You’ve just enjoyed a delicious breakfast at our restaurant in Gatlinburg, and you might be wondering how to spend the rest of your day. We recommend exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by wandering around Cades Cove! There are hiking trails and historic sites to visit, but one of the best ways to observe wildlife and soak in the beautiful scenery is the loop road driving tour. Here’s everything you need to know about the Cades Cove Scenic Loop:
About Cades Cove
Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations in the Smoky Mountains for a reason! Before the park opened to the public, families lived their everyday lives in the area for over 100 years. These early settlers came from Europe in the 1820s, built log homes, and eventually built churches, mills, and even a schoolhouse! Many of these historic sites are still standing and can be toured along the route. Later, in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was formed to give young men work after the Great Depression. This group built the roads, bridges, and picnic areas we enjoy today! Now, people flock to this beautiful valley to catch a glimpse of the abundant wildlife, admire and respect nature, and learn about the history of the Smoky Mountains. The best part about Cades Cove? It’s completely free to enter and is open from 8 AM to sunset year-round, weather permitting!
Important Note: Seasonally, Cades Cove has Vehicle-Free Days, where only pedestrians and bicyclists are permitted so they can enjoy the Cades Cove Scenic Loop without motorized vehicles. Make sure to plan your visit around that if necessary!
Directions to Cades Cove Scenic Loop
It’s impossible to miss the entrance to Cades Cove Loop Road. Starting from our restaurant in downtown Gatlinburg makes it even easier!
Start on The Parkway (Hwy 441) and turn right onto Little River Road, just after the Sugarlands Visitor Center. There are plenty of signs to follow on this road to Cades Cove. You’ll notice that Little River Road eventually turns into Laurel Creek Road, but within just a few minutes, you’ll reach Cades Cove Loop Road. Simply take a right, and you’re set for a scenic drive through Cades Cove!
The journey from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove is approximately an hour and a half; however, you’ll barely notice the time with all the sights and sounds of nature around you. Plus, there are many pull-offs along the way that provide amazing photo opportunities!
What to Expect
The Cades Cove Loop Road is 11 miles long and takes around 2 hours to drive the entire loop. Remember that the speed limit is only 20 miles per hour, not only for safety reasons but also so you can take your time enjoying the fresh mountain air! There are plenty of stops to make if you’d like to explore, including several beautiful churches, log homes such as the Henry Whitehead Place and Tipton Place, Elijah Oliver Cabin, and also an old mill, the John P. Cable Grist Mill. About halfway along the loop, you’ll come to the Cades Cove Visitors Center, where you’ll find souvenirs and helpful area information.
Wildlife viewing is one of the main attractions in Cades Cove, so always have your camera ready to capture a glimpse of deer, elk, turkeys, black bears, and many other types of animals. If you have binoculars, we recommend bringing them along too!
If you’d like to get out and stretch your legs for a while, we recommend the short, easy hike to Abrams Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in the national park. The Cades Cove Nature Trail, a low-impact 2-mile hike, is another great way to get out and explore!
Fuel up for a day on the Cades Cove Scenic Loop by eating a hearty breakfast at our Gatlinburg restaurant. Be sure to check out our classic Southern specialty menu, from our famous mouth-watering cinnamon rolls to hearty eggs with all the fixings! We hope you visit us soon!