Cades Cove, Tennessee, is a hidden gem in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This cove, or valley surrounded on all sides by mountains, was first settled by Cherokee in the late 1700s and later became home in the early 1800s to European settlers. The cove attracts millions of visitors each year, and is in fact the most popular section of the extensive national park. During three seasons of the year, visitors can enjoy the scenery and wildlife abundant in this preserved early Appalachian community by biking around the 11-mile one-way Cades Cove Loop road.
The cove features a number of well-preserved early 1800s homesteads, such as the cabin built by John Oliver, the cove’s first European settler. The cove was also home to a number of family cabins, a general store, a grist mill and several different churches that have remained as authentic as possible thanks to its designation as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fall is a particularly beautiful season to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the idyllic Cades Cove, TN area. The hardwood specimens that make up the forests surrounding the cove include sourwood and maple trees with red hues that range from brilliant crimson to deeper maroon. Yellow poplars add splashes of gold to the scenery. Spring is also an outstanding season in Cades Cove. Flowering dogwoods brighten the emerging greenery with their white petals while redbud trees are covered with dazzling purplish-red blooms. As spring turns to summer, mountain azaleas and rhododendron cover the upper areas of the mountains surrounding the cove while wildflowers such as black-eyed Susans, lady’s slippers and yellow-fringed orchid grow along the roadside. During the long summer days and evenings the deep greens of the trees climbing up the mountains offer a relaxing atmosphere in which to explore the cove.
The wildlife of Cades Cove is just as varied as its trees and flowers. Bikers often see deer grazing in the fields or bounding across the loop road, and particularly in the spring wild turkeys actively move about the cove looking for mates. The Smoky Mountain black bear is another resident of the cove that visitors may as they explore the area. Foxes, coyotes, and even bobcats and red wolves are residents of the cove, but visitors must look quickly to see these primarily nocturnal animals. Beaver and river otters, two species of wildlife that had all but disappeared from Cades Cove, are coming back to the area thanks to conservation efforts. Visitors must remember to simply observe these wild animals rather than attempting to interact with them.
Biking the 11-mile Cades Cove loop road is a fantastic way to see this valley from a previous century. The loop road is closed to cars before 10 am on Wednesdays and Saturdays between May and September, giving cyclists the perfect opportunity to see the area at their own pace. Bikes can be rented at the Cades Cove Campground Store located at the entrance to the loop road.