Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Late Fall Drive to Cade’s Cove: Smoky Mountain National Park

It was a beautiful sunny day and we had a hankering for a drive in the country.  We hadn’t been to Cade’s Cove in quite a while, partly because of the hordes of tourists that flood the place in the summer and then again when the autumn colors are at their peak.

It was well past the peak of the fall colors in the mountains when we drove out through Maryville and Townsend Tennessee to the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that’s closest to Cade’s Cove…

More than 9 million tourists and visitors traveled to the park in 2010… This is more than twice as many visitors as went to the Grand Canyon, which is the second most visited national park!  Officially, in 2,012, a total of 9,685,829 visitors came to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park…

These horses were grazing in a field near the start of the loop drive around the Cade’s Cove section of the Park.  Trail rides are a popular activity in the Cove.  Camping is also very, very popular and the campground here is almost always busy…

Cades Cove is an isolated valley in the Tennessee section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The Cove is the single most popular destination in the Park, attracting more than 2,000,000 visitors a year!

It may have been past the peak fall color period but with the blue skies and the remaining color offset against the evergreens, it was still beautiful in the Cove.  The loop road for the auto tours is a paved one-way 11 mile route with numerous turn-outs and stops along the way.

Note: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses 522,419 acres or 816.28 square miles, making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States.  This park is only about 424 square miles smaller than the entire State of Rhode Island!

In this photo we were looking across the valley and I used my zoom lens to capture the sight of the traffic on this ‘slow’ tourist day in the Cove.  We have been in the cove at times when traffic was so heavy, it just stopped.  It took us over 2 hours to drive the 11 miles on one occasion!  If a bear is spotted, you can guarantee a traffic jam…but even a deer grazing next to the road can stop traffic.

Note: It’s estimated that over 1,500 black bears live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

The Cove had already had one serious snow fall when we made this drive.  The trees still had leaves on them and we saw quite a few fallen trees and downed limbs…although the Park Service did a nice job of clearing the roads.

Note: Officially dedicated in 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the first national park whose land and other costs were paid for in part with federal funds.

Here’s another view all the way across the Cove.  Cades Cove is a type of valley known as a "limestone window".  It was created by erosion that removed the older sandstone, exposing the younger limestone underneath it.  Weathering of the limestone produced deep, fertile soil which made Cades Cove attractive to early farmers.  More weathering-resistant formations, which surround the cove, left it relatively isolated within the mountains.
Note: Elevations in the Great Smoky National Park range from 876 feet to 6,643 feet at the summit of Clingman’s Dome. Within the park a total of 16 mountains are higher than 6,000 feet.

Laurie took this photo of one of homes still standing in Cades Cove.  A total of 7 homesteads, 1 barn, a grist mill and 3 churches can be visited while touring the Cove.  The National Park Service maintains these buildings as a representation of pioneer life in the 19th-century Appalachia.

The entire valley or cove with its early structures and pre-historic sites has been designated as a National Historic District.  There are also 4 other National Historic Districts in the park.  They are the Elkmont Historic District, the Oconaluftee Archaeological District, Noah Ogle Place and the Roaring Fork Historic District.

The facts about how these homes and farms became part of the park are a bit grim and the inclusion of these properties was a huge source of controversy when it happened.

Of all the Smoky Mountain communities, Cades Cove put up the most resistance to the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The cove residents were initially assured their land would not be incorporated into the park and they welcomed its formation. 

However, in 1927 the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill approving money to buy land for the national park.  The Assembly gave the Park Commission the power to seize properties within the proposed park boundaries by use of eminent domain.  Needless to say, old time residents of the Cove were outraged.  After a long legal battle, the last settler abandoned his property on Christmas Day in 1937.  The Primitive Baptist Church congregation continued to defy the Park Service, meeting in the Cove until the 1960s…

This old road or lane with trees on either side is one of our favorite views in Cade’s Cove.  The initial plan for the Cove was to let it revert to woodlands but the Park Service was persuaded to maintain the open meadows created by the early farms.  Deer and turkey are abundant in the Cove…

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just one example of land in East Tennessee being seized by the government for “the public good”.  The expanse of land occupied by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the huge amount of land taken over for the dams, reservoirs and facilities of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), are still resented by many long term residents of the area.

The road that leads into Cade’s Cove runs along the side of Laurel Creek.  This stream is the Middle Prong of the Little River…which feeds into Laurel Creek near the beginning of the drive to the Cove. 

The Great Smoky National Park is also an International Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which in turn are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain.

When we returned from our drive, JD was there to greet us, scold us and to point out that he hadn’t given his personal staff the day off!  Here he’s saying “Hi Mommy”…

To learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cades Cove, you can go to,, and

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for taking a drive with us!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Great shots of this unique area. Glad you got to go at an uncrowded time.

  2. Hello There, I enjoyed your post today. I love the 'cove' --no matter which season. Looks like you all picked a beautiful day to be there... Thanks for sharing 'our' mountains!!!!

    Sorry I haven’t been around much lately. I do try to read blogs—but just haven’t commented very much lately like I usually try to do. Please don’t give up on me. Hopefully my life will be back to ‘normal’— whatever that is (ha), sometime in January.

    I did get a cortisone shot in my knee —which has helped with the pain somewhat. In January, I will most likely have meniscus tear surgery…. BUT—in the meantime, I plan to have a fantastic Christmas —and hopefully get to see my kids/grands… God is Good.


  3. Great pics! It's a very scenic park and I really like the one of the old road with the trees. Cute Happy Cat!