A verdant valley refuge among the mountains and a time capsule preserving the history of the early settlers, Cades Cove is a must-visit part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Located only 25 miles from Gatlinburg via a picturesque drive along the Little River Road and Laurel Creek Road, it is one of the most popular destinations in the park, visited by two million people annually. Upon arrival, the beautiful 11-mile one-way Loop Road takes approximately 2-3 hours to complete. Otherwise the road is open to motor vehicles from sunrise until sunset daily, weather permitting. The sheer natural beauty of Cades Cove, its green fields and serene oak tree-lined Sparks and Hyatt Lanes is unparalleled, not to mention its incredible variety of wildlife and fascinating history.
The Cades Cove Historic District preserves historic resources and structures going back to the early settlement period of the 19th through early 20th Centuries. Exploring the cabins and churches really captures the imagination, allowing one to experience what it was like to be a pioneer in the 1800s. The Cherokee were the first to settle the area by 1797 (and likely much earlier) and established a settlement known as “Tsiya’hi,” or “Otter Place” led by Chief Kade – hence the contemporary name. The first white settlers to arrive were John Oliver, a veteran of the war of 1812, accompanied by his wife Lucretia and Joshua Jobe in 1818, who survived a harsh winter on dry pumpkin seeds donated by the friendly Cherokees. Thanks to the preservation efforts, one may walk along John Oliver’s footsteps in the present day by exploring his cabin, built in 1822-1823.
In 1821 the settlement grew in numbers since William “Fighting Billy” Tipton, a veteran of the American Revolution, bought hundreds of acres of land and gave it to his family and relatives. By 1830, the population rose to 271 persons. Cades Cove blossomed as farming began and grist mills, metal forges and churches, such as the primitive Cades Cove Baptist Church, were built. The image above depicts springtime at the Carter Shields Place surrounded by blossoming dogwood, one of my favorite historic stops along the Cades Cove Loop Road. George Washington “Carter” Shields bought this land and cabin dating back to the 1830s from John Sparks in 1910 and lived in Cades Cove until 1921. Carter Shields was a Civil War veteran crippled at the Battle of Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee in April 1862.
Exploring Cades Cove by bicycle without being harassed by car traffic is a great activity for the whole family and may be done on every Saturday and Wednesday morning from early May until late September from sunrise to 10 AM, when only bicycles and foot traffic are allowed. Numerous hiking trails originate in the cove, including the gorgeous five-mile round-trip trail to Abrams Falls and the short Cades Cove Nature Trail. Longer hikes to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top (made famous by the popular song) also start here. Camping (by permit only) is also possible as several designated back-country campsites may be found along the trails.
No Cades Cove experience would be complete without seeing some of the wildlife so prevalent here. There are about 1600 black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; one has a good chance of seeing one of them along the Loop Road. Remember to exercise proper precautions and do not, under any circumstances, approach the bears; remain over 50 yards from them at all times. It is not infrequent to encounter a sow with her cubs, as in the image above. Wild turkeys may be seen year-round in Cades Cove. During the late afternoon hours, take Hyatt lane across Cades Cove for a great opportunity to see white-tailed deer and elk. As long as you remain in your car to photograph them, they are much less likely to run away.
I hope that the information I have provided is useful for visiting Cades Cove during your stay in Gatlinburg. As I have discovered, and I am sure you will too, Cades Cove is the natural and historic jewel of the Smokies. I look forward to sharing more information about the area in the posts to come! If you have not yet done so, please be sure to subscribe to or bookmark this blog.
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