The first time I visited the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee was in March of 1987. Since that time I’ve returned many, many times. Almost every one of those visits, if they were more than a day or two long, have included a visit to Cades Cove.
If you drive the 11-mile paved loop in the early morning or late evening there is a good chance you will see wildlife, including bears, deer, and turkeys. Last week our family took our annual late July trip to the mountains and on Saturday night we were able to spot, and watch from a safe distance, four bears at different locations.
But even if you drove through Cades Cove on the paved one-lane road and didn’t see any wildlife the views would be well worth the time. Many enjoy looking out from a mountain, but there is a certain breath-taking view to being in a beautiful valley and look up at them.
While the cabin we stay in is located five minutes from the hustle and bustle of Pigeon Forge, two of my greatest delights are driving through Wears Valley, which allows you to look around at the majestic mountains, and visiting Townsend, a village that is a whole lot quieter and laid back than either Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.
I must admit that my wife and I have found it worth bumping elbows amidst the sea of humanity that floods Gatlinburg in the Summer in order to ride the SkyLift to visit the SkyBridge, which is touted as the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America. We were able to visit with our children and grandchildren this past week and they all were impressed with the views and got a thrill of walking across the SkyBridge, which features 30-feet of glass flooring at the midpoint of the 700-foot bridge.
While we enjoy hearing the grands scream and holler while they are riding one of the mountain coasters just outside of Pigeon Forge, or watching their eyes get wide as they take it all the sites and sounds of Gatlinburg, it brings us even more joy to walk with the along a trail and watch them play on the rocks of a mountain stream.
But this column isn’t as much about Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, or even enjoying the Smoky Mountains with our family, as it is about Cades Cove.
Two years ago Barb and I began doing something that we both hope will be a tradition we build on throughout the remainder of our lives.
On Wednesdays from May through September Cades Cove is closed to motor vehicle traffic, with only bicycles and walkers allowed. Two years ago we walked the entire 11-mile loop and quite frankly had very sore feet when we finished.
When we scheduled our mountain vacation this year we made plans to arrive a day before our family so we could once again walk Cades Cove. This year we decided to take the 9-mile route by cutting through Hyatt’s Lane.
We didn’t see any bears, despite the fact that several people we met on the trail said they had even very active in the cove that morning. Next year, we plan to get started a little earlier in the day to improve our chances of viewing wildlife. On the way back to the entrance we cut across Sparks Lane and then walked back against the grain to the entrance.
While there may be some things you miss by walking the cove, there are many you can’t see any other way. According to what cut through roads you take, and how much time you take to linger at the various spots, it could take you between two to six hours to make the walk. That’s truly up to you.
Riding through your car is a great way to view nature, but there is something special about walking Cades Cove that makes a couple sore feet more than worth it.
Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur, and professional sports since 1975 and is an ordained Assemblies of God minister. He may be contacted by email at email@example.com or by phone at 601-938-2471.