Known as the most popular area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is no wonder why there are tons of things to do in Cades Cove that you cannot find anywhere else in the Smoky Mountains. Here, families can find a nearly 200-year-old grist mill, old churches, rustic barns, and scenic mountain views as far as the eye can see.

However, wanting to find out some of the things to do in Cades Cove that really makes the area stand out, we did a little digging. To learn the results of our search, read below.

Watch time stand still in Cades Cove

One of the biggest draws for families who vacation to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is that the areas are constantly growing, developing and always have something new to offer. However, one of the reasons that families continue to visit Cades Cove is the exact opposite is true.

Hyatt Road in Cades CoveOnce you turn onto the Cades Cove Loop Road, you and your family will feel as if you have been transported back to the early 1800’s. Given they probably didn’t have paved roads like we do now, it is still quite enchanting to see how well the area has been preserved over the years.

There are no streetlights, or billboards, or any other modern roadway amenities that we have grown to expect. No, the only real light that can be found in Cades Cove comes from the sun, and the only view distracting you from the road is the miles of rolling mountains in the distance.

Explore historic buildings in Cades Cove

Sometimes it is hard to remember that families once lived inside the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but thanks to the excellent preservation team with the National Park Service, as well as some of its affiliated organizations, guests to Cades Cove are able to take a sneak peek inside several historic buildings. Many of these buildings have stood in the area for nearly two centuries.

historic cabin in Cades CoveAt its peak, Cades Cove had a population of over 670 residents. However, today guests can find a total of 12 historic homesites and churches in Cades Cove.

One of these structures is called the John Oliver cabin. The oldest home in Cades Cove, the John Oliver Cabin was built around 1822 by the War of 1812 veteran and his wife.

Other historic buildings in Cades Cove guests can visit include:

  • The Primitive Baptist Church (1887)

  • The Cades Cove Methodist Church (1902)

  • The Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church (1915, completed 1916)

  • The Myers Barn (1920)

  • The Elijah Oliver Place (1866)

  • The John Cable Grist Mill (1868)

  • The Becky Cable House (1879)

  • The Henry Whitehead Cabin (1895, completed 1896)

  • The Dan Lawson Place (1840’s)

  • The Tipton Place (1880’s)

  • The Carter Shields Cabin (1880’s)

Not only does exploring these historic sites give guests a glimpse into how life was for the early settlers, but it is also one of the most educational things to do in Cades Cove.

Go biking in the Smoky Mountains without worrying about cars in Cades Cove

Secluded road in Cades CoveThe Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not always considered the most biker-friendly national park. This can be attributed to narrow road surfaces, steep terrain or heavy car traffic.

However, Cades Cove offers a little relief for bikers by closing its loop road off from automobiles every Wednesday and Saturday mornings from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. during the summer and fall. This allows joggers, walkers and cyclist to enjoy the scenic area without worrying about cars.

If you forgot your bike at home, the Cades Cove Campground Store offers bike rentals for a low cost. Bike rental prices per hour are:

  • $6 for a geared adult bike

  • $4 for a non-geared adult bike

  • $4 for a geared/non-geared child’s bike

The Cades Cove Campground Store’s hours vary by season.

  • March 5-May 31: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m., open at 7 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays

  • June 1-September 1: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., open at 7 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays

  • September 2-December 4: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Take a night hike in Cades Cove

Hiking in the Smoky Mountains, especially during the summer, is one of the most rejuvenating things that visitors can do. Not only does this experience help you see the Smokies from a whole new perspective, but it also helps guests let go of stress and spend a few hours just absorbing the beauty of the nature in the area.

historic church in Cades CoveThat being said, have you ever considered enjoying this experience after the sun went down? Staff with the National Park Service allows for just that with ranger-lead night hikes in Cades Cove every Monday and Friday evening through August 8.

Beginning at 9 p.m., rangers invite guests to join them at the Orientation Shelter at the entrance of the Cades Cove Loop Road. From there, guests will enjoy an easy hike with the rangers before ending the adventure around 11 p.m.

The hike is roughly 2.5 miles, and children under 14 need to be accompanied by an adult.

Click here for a map to the Orientation Shelter in Cades Cove.

Explore the Smoky Mountains like a pioneer in Cades Cove

Sticking to the theme of experiencing life like the pioneers lived, Cades Cove also offers guests several unique ways to explore its scenic area, outside of just driving. Guests to Cades Cove can travel on horseback through the historic area, they can take a memorable hay ride, or they travel in true pioneer luxury in the comfort of a carriage. All this excitement is thanks to the friendly folks at the Cades Cove Riding Stables.

beautiful day in Cades CoveTo help your family which ride you want to try on your next trip to Cades Cove, here is a breakdown of each experience:

  • Horseback riding in Cades Cove: Perfect for all experience levels, the guided horseback rides in Cades Cove feature a leisurely adventure through the scenic wilderness. These tours usually last about an hour. Out of all of the experience, the horseback riding has the highest chance of spotting wildlife.

  • Carriage rides in Cades Cove: Lasting between 30-45 minutes, the guided carriage rides combine the art of folklore with breathtaking mountain scenery as the guides take guests through the area while sharing whimsical stories of Cades Cove history. There is a limit of 6 passengers per carriage.

  • Hayrides in Cades Cove: Similar to the carriage rides, the hayrides in Cades Cove allows guides to share stories of the area while giving a visual tour. The difference here is that this ride follows the paved loop road in Cades Cove. Also, this experience is significantly longer at 1.5 to 3 hours.

Click here to learn more about hay rides, carriage rides and horseback riding in Cades Cove, including pricing and hours of operation.

See the most wildlife in Cades Cove

Not only is Cades Cove one of the most popular places in the Smoky Mountains for vacationers, but it has its own fair share of wildlife that call the area home as well. For vacations, one of the most exciting things to do in Cades Cove is to spend an hour or two driving around the 11-mile loop road for the chance to catch a glimpse at one of the wildlife.

wildlife in Cades CoveWe suggest getting to the area either early in the morning or right before dusk for the highest chance of seeing animals.

An example of the wildlife that can be found in Cades Cove includes Smoky Mountain black bears, wild turkeys, groundhogs, deer, and more.

Have your own favorite things to do in Cades Cove that you would like to see added to our list? Let us know in the comments below. We love hearing from you!

For a quiet place for you and your family to unwind after spending the day exploring all the fun things to do in Cades Cove, we at Top Cabin Rentals suggest that you check out one of our luxurious Gatlinburg cabin rentals. To find the right rental for your next Smoky Mountain vacation, feel free to browse through all of our listings using the Gatlinburg cabin search feature on our website.