Updated: Dec 7, 2022
If you're looking for a great way to see the beautiful Smoky Mountains, consider biking Cades Cove. This 11-mile loop offers stunning scenery and plenty of opportunities to see wildlife. Plus, it's a great workout! Here are some tips to make the most of your trip.
View from the Cades Cove Loop Road
Want To Visit Cades Cove In The Smokies?
Avoid The Traffic Jam By Hopping On A Bike
Cades Cove is not only one of the most picturesque destinations in the Smokies, but also one of its most popular. With quaint cabins and lush flora dotting the landscape, it's no wonder that many come to Cades Cove just to drive through; however, this high volume of traffic often turns what should be a relaxing journey into an hour-long 11-mile line. The locals know to avoid Cades Cove at all costs during the busy fall and summer seasons. (It's hard to believe, but it gets even worse then.)
Bike The Loop With No Cars On Wednesdays In The Summer
TAKE SOME TIME TO SLOW DOWN AND ENJOY ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING SPOTS IN THE SMOKIES
Avoid traffic and explore the Smokies on two wheels by biking or walking the loop on Wednesdays from early May to September. The loop is closed to motorized vehicles, making it a great opportunity to enjoy some fresh air and exercise with the family. You can bike the loop on other days of the week too, but be aware that it will be much more crowded—and polluted—with cars bumper-to-bumper.
2-3 times per year, my family and I bike the Cades Cove Loop on a day when cars are prohibited. It's one of our favorite things to do in the park.
Peaceful bliss with just you, the sunrise, and the birds
You Have Options: 11 Mile, 8 Mile, or 4 Mile Loops
The 11-mile loop is perfect for those who want to get some exercise in while enjoying the scenery. You can hike, bike, or run at your own pace depending on how much time you have or how fit you are. And if you're feeling lazy, there's always the option of an electric bike!
If you're not up for the entire 11 miles, don't worry! You can take a shortcut at either Hyatt Lane or Sparks Lane. The whole 11 mile loop is paved, but the roads at Hyatt and Sparks are gravel. They're usually well-maintained, but it's still worth noting that they're not pavement.
Note that the red “WALK” areas indicate the steeper downhills on the Loop. Map provided by Cades Cove Bike Rentals- https://cadescovetrading.com/bikes/
8 MILE LOOP ON HYATT LANE
Hyatt Lane is a great and less traveled path that we recommend you take the next time you're at the loop. You'll avoid some of the steeper hills and miss out on valley views, but it's worth it for the seclusion.
Our bear sighting on Hyatt Lane
4 MILE LOOP ON SPARKS LANE
If you have small children and don't mind a little unpaved terrain, the 4 mile loop along Sparks Lane is lovely. Just be prepared for possibly crossing a stream (worst case scenario: removing shoes required).
Literally strolling on Sparks Lane
If walking the Sparks Lane loop, begin your walk where the bikers exit the loop, not where they start the loop. Walking the loop clockwise, you get less bike traffic as bikers must ride the loop counter-clockwise.
Peaceful Sparks Lane
Frequently Asked Questions
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
If you are in good shape and can maintain a fast pace with no stops, it should take approximately an hour. If you have small children or want to explore some of the sites on the loop, plan for two hours. And if you really want to experience everything that the loop has to offer, aim for three to four hours total.
There's no need to worry about your bike while you hike; feel free to leave it locked or parked in a designated spot. Abrams Falls is an amazing hike that can get crowded on regular days, but because cars are banned today, it'll be much more peaceful. Although theft isn't common here, I would still recommend locking up your bike if you have a nice one.
Biking is a great way to explore the park, but you'll want to pack some snacks as there are limited food options available beyond the campground store and Cable Mill gift shop. Trust me, biking takes a lot of energy!
Carter Shields cabin is one of the many historic cabins that have been preserved in the park. While you're touring, be sure to take some time to explore some or all of the 17 points of interest along the 10 mile loop.
WHEN IS IT CAR FREE?
Starting usually in early May, the Cades Cove Loop is closed to cars during the day on Wednesdays until the first of September. You can check the NPS website for the official days which change slightly from year to year.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
prime Sunrise is the best time for photography, so plan to be at your destination well before then. If you want to beat the crowd and secure a bike rental, aim to arrive even earlier--6am should do it. Remember: the rental store opens at 7am sharp, but we recommend getting in line way before that because by 8am they had run out of bikes on our last visit! Also not fun: having to wait 1-2 hours just for people to return their rentals.
If you don't enjoy early mornings, consider staying overnight in Townsend the night before your ride so that you can get an early start.
Maybe try biking in the evening to make use of the daylight. Just be mindful that you won't be able to rent bikes from Cades Cove as they close at 5 pm and last rentals leave at 3 pm. If you want to bike during nighttime or under a full moon (another popular activity), then you will have to bring your own bikes.
Sunrise from the far side of Cades Cove, opposite side of the loop from the camping area. This is the best place to see the sunrise as it comes up over the mountains. It is about halfway as well so makes a perfect spot to stop and have a snack.
CAN MY KIDS DO IT?
