Known as the most popular area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove has a ton of unique things to do you cannot find anywhere else in the Smoky Mountains. You can see a nearly 200-year-old grist mill, old churches, rustic barns, and scenic mountain views. Plus, you can go hiking, go on a hayride, and possibly see wildlife! Here are 6 unique things you can only do in Cades Cove:
1. Watch time stand still in Cades Cove
One of the biggest draws for people who vacation in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is that the area is constantly growing, developing, and providing new experiences. However, one of the reasons people continue to visit Cades Cove is because it never changes. Once you turn onto the Cades Cove Loop Road, you and your family will feel as if you have been transported back to the early 1800s. There are no streetlights, 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.
2. 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 of the National Park Service, guests are able explore inside several historic buildings. Many of these buildings have stood in the area for nearly two centuries. When people lived in the area, 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 Elijah Oliver Place (1866)
The John Cable Grist Mill (1868)
The Tipton Place (1880s)
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.
3. Go biking in the Smoky Mountains without worrying about cars
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not always considered the most biker friendly national park due to narrow road surfaces, steep terrain, or heavy car traffic. However, Cades Cove is a great place for bikers because every Wednesday from May to September, the road is only open to pedestrians and cyclists. If you forgot your bike at home, the Cades Cove Campground Store offers bike rentals.
4. Go for a hike while enjoying a scenic drive
Cades Cove is known for driving the Loop, but did you know there are several hiking trails along the Loop? You can stop and get out at any of these spots, hike the trail, then finish your scenic drive! The Cades Cove Nature Trail is a short, easy hike through the woods, which is perfect for kids and beginners. Abrams Falls is considered a moderate hike that is 5 miles roundtrip, and you’ll love walking through the woods and seeing the waterfall at the end of the hike. Rich Mountain Loop is located near the beginning of the Loop, and it is considered difficult, but the wildflowers in the spring along the trail make it worth it!
5. Ride horses, a carriage, or go on a hayride
Cades Cove also offers guests several unique ways to explore its scenic area. You can travel on horseback, take a memorable hay ride, or take a romantic carriage ride through the woods. To help your family which ride you want to try on your next trip to Cades Cove, here is a breakdown of each experience:
Horseback rides: 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.
Carriage rides: Lasting between 30 and 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: The hayrides in Cades Cove allows guides to share stories of the area while giving a visual tour. This experience is significantly longer than the others 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.
6. See the most wildlife in Cades Cove
Cades Cove has a fair share of wildlife that call the area home. One of the main reasons why people spend an hour or two driving around the 11-mile loop road for the chance to catch a glimpse at one of the wildlife. Some of the animals that can be found in Cades Cove include black bears, wild turkeys, groundhogs, deer, and more. While there’s no guarantee you will see any animals on your trip, we suggest getting to the area either early in the morning or right before dusk for the best chance of seeing animals.
You won’t want to miss out on any of these fun things to do in Cades Cove. Since you know what you want to do when you visit the area, you just need a place to stay! Browse through our Smoky Mountain cabins and book your next trip today!