Among the most popular places to visit in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove, a beautiful green valley on the Tennessee side that offers one of the few flat surfaces in the park.
Ideal for hiking and bicycling, the 11-mile one-way Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to motor vehicles from May through late September, and Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 a.m. the rest of the year. It takes at least two to four hours to tour the area, especially if you want to view the wildlife and hike some of the trails.
The Cades Cove Nature Trail is short and easy, but Abrams Falls Trail is a 5-mile loop and Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top are even longer. During the summer and fall, visitors can rent bicycles at the store near the Cades Cove Campground, which offers 159 camping sites year-round. The Cades Cove Loop affords abundant opportunities for viewing wildlife, including white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, ground hogs, turkeys, raccoons, skunks, and squirrels. Birds are plentiful as well.
Here, too, are a number of 19th-century log cabins and outbuildings that were moved to Cades Cove from other areas of the park as it was being developed. The Cherokee Indians used the valley for hunting and fishing, but the Europeans settled it between 1818 and 1821, their numbers reaching 271 by 1830. Preserved for posterity are log houses, barns, churches, and a working grist mill. Hiking and bicycling are also possible in the Greenbrier and Tremont areas of the park in Tennessee and the Cataloochee Valley and Riverview areas in North Carolina. But, none compare with Cades Cove.
The Cades Cove Visitor Center, located midway on the loop near Cable Mill, offers park information, historical displays, books, and restrooms.
Another interesting place to visit on the Tennessee side is the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a 5.5-mile curvy, narrow loop that takes you to rushing streams amid old forests and a number of preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings.
This year, during the National Park Centennial, is the ideal time to visit the park, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina state line and has entrances via U.S. Route 441 at Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Cherokee, N.C. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park was established by the Congress in 1934 and dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. The 544,419-acre park includes 16 mountains that tower more than 6,000 feet, including Clingman’s Dome, the highest in the Smoky Mountains with an elevation of 6,643 feet.
In addition to hiking, bicycling, and camping, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers fishing, horseback riding, educational programs, and more.
Insider’s tip: Download the “Free Smokies Visitor Guide” to your smartphone before you leave home.
The National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary at parks all over the country on Aug. 25. The NPS includes 540 parks, along with more than 1,000 recreation areas, such as wildlife refuges, wildernesses, reservoirs, prairies, and scenic bodies of water. If you’re planning to celebrate this year, book hotels, restaurants, and tours in advance of your visit.
Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at firstname.lastname@example.org.