Cades Cove Auto Loop and Bike Tour in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

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Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains

[ Map ] [ Photos ] [ A Slice of Cove History ] [ Biking the Cove ]

Interestingly, this area called Cades Cove that we so dearly love for both its beauty and symbolism of the strength and resilience of its pioneer settlers, peaked within 30 years of its first settling. The state of Tennessee acquired this land from the Cherokee Indians in 1820, and by 1850 many of the population (685 at it's peak) were ready to move on to more fertile land and new frontiers. By 1860 only 269 people remained in the Cove area. Today millions of visitors annually flock to Cades Cove to see the preserved pioneer homesteads, the blue-misted mountains which serve as a backdrop to the cove, and the abundant wildlife which now populate the area.

To facilitate visitors, the Park provides a self-guided tour book at the cove's entrance. The 11-mile loop road takes approximately 45 minutes to complete casually from your vehicle. A more detailed look at the homesteads, some of which require brief hikes, can take several hours. Or you can make an entire day of Cades Cove if you stop at the Cable Mill area visitor center and include a 5-mile (round trip) hike to Abrams Falls.

Cades Cove Map

Cades Cove Loop Road Auto and Biking Tour

abrams falls
Cades Cove at dusk
cantilever barn
Cantilever barn (3rd picture) Large barns were common in Cades Cove because of the considerable number of livestock. The loft of this one would hold many tons of hay and fodder. The large overhang sheltered both animals and farm equipment, without posts to get in the way of traffic. Cantilever construction (counterweighted overhanging beams) was used frequently in east Tennessee and western North Carolina, but originated centuries ago in Europe.
Smoky Mountain Doe
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IInez Burns Photonez Burns wrote the following article in 1975 for our Guide to the Southern Highlands. Well known and respected in the area, Ms Burns was honored by the community when the main road between Townsend and Sevierville was named after her: The Inez Burns Parkway. She was born and reared in Tuckaleechee Cove, next door to Cades Cove, on a farm to which the family holds the original land grant. A professional librarian, Ms Burns obtained a Library degree from Peabody College, and is the author of the History of Blount County and was co-compiler with Mrs. L.W. McCown of Soldiers of 1812 buried in Tennessee. An enthusiastic hiker, she explored most of the major trails in the Tuckaleechee and Cades Cove area, including Thunderhead and Gregory's Bald. She took her first trip to Cades Cove by horse and buggy, and later by T-Model Fords. Both were well suited to negotiate the narrow winding roads in those early days in the Cades Cove area.

Cades Cove: A Brief History

Within an hour's drive from Knoxville, Tennessee–by way of Highway 321 (old Highway 73) is one of nature's choicest spots. Cades Cove is one of the largest, and by far the most interesting, coves within the bounds of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is reached by following the natural meanders of a beautiful mountain stream for several miles until the road leaves the stream and climbs to enter Cades Cove, which lies imbedded in the midst of surrounding mountains. The elevation is 807 feet higher than Tuckaleechee Cove, which you have just left.

The cove stretches five miles in length and two miles in width and is completely hemmed in by mountains. As you wind along the modern highway into the cove, you might well wonder how the first man found this secluded spot and how the first settlers managed to get their families and belongings over the rugged mountains into this place.

The first reference to Cades Cove is in 1809 when John Smith and William Crowson petitioned the state of Tennessee for entry rights to lands in Cades Cove to which they held North Carolina land grants. In the same year, Hugh Dunlap, an attorney in Knoxville, was issued a grant by the state of Tennessee based on his claim that he held a North Caroline land grant issued in 1794 for 5,000 acres in Cades Cove which had been mislaid, and the record lost from the Secretary's office (North Carolina). The grant was issued with the proviso that it should interfere with no occupant right or school reservation.

In 1820, Aaron Crowson, in a petition to the Tennessee legislature, stated that his father, William Crowson and a Mr. James Ross, had both possessed "the right of preemption and occupancy" to a tract of land in Cades Cove on the 6th day of February 1796.

The first Tennessee grant to land in Cades Cove was registered March 23, 1821 in the name of William Tipton for 640 acres in Cades Cove as assignee of Aaron Crowson.

William Tipton was a revolutionary soldier who came to Cades Cove from Carter County, Tennessee. He was soon surrounded by relatives and friends from Carter County. Among those to whom he sold land was his brother Thomas and Thomas's son-in-law, Joshua Job; his daughter, Martha hart; his sons Jacob and Isaac; Thomas Jones and others. Peter and Daniel Cable, Robert Burchfield, James Sparks, and Richard and William Davis are all mentioned as being in the cove before 1830. In fact, you can find their family names on the tombstones in the cemetery in Cades Cove.

