By Jim Bridges
A little over 100 miles from Lake Tansi Village is another beautiful area, and well worth the drive. It is Cades Cove, an isolated valley located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once home to numerous settlers before being incorporated into the park, it is the single most popular destination of park visitors. The Cades Cove Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its well-preserved homesteads, scenic mountain views and abundant display of wildlife attract thousands of visitors a year.
Before leaving home, take a few minutes to sit down and plan your trip. There are two important items to be considered. First, the park is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you lose an hour before you leave home. Secondly, there is no restaurant in Cades Cove, so pack a lunch. To fully enjoy the beauty of the Cove you need to drive the 11-mile loop. Depending on when you arrive, you can begin your drive around the loop or eat lunch. Regardless of which you decide to do first, pay close attention to the three-way intersection upon reaching the top. Note that the picnic area is on the left as you approach the intersection and is accessed by turning to the left on the paved two-way road. It has lots of tall shade trees, plenty of picnic tables and nice rest rooms, all beside a beautiful stream. It will bring peace and quiet back into your lives again, if only for a short while.
If you want to drive around the 11-mile loop before eating lunch, continue driving straight ahead. Be prepared for that, also. People drive slowly and if lots of wildlife are foraging, it is even slower. But what the heck! Slow your life down and enjoy the absolutely gorgeous scenery and, hopefully, some whitetail deer, black bears, wild turkeys (not the human kind) and perhaps a coyote. On the loop you will find a number of older but well-maintained houses with barns and other out buildings and several churches, all of which are open to tour. The road is one lane and well maintained, with very few places to pass but with numerous places to pull off. Feel free to stop momentarily to shoot pictures. In some instances you can pull off, walk to shoot a picture and then get back in the line of traffic. Other drivers are very tolerant since everyone is there for the same reasons and subject to the same conditions.
Half-way around the loop is the Cades Cove Visitor Center that has a large parking area and includes nice rest rooms, a gift shop and a grist mill. The 11-mile, one-lane road ends at the two-lane road you passed when you reached the top. To reach the picnic grounds turn left from the loop road and then just a short distance turn to the right. To get on the road back down to the park visitor center, exit to the right from the picnic area and turn right onto the main road.
In recent years we have driven to the park fairly early in the morning, taken the 11-mile Cades Cove loop and eaten lunch in the picnic area. Following lunch, we drove down to US 441 and then into Gatlinburg. We have a favorite place to visit called The Village, a collection of 27 unique boutiques, clothiers, eateries and galleries in a quaint Old World setting. Ask for directions and a brochure at the Sugarland Visitors Center. We spend the night in Pigeon Forge, shop, have lunch and then drive home.
There are two routes available from Crossville to the park. One is I-40 through Knoxville to the US 441 / Sevierville exit. Continue on US 441 through Sevierville to Pigeon Forge and then to Gatlinburg. You can save time by taking the Gatlinburg bypass and going into the city after visiting the park. Watch for signs and exit onto the bypass on the right side. It is a scenic drive above the city and exits back onto US 441 near the Great Smoky Mountain Sugarland Visitors Center. There you will find lots of information on Cades Cove and other places of interest in the park. The road up to Cades Cove is right next to the visitor center.
A second route also begins on I-40. Approximately 12 miles past Kingston (where you cross the Tennessee River and pass the TVA power plant with the 1,000-foot chimneys) look for the US 321 / Lenoir City exit. Stay on US 321 through Lenoir City, across Tellico Dam and through Maryville. Continue on US 321 to Townsend (more of a community rather than a town) until you come to the three-way intersection with a traffic signal. A sign will show Pigeon Forge to the left on US 321 and Cades Cove straight ahead on Tennessee State Route 73. Go straight! It is only about three miles to another three-way intersection that is inside the park. Turn to the right and proceed up to the Cove.
Give me a call if you have questions. We have visited the park most every year since retiring in Tansi a number of years ago.
Enjoy your drive to the park, the drive around Cades Cove and your stay in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.