Night #1 I fell asleep to the sound of gentle rain hitting the tent sides. Day #2 I woke up at 6:15am to clear skies and began getting ready for my first full day in the Smoky Mountains. I decided the night before that my Tuesday would be spent exploring the Cades Cove loop, something I hadn’t done since I was a child.
The beautiful things about the 11 mile one-way loop is it has something for everyone. Like exploring the outdoors via the comfort and air conditioning of your car? The loop is paved and open to vehicles most days from sunrise to sunset. Prefer more basic transportation? Bikes are welcome on the loop as well, and on certain days of the week, only bikers and pedestrians are allowed from sunrise until 10am, giving them the freedom to enjoy the loop without having to worry about cars. Want to spend your time hiking? There are several trails of varying lengths and difficulties along the loop. Interested in history? There are several stops along the loop designed to explain the history of the settlement of the Cove.
If you plan on driving through Cades Cove, especially during the summer, I recommend starting early. If you start too late in the day, you’re forced to contend with not only the heat, but incredibly awful traffic. Earlier in the day, though, you can avoid most of that. I started the loop a little before 7:30am, which worked out perfectly for me.
*Note: The following aren’t the only stops along the Cades Cove loop, but they were the ones I was able to get to during my trip*
Stop #1 – John Oliver Cabin
John Oliver and his wife, Lucretia, were the first Euro-Americans to settle in Cades Cove in 1818, and their cabin is one of the first stops along the Cades Cove loop. The dirt trail to and from the cabin is a 1/2 mile loop and incredibly easy to navigate for all ages and body types. Like most of the buildings in Cades Cove, visitors are welcome to enter and look around as long as they don’t destroy or deface anything.
Stop #2 – Primitive Baptist Church
First, I’ve got to say, the turn-off to the Primitive Baptist Church stop was rough. The side road is very skinny as it is and with all the recent rain, huge ruts had formed in the dirt road. Thankfully all the drivers that morning were courteous and pulled over to let others pass.
The church itself was what you’d expect (or, at least what I’d expect), but what I was most impressed by was the cemetery behind the church. It was a poignant snapshot of history, and I recognized several of the names on the headstones as key settlers and explorers of the area.
Stop #3 – Methodist Church
The Methodist Church looked almost identical to the Primitive Baptist Church (at least to me), but was much easier to get to via car, as it was a simple pull-out from the main road.
Stop #4 – Missionary Baptist Church
Again, at least in my untrained opinion, the Missionary Baptist Church looked like the previous two from the outside. The inside, though, had a unique design that differentiated it from the others.
Stop #5 – Abrams Falls
Stop #6 – Cades Cove Visitor’s Center
After finishing the Abrams Falls trail, the next stop was the Visitor’s Center, which, in addition to the traditional store, has an “Early Mountain Community” in the same space, consisting of several buildings from the 1900s, some of which were moved from their original locations in the park. The buildings include a home, a couple of barns, and a mill, among others.
During my self-guided tour of the community, the heaven let loose and rain began pouring down. Most people took shelter in one of the buildings. I waited approx. 15 minutes or so until the rain let up slightly and then continued on my way through the rest of loop.
Stop #7 – Nature Trail
My only disappointment of the entire trip: Another family and myself tried hiking the nature trail at the same time, but we both had to turn around less than an eighth of a mile into it due to fallen trees and poor conditions.
Stop #8 – Dan Lawson Place
The Dan Lawson Place was built around 1865. The house, barn and surrounding buildings were nice, but the highlight of this particular stop was the wildlife. Walking from the house to the barn I saw some dark movement in the grass to my right. I stopped and watched two black bears – a mom and its cub – cross the field. There was a family nearby, completely oblivious, so I got their attention and we just watched the bears until they disappeared in the tree line. After the spell was broken and everyone started milling around again, the dad of the original family I stopped told me, “You have very good eyes, young lady!” I just find that comment funny since I wear glasses and have done so since I was 9 years old lol.
Stop #9 – Tipton Place
My last stop of the Cases Cove loop was Tipton Place, another set of homes and outlying buildings, this time spanning both sides of the road, making traffic and parking around the area kind of a nightmare. This house, though, was particularly neat because it had a functional upstairs/attic area people could go into. The floor was a bit creaky, so I made sure to tread carefully, but it was still a cool, unique experience.