Tips for Enjoying Cade’s Cove

At the Trail Family blog, we mainly focus on outdoor activities for the whole family. Sometimes, though, it is good for just mom and dad to get away. My husband and I try to do this at least once each year. Typically, our trip is a long weekend away together or with friends. 

Choosing A Destination

On our more recent trip, we spent a few days in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This town has more things to see and do than you can get to in a couple of days. But we feel like we hit the highlights with our friends as tour guides. They have been to the Gatlinburg area several times. 

We got boots in Pigeon Forge, ate at the Apple Barn, visited the Lodge factory store, walked the Parkway several times, and tasted dozens of samples. We feel like we got the most bang for our buck on this mini-vacation.

With our friends at the Gatlinburg sign

A few criteria that we look for in a destination are:

Somewhere to hike, walk, or bike

A historical site

Good food

An inexpensive place to stay

The Gatlinburg area met all these points and more, so we were excited to head out on this adventure.

The icing on the cake of this trip was a morning spent in Cade’s Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We enjoyed this part driving, part walking trip through the breath-taking scenery of the Smoky Mountains and the startling history of a small community that made their home there. 

Driving The Cove

I have never seen a better arrangement for visitors to travel through an area enjoying the scenery. Cade’s Cove is an 11-mile, one-way loop. All traffic travels in the same direction except for a few side trails. There are hundreds of pull-offs along the way where tourists can stop for photos without stopping everyone behind them.

The National Park Service website says to plan two to four hours to tour the Cove. We found that to be right on the money. We drove at a reasonable rate and didn’t hike all the trails. We did stop for a picnic near the end of the Scenic Loop where we beheld a panoramic of the Smokey Mountains as we sat on a blanket munching cheese and crackers. Our total time was about two and a half hours.

A view of the Smokey Mountains while we walk back to the car.

Walking The Cove

As you drive through Cade’s Cove, you stop along the way to walk to historic buildings left behind by the early Euro-American settlers. We visited John Oliver’s Cabin, the Primitive Baptist Church and cemetery, the Methodist Church and cemetery, Aunt Becky’s house, and the surrounding buildings. 

All of these sites are a short walk from the parking lots. This is a trip that nearly anyone of any fitness level can do and enjoy. We took our time and moseyed our way through the buildings and contemplated the lives of the people of Cade’s Cove in the 1800s. 

We did most of our walking by the Mill near Aunt Becky’s house. Walking along the ice-cold river, we found where the settlers had diverted the water to power the mill. 

John Oliver’s cabin. The oldest structure in the Cove.

Tips for Enjoying Cade’s Cove

We had a great advantage because our friends had already driven and walked through Cade’s Cove. Now I’ll pass along some of their advice for having a pleasant time in the Cove. 

Use the restroom before you get on the one-way loop. There are no more until you get to the end.

Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy anywhere along the way.

Read the signs to learn the history of Cade’s Cove. The stories are amazing. I purchased a book in the gift shop because the story of this community intrigued me so.   

The roads are winding. If you are prone to motion sickness, possibly take some Dramamine or ginger tablets. 

My love and I at our picnic spot on top of the world.

Thoughts for Next Time

I found some excellent hiking guides in the gift shop. A few were geared towards families, which made me happy to see. I look forward to going back with our children for more in-depth hiking.

The Gatlinburg, Tennessee area and Cade’s Cove are fantastic destinations for a family trip. There are excellent trails, superb food, and economical places to stay.

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