Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Introducing: Cades Cove Loop Road in the Smokies

We are beginning a new series of articles on the Cades Cove Loop Road in the Smokies. Over the upcoming days we're going to take a look at some of the sites along the road and explore some of the points of interest along the route. I began constructing a brief series for a writing site. It has been very well received over there and I hope that you will enjoy the series.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most heavily visited in the national park system. People come because it's beautiful and there are no fees. They stay because of the scenery, recreation, proximity to shopping and hotels, history and more. Cades Cove and its 11 mile loop road are often considered to be the crowned jewel of the Smoky Mountains. 

A cove is essentially a valley that is closed on either end or both ends.
The valley lies between two small ridgelines. The mountains of a cove encircle the valley (or part of it) like a frame around a picture. While in a cove, you are basically standing in a basin and are surrounded by fields and clusters of forest. The "walls" of the bowl are formed by mountains. As you can imagine, Cades Cove is a beautiful place to be.

One of the key features of this spot is the 11 mile Cades Cove Loop Road.
This one-way road is open to cars. However; on Wednesdays and Thursdays the road is open solely to bicycles until 10:00 am. At that time, cars are permitted to travel the loop as usual.

First time visitors need to be aware of a few things.

1. There is no food or water in Cades Cove. 
Most people bring a picnic or at least snacks. There is a pretty picnic area just before the entrance to Cades Cove. Most of the picnic spots are along the creek. There are concrete tables and grills at each spot and some are handicapped accessible. If you bring a picnic blanket, then you may choose to eat at any point along the loop road. There are several parking areas in general and at most of the points of interest.

2. Don't feed the wildlife intentionally or unintentionally. 
Place all waste in the bins at the picnic ground, at the visitor center or home with you. Never, ever, lean out of the car window or willfully feed a wild animal. This is expensively illegal in terms of fines and possible jail sentence. Plus, it's a great way to lose a finger or hand. Be smart. Don't do it. 

3. Allow plenty of time.
It can take four hours or more to go through the loop road. Plan to take it slow and easy. Look for wildlife, explore the historic buildings, rent a horse for a trail ride, hike or just enjoy the relaxed drive.

4. No cell phone service.
Hang it up, literally. Mountain terrain isn't conducive to cell phone reception. There is zero to extremely limited cell phone service in the area. A pay phone is available at the campground.

5. Facilities
Bathrooms are outside of Cades Cove at the picnic area and at the campground store. Bathrooms are also available at the Cable Mill visitor center about halfway through the loop road.

6. Accessibility
Keep in mind that most of the historic buildings in the park are at least 100 years old. Although the Cable Mill area is almost fully handicapped accessible most of the areas won't be. However; this is no reason not to enjoy the park. Almost all of the historic points of interest are on the road and most of Cades Cove is best viewed from the loop road.

I have problems walking on uneven ground. My suggestion is to evaluate each point of interest according to your own abilities.

This gives you a good overview of the Cades Cove. In the next installment, we'll talk about the John Oliver Place. It is the first structure that you come to on the Cades Cove Loop Road.