There are a few tough hills, but you can always push your bike up or down them. The loop has quite a few hills, so most of the time you're either coasting down one or working hard to pedal up one. And there's no shame in walking your bike up a hill like many others do! If you take the Hyatt Lane shortcut,you'll miss a handful of the hardest inclines located between Cable Mill and Carter Shields Cabin.
Hills on bike trails may scare some younger kids, but it really depends on the child. If you're patient and take your time resting when needed, it'll be a fun activity for all. Our family has taken many biking trips over the years (with children ranging in ages from 7 to 15), completing the entire loop in usually just under 2 hours. We walk up steeper hills and stop for snacks as necessary, but our kids always enjoy this summertime tradition nonetheless.
There are many volunteers placed along the loop, especially by the more treacherous downhills. They will tell you to be careful and take your time walking downhill as well as make sure children wear helmets. If you refer to the map above, steep sections of the loop are labeled with "WALK" in red letters.
WILL WE SEE WILDLIFE?
If you visit early in the morning, you have a higher chance of seeing animals like bears, turkeys, and deer. If you see a crowd stopped on the side of the road, that means they spotted something interesting and you should join them!
WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
Be sure to bring bike helmets for everyone in your group. Children 16 and under are required by law to wear them, so either bring your own or rent some. This rule is strictly enforced here. I've seen someone get into a bad wreck and have to be airlifted out of the Cove after hitting a deer, so adults should really think about wearing helmets too. Deer often like to cross the road without checking both ways first, so it's very possible to crash even if you're not at fault.
WATER, FOOD, ETC
Make sure to bring a water bottle. The weather might start off cool, but it will get warm quickly, and you'll want water then. If you need to fill up your bottle, there are two places you can go: near the restrooms by the Campground store or at Cable Mill halfway around the loop. There are no other fountains on the loop itself. You can also buy bottled water from either place mentioned before, although they may not be open if you're here early in the day.
As for snacks, bring a granola bar or something similar with you so that you have something to eat when we take breaks during our hike If you're planning to bike around the loop, keep in mind that there are limited food options available. There's a small selection of snacks at the Cable Mill gift shop, but it'll be closed if you arrive early in the morning.
It can be quite cold at sunrise, particularly because the loop starts with a lengthy downhill section. But don't worry, you'll warm up quickly enough once the sun is out. And if you're worried about getting too hot later on, dress in layers that you can take off as needed.
ARE THERE RESTROOMS?
Rosewood Campground has two restrooms, near the Campground Store at the beginning of Rosewood Loop, and another one located mid-way through at the Visitor Center by Cable Mill.
CAN I BRING MY DOG?
Dogs are allowed on all parts of the trail that cars can access, so you don't have to worry about bringing your furry friend along. We love taking our dog with us on hikes and we've only explored the 4 mile loop at Sparks Lane.
For the safety of your pet and other animals in the park, please follow these rules: keep your dog on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times, be prepared to pick up their feces and carry it to the nearest trash can (which could be far), and always be alert for bears or coyotes. If you or your dog cannot abide by these rules, please do not walk them in Cades Cove.
Bring your own bikes or rent bikes (kids and adult bikes available) at the Cades Cove Campground Store. Rental bikes are available on a first-come, first-served basis on 7am on Wednesdays and at 9am other days of the week.
Prices in 2021 for bike rentals at the Cades Cove Campground store
As you can see, the rental bikes are greenway cruisers. There are a couple of kids bikes at the back.
Parking Issues (Go Early!)
The best parking for the Cades Cove Loop Road is located on the left, just before reaching the one-way portion. However, this spot is quite small and usually becomes full quickly. If you can't find a space here, don't worry! Head towards the campground to park at the picnic area or near the stables instead.
We particularly love picnicking after our rides, so this option works well if you're planning to do something similar. You can choose your spot in advance, leave your car parked there while you ride around the loop, and come back afterwards without having to worry about finding another place to park.
When I visited Cades Cove in 2022, I noticed that the rangers were strictly enforcing parking in designated lots. There are volunteers manning each parking area keeping track of available spots. So when you drive into Cades Cove, you will be stopped by a ranger or volunteer and told where to park.
The car-free Wednesdays are quite popular, so much so that the parking fills up fast. If you're looking to go during the summer months, it's advised that you visit early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid crowds and a full parking lot.
Treat Yourself After Your Ride
If you're looking for snacks and drinks, head to the Campground Store in Cades Cove. And if you deserve a sweet treat, don't forget to grab an ice cream cone! If picnicking is more your style, make your way over to the nearby Cades Cove Picnic Area. You can have lunch right by the river before driving home. For breakfast or lunch another good option is Townsend – Riverstone Restaurant or Townsend Abbey for breakfast, and Apple Valley Cafe for lunch.
The local favorite Burger Master in Townsend is a great place for kids to enjoy an ice cream cone. You can order at the window and then enjoy your food outside at one of the picnic tables.
Try to snag a picnic site by the creek in the Cades Cove Picnic Area. You can park your car here and ride your bike directly to the beginning of the loop road. Then enjoy lunch and a cool off when you are done! This is a popular way to spend the day in Cades Cove.