Although we are sure there were people in the cove before 1819–we have reference to two Carolina land grants prior to organization of the state of Tennessee–this was Cherokee land and it was not legal for settlers to be there until after the Treaty of 1819.

The best description of life and times in the Cades Cove comes from the memoirs of Dr. Abraham Job, which he wrote after he was seventy-five years old.

"My father, Joshua Job, and my mother, Ruth Tipton, were of Virginia stock. Their fathers, David Job and Thomas Tipton, moved from Shenandoah Valley, Virginia shortly before the Revolutionary War....

In 1821, when I was about four years old, he bought 640 acres of fine land in Cades Cove Tennessee, and moved to it....

Many of our relations and friends also moved to Cades Cove; on account of the fertility of the soil, the superior advantages of raising stock, etc. The Cherokee Indians who had been such a terror to the settlement of the Wautauga Valley, and surrounding county, causing the settlers to live in forts for safety, were still lingering in small bands, in the mountain fastnesses along the range of the Smoky Mountains, which lie immediately south of Cades Cove, and form part of its boundary....

My father and relatives from Carter County were among the first settlers in this part of Blount County. And among them was my mother's brother, Jacob Tipton, and his wife and two children, Jacob and Nancy....

My uncle went out hunting one day and did not return that night and when search was made for him next day, he was found in a deserted Indian camp...where he had been murdered by the Indians....

The land when we lived there was very rich and fertile, and produced abundant crops, of everything that could be raised in that climate; but corn was the principle crop. This crop was raised to such an extent after we moved there that I saw corn sell at six cents a bushel, because there was no market for it....

I was now old enough to go to school. Educational facilities at that day (about 1825) were not very good, especially in such out of the way places as Cades Cove. What schools we had that day were of the most primitive order. At the 'old field schools' as they were called, we had no recess as it is now called. It was study from morning til noon, then an hour for playtime and study from 1 o'clock til turning out time....

My father cleared up a considerable amount of his 640 acres of land in the cove, and raised a good deal of stock; but after trying it for 10 years, he got dissatisfied because he was so hemmed in by the mountains.

No fruit trees had been planted when we settled in the cove, and for several years we had to get all the fruit we used from Uncle Billy Scott's in Tuckaleechee Cove six miles away. It was two or three years before we had mills suitable to make flour, the only mills we had were tubmills to crack corn. Father built a mill soon after we moved there, but it was seldom one saw wheat bread on any table there.

Game was very plentiful; such as bear, deer, and all smaller animals in great abundance....

About the year 1830 the government of the United States purchased from the Cherokees all their lands lying between the Hiwassee River in Tennessee and the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. It was this purchase that my father moved in the spring of 1830 or '31. He sold his farm in the cove to James Henry who lived on Little River in Blount County. About the same time William Henry, son of James Henry, married my sister, and moved into the same house that Father vacated when we moved to the Cherokee Nation in Georgia".

The early 1830s saw a general migration of all those who were dissatisfied with life in Cades Cove into North Georgia. This migration continued into the 1840s. Some families returned to the coves while others moved back and forth with the seasons. The same was true of the other coves. William Davis settled in Walker County, Georgia. A visit to old cemeteries in Catoosa, Walker , and Murray Counties, Georgia will show a surprising number of the same names as those in Cades Cove.

When the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was established, there were about one hundred and ten families living in the cove. They were very reluctant to leave the homes where their families had lived for several generations. Some of them had never been out of the cove and they had learned to "make do" with what they had. Others had gone out to attend school and get a higher education. The roads were very poor and few cars had made it into the cove. Roads at that time had no hard surface and very little gravel. The only road work done was with pick and shovel without the aid of road-building equipment we have come to take for granted. For that reason, cars could only navigate in parts of the cove during dry weather. The Park authorities allowed several families to remain in the park subject to certain restrictions. The number of families has gradually dwindled so that none remain today.

In the depression years of the 1930s, a large Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp was located in Cades Cove. During this period, fire control roads were cleared and constructed. In several cases, these were roads which had been abandoned such as the Cooper road, the road through Chestnut Flats to parson's branch and Happy Valley, as well as the Schoolhouse Gap road, a part of which is the present road into Cades Cove.

