Camping at Cades Cove is one of my favorite things to do in the Southeast Unites States. Cades Cove is located in the Tennessee portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is arguably one of the most beautiful sites in the park, and certainly one of the most visited. Each year, Cades Cove receives over 2 million visitors. There are plenty of things to do and see here.
Camping at Cades Cove
There is a very large campground at Cades Cove (one of only two in the Park that are open through the winter). There are 159 campsites at the Cades Cove campground. In the summer, during peak season, these will all be full. Luckily, you can reserve campsites before you visit on the National Park Service’s website. At only $17-$20 per night, it makes for a very inexpensive vacation!
All of the sites at the Cades Cove campground have room for a couple cars and have tent pads big enough for two small tents, or one large one. You’ll definitely take advantage of the built-in fire ring (with grill) and the picnic table at your site for those delicious camping meals! There are bathrooms with running water and toilets, but no showers. There are bear-proof trash containers scattered throughout the campground for your trash. Be sure to keep everything that might attract bears (food, deodorant, toothpaste, water, etc) in your car when you’re not using it. This is bear country after all! Last time I was at Cades Cove, part of the campground was closed due to bear activity (don’t let this scare you though, Black Bears are rarely aggressive and easily scared; I’ve never heard of anyone being harmed by one while camping in one of the Park’s campgrounds).
When you arrive in Cades Cove, drive your car around the campground and pick out your campsite. If you’re tent camping, then try to pick a site away from the RV’s and their noisy generators (although I’ve never had a problem with too much noise here). Once you’ve picked out your site, walk back up to the front office and pay for the night and then head back to your site to unpack. Once you’ve set up your cozy home away from home, it’s time to explore!
Things to do in Cades Cove
There are so many things to do in Cades Cove; it’s hard to list them all. Let’s start with the valley itself. Cades Cove is a valley, tucked between the high peaks of the Smoky Mountains (some of the tallest mountains in the Eastern US are here). Long before Europeans arrived in America, this valley was the hunting grounds of the Cherokee Indians. During the early 1800’s the first Europeans settled in this fertile valley and began a community. By 1830, there were 271 people living in Cades Cove. Although no one lives here now, you can still see many historic building here that have stood in this valley for centuries. It’s not hard to imagine what it must have been like to live in this beautiful place.
The campground in at one end of the valley and is very heavily wooded. You won’t be able to see the view until you leave the campground and drive about a 1/4 mile. There is an 11-mile loop road that winds its way around the perimeter of the valley. Before it gets dark, go ahead and jump in your car and drive around the loop to see the magnificent views of the mountains as well as the vast fields and trees in the valley around you. You’ll likely see many deer on your drive and maybe even a black bear! Take your time and stop by some of the historic houses or churches along the way. Once you’ve driven through Cades Cove, you’ll never see the world quite the same!
Other things to do while you’re in Cades Cove:
Hiking Trails – There are many trails that originate or pass through Cades Cove. There is a five-mile loop trail to Abrams Falls, an easy Cades Cove Nature Trail, and even side trails that lead to the great Appalachian Trail. Be sure to pick up a trail map at any of the Park’s welcome centers.
Backcountry Camping – If you’re ambitious, you can hike to a campsite on one of the trails. While it’s more work to carry all of your stuff several miles to a campsite, the seclusion and views are well worth the extra effort. Please note that you have to have a backcountry camping permit (don’t worry, it’s free!). You can pick one up at any of the welcome centers in the Park
Horses – There is a horse camp in Cades Cove right outside the campground where the kids can take pony rides while you take a relaxing carriage ride through the woods.
The Smoky’s! – Even though you’re camping at Cades Cove, you are only a short, scenic drive from many other beautiful sites in the park:
- You can visit The Sinks, a waterfall right off the road that offers a wide panorama of slanted rock-faces with hundreds of gallons of water rushing over them every minute.
- You can drive to the top of Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak in the Park. There is a circular observation deck on top where you can see for miles in any direction!
- Alum Cave Trail provides amazing views on its way to the summit of Mount Le Conte. If you can even spend a night at the historic Le Conte Lodge.
- The Chimney Tops offer amazing views from the summits of their double peaks, both made of craggy rock.
- If you’ve had enough of nature for a day, you can always make the short drive into nearby Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge and eat at a nice restaurant and enjoy some of the attractions.
There’s something magical about camping at Cades Cove. You’re in the middle of the woods, in valley surrounded by the ancient Appalachian Mountains. You just can’t beat lying in your sleeping bag in your cozy tent thinking about how hundreds of years ago Native Americans hunted for food here, that European settlers lived in log cabins not far from where you lay now, and that at this moment, you don’t have a care in the world. No stress, no worries, just camping.
Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN 37882, USA