 turkeys