On our trip out to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg I was really looking forward to visiting Cades Cove. It did not disappoint!
We stayed in Townsend since we wanted an easy and less congested entrance into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This area is perfect for accessing Cades Cove!
Arriving early is your best bet for wildlife viewing and to avoid other people. We left at 7:50 for our twenty minute drive to the cove with very little traffic. This was the least busy park day we would have on our trip! There were a few light rain showers that I think helped keep the crowds away that day.
I was driving on Laurel Creek road almost half way to the cove when a huge bear darted in front of our car and up the hillside. He was bigger than I thought local bears would be and he was running faster than I thought they could. I was very glad I did not hit him with the car and it reconfirmed why the speed limit is so low in the park. After seeing the size/ speed of him I was rethinking my desire to see a bear in the park.
Once you reach the gate the road through Cades Cove is eleven miles long and while it offers a couple of cut through roads plan on spending at least a couple of hours on it.
There were many parking areas where you can exit your car to visit an old cabin or to take pictures.
On our way out to the Elijah Oliver Cabin husband showed me what he said was a bear scrape and I figured he was pulling my leg since I had changed my mind about wanting to view a bear.
After our hike at Abrams Falls we were driving out the gravel road back to Cades Cove Loop Road and there was a traffic jam. A bear was walking and then went up a tree along the tree line. Too far away to get a picture with just my phone as he was a safe distance away. A bit smaller than the one that ran in front of us but it could have been the bear that scraped just up the road near the Oliver Cabin.
It took a bit for cars to clear enough for anyone to move. If there is wildlife you will know it by the traffic jam. Another day we were stuck in a jam over a Turkey, not impressed!
There is a very nice visitors center at the mill. Many people were eating their packed lunches in the parking lot. I would guess there are maybe 100 parking spots here, it was a quiet day and the lot was almost full at 2pm. So either stop before lunchtime or after to ensure a closer parking spot.
More information on Cades Cove here: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cadescove.htm
Note from the NPS website: “Only bicycle and foot traffic are allowed on the loop road until 10:00 a.m. every Saturday and Wednesday morning from early May until late September. Otherwise the road is open to motor vehicles from sunrise until sunset daily, weather permitting.”
We did not partake but you can bike here two days a week. We did see several signs to walk your bikes on hills/curves. “Experience the cove by bike! The loop road is closed to motor vehicles until 10:00 a.m. every Saturday and Wednesday morning from early May until late September to allow bicyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the cove. You can rent a bike at the Cades Cove Campground Store. The State of Tennessee requires that children age 16 and under wear a helmet. We strongly recommend that all riders wear helmets, use rear view mirrors, and ride properly fitted and well-maintained bicycles. Please obey all traffic regulations. Visit the campground store’s website at http://cadescovetrading.com/bikes/ for additional information.”