We’ve driven the popular Cades Cove 11 mile loop many times during visits to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The scenic curvy road that leads to Cades Cove is filled with gorgeous imagery of mountains and streams during the 13.1 mile drive. Depending on the time of year, traffic to the park, and how many times you stop for pictures or animal sightings, the drive to Cades Cove could take you between 40 minutes-1hr+ to reach.
Stop at Sugarlands Visitor Center First
If it’s your first time visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I recommend stopping at Sugarlands Visitor Center as soon as you enter the park to make the most of your visit. You can get a free map of the National Park and the rangers are extremely helpful offering advice and answering any questions that you might have.
Because the drive can feel like a really long time to a kid, I’ve found my kids to be less than enthusiastic when we’ve driven the loop and made them get out for multiple stops along the way. The National Park recommends allowing 2-4 hours when visiting the park…….That’s why biking Cades Cove changed everything!
Try Biking Instead Of Driving
Once you bike Cade’s Cove, you will never want to drive it again!
You have the freedom to stop when you want, where you want, while connecting with nature all around you at a slower pace.
You can appreciate the sights and sounds so much more from a bicycle than your vehicle.
We also enjoyed this experience so much better than driving the loop because you are not stuck in vehicle traffic. The loop is one way and bicycles have the right of way.
You can bring your own bike or bike rentals are available at Cades Cove Trading Company located at the camp store when you enter the park. There are a few 16′ children’s bikes but the majority are 24′ for adults. Kids under a certain age are required to wear bicycle helmets during their ride. There are no bike trailers available for rent and they are not recommended because they are wider on the road and harder for vehicles to see.
The Scenic Loop
You are given a map before you begin your journey that shows points of interests along the way. We did the 11 mile loop but you do have shortcut options of 4 and 7 mile loops if you want to do a shorter distance.
Each bike rental has a tag sharing more about a point of interest along the way. I would recommend stopping for as many of the historic sites as possible.
A few of our favorite stops were the John Oliver Cabin, Primitive Baptist church, and the Cable Mill.
The Cable Mill is a great halfway stop for lunch or a bathroom break. The bicycle rentals have a water bottle holder and I would also recommend that someone in your party wear a backpack with snacks, sunscreen, and additional water. We visited during a time when they were doing demonstrations at the mill which made the experience even more interesting.
When you stop to look at historic sites or wildlife you don’t have to worry about locking up your bikes. I was told that rangers know to look for the bicycle rentals.
The backside of the scenic loop has more elevation changes, which can be more of a challenging ride. Our family was still glad that we did the full loop, we just walked our bikes up the hills when we needed to. If you see a sign that tells you to walk your bike down a hill, DO IT! There is a reason for the sign. A few people have been injured while going down because they gained too much speed and couldn’t slow down in time for the tight turn at the bottom.
If you want a vehicle free experience, check out the online calendar mid May- mid September on Wednesday or Saturday mornings from 7-10am. The employees will arrive at the bicycle rental around 6am and I was told that the bike rentals go really FAST ( like by 7:15 am) and Wednesday tends to be the busier day of the two.
You can find out more about Cades Cove from the National Park website.