The greatest contribution the CCC made to this area was the construction of the many hiking trails for which Cades Cove is the starting point. One of the most popular is the trail to Gregory's Bald. Here, in azalea season, is one of Nature's most gorgeous displays of color, ranging from delicate pastels to deep wines and oranges all gathered into one mass of color on the balds.

From the other end of the cove, one may take the trail to Thunderhead by way of Spence Field. The Appalachian Trail follows the mountain crest across Thunderhead and Gregory's Bald on the south. For the less ambitious hiker, the Cove Mountain road affords a grandstand panoramic view of the length of the cove and the mountains beyond. From this vantage point, the hiker can turn around and look over Tuckaleechee Cove, which lies parallel to Cades Cove, and part of the Chilhowee range which forms the backdrop for Tuckaleechee Cove and the outline of the Cumberland mountains on the far horizon.

Another popular trail leads from the parking area along the banks of Abrams Creek to Abrams Falls. For a longer hike, one may continue down the creek to Abrams Creek campground.

To accommodate the person who does not care to go far afield, there are short nature trails at various points about the cove and from the campground. An auto-tour booklet is available at the cove entrance orientation shelter, where the eleven-mile trip begins on a one-way road from which several scenic parking areas are accessible.

Several buildings have been preserved or restored as examples of the primitive way of life these early settlers experienced.

A side visit to the Primitive Baptist church and cemetery will acquaint the visitor with the names of families who Primitive Baptist Churchresided in the cove. The Methodist cemetery, beside the road, and the Missionary Baptist cemetery further along add to the names on the list. A short distance past the Missionary Baptist church, the remains of the CCC camp can be seen.

From the next parking area, you will find the patchwork design of the fields as far as you can see, dotted with cattle.

The first few years after the families moved out of the cove, the fields were allowed to grow up. The cove was on its way to becoming an unsightly wilderness when it was decided that it would be better to keep the fields under control by grazing. The result is very pleasing.

The road now turns across the cove past the side road to the Abrams Falls parking area, across Abrams creek to the John P. Cable open air museum. The area is enclosed with a "snake rail" fence. Here is found a typical homestead layout. A blacksmith shop, a cantilever type barn, corncrib, smokehouse and drive-through barn compose the group about the house and mill, On the bank of Forge Creek at the bend of the horseshoe in this grouping is the John P. Cable mill with its millrace and flume. This is the only grist mill remaining in the park powered by an overshot water wheel. The mill is operated from mid-April to mid-October, and meal may be purchased from the store in the Becky Cable house.

The Becky Cable house is the first frame house to be built in the cove. A general store was operated from one room of the house with goods brought from Maryville by ox-drawn wagons. Here, informational materials may be purchased as well as the meal ground at the mill nearby. Molasses could be purchased when the sorghum mill operates on weekends from mid-September to mid-October when sorghum is ripe.

On leaving the museum area, you may turn right to reach the parking area for the hike to Gregory's Bald or the road out of the park to Highway 129 by way of Parson's Branch. (This road is open seasonally, so be sure to check before taking the road.)

One of the five restored homes is on the road to the Gregory Bald parking area, and two others back on the loop road as we continue the tour. One of the parking areas near the end of the trip affords a fine view of Cove Mountain and its lookout tower, and is one of the places you are most likely to see deer grazing with the cattle.

The Ranger station, camping area, and picnic area are situated at the end of the loop, and you may want to tarry there.

The cove is always beautiful and constantly changing. If you come early or stay late you may see the deer grazing with the cattle. Or you might happen upon a black bear, its nose testing the air for your scent. We've even seen a wild turkey before it runs for cover.

No matter the time, its the right time to see Cades Cove.

Biking in Cades Cove

The Biker in Cades Cove sights and sounds of the Cades Cove loop are best seen and enjoyed from the pace of bikeriding. The great stillness and (sometimes) solitude are better enjoyed, and wildlife are less prone to being frightened away. The cove loop road is closed to motor traffic on Saturdays and Wednesdays until 10:00 AM until late September, but bikes are welcome anytime.

During the Fall, care should be taken in the curves on the loop road, as the fallen leaves and heavy Park rainfall create slippery conditions.

During the early and late hours of the day, and after a good rainfall, the wildlife come out in great numbers to feed on the lush grass and apple trees. Biking creates no problem, but motorists should restrict their speed to 10 miles per hour to see the does with fawn and the wild turkey that are abundant.

During our trips there, we saw several does and two bucks. The bucks are hard to catch a glimpse of in the open, as they tend to hide in the shadows and edge of the forest, letting the females wander and graze in the open.

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