I became obsessed with Cades Cove the first time I drove through this 11 mile scenic loop. It was a big part of the reason I decided to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee through the winter of 2013-2014. I just about went crazy from the beauty during the peak leaf peeping Fall season and really wanted to experience the Spring wildflowers. It’s easy to understand why this is the most visited attraction within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Some of my favorite times were when there were low hanging clouds beneath the mountaintops. Ethereal, magical beauty!
Fall was my favorite season since as a southern gal, I am not used to changing leaves. This is also the busiest time at the Cove, though, very crowded and busy, with photographers everywhere soaking in the scenes.
Besides the natural beauty of the landscape, the rustic cabins and the stories of the people who first settled here were endlessly fascinating to me. I could almost hear the chiming of the historic churches’ bells calling worshipers to service and the sobs of the residents as they buried their dead in the old graveyards. Life was not easy for its residents and all too often babies were born and died on the same day.
“The green meadows swept in front of me, bounded by weathered rail fences, log cabins nestled in the valleys here and there, and on all sides the magic smoky outlines of the mountains rising, tier on tier… It’s the greenest country I know – not to be forgotten.” Lady Bird Johnson about her visit in 1971, placing the Cove first on her list of favorite places “every American woman and her family should see.”
The 6,853 acre Cades Cove section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is preserved as a historic area. In the early 1800’s, frontiersmen settled the mountain valley that had been in the heart of the Cherokee Indian domain. The Cove reached its peak population of 132 families and 685 persons about 1850.
The speed limit is 20 mph, encouraging you to take your time and really savor all that is found here. But even that slow speed is not easy to maintain. I’ve read several complaints from visitors about how long it takes to get through the loop due to heavy traffic, people not using the pull-offs and just stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures. And if a bear is spotted, forget about getting past, because traffic will just stop. When Rangers are around, they’ll direct people to either use the pull-offs or drive on.
But if you don’t go into it with the expectation of a quickie car drive, I can’t believe you’d be disappointed. Some cabins require short hikes to get to, but I say don’t miss one of them. Drive down the side roads like Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane – get out of the car and smell the fresh mountain air and look for the animals that inhabit this wonderland.
If you’re like me and can’t get enough of Cades Cove and want to know more of its history, don’t miss the chance to visit The Cades Cove Museum at the Thompson-Brown House.
It’s not located within the cove itself, but about 30 miles away at 1004 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville. Affiliated with the Cades Cove Preservation Association, they have very lovingly and artfully displayed collections that have been donated from families who formerly inhabited Cades Cove.
Here you’ll find the wood stove that kept the congregation warm at the Missionary Baptist Church (Stop 7 on the Loop), as well as the last cook stove used in Cades Cove.
Can’t you just hear the organ music playing to usher you in to Sunday services? The two lanterns hanging above once hung on the hooks still in place at the church.
Gloria Motter, Director and Richard Anderson, Co-Director, will not only give you a warm welcome, but their passion for sharing information on the lives of former Cove residents and history of the area could keep you fascinated for hours.
Richard is a descendent of the Brown and Gregory families of Cades Cove and has tales to tell that have been passed down through generations. These kind of first-hand accounts are always the most interesting, so I definitely recommend a trip back in time here!