UPDATE May 22, 2010: Made a trip around the Cove on the newly paved loop road. Spectacular! Those of you that remember the old crumbling and patched road there before won’t believe the difference. Still the same scenic beauty but a much better roadbed to enjoy it from now.

Original post follows:

One of the many great things about living in the Knoxville, Tennessee area is it’s close proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

There are many very scenic and beautiful sections of the park but one of my special favorites is Cades Cove. Going from Knoxville through Maryville and Townsend to the Cove is about a 40 mile drive but because of the narrow, windy roads in the park allow about an hour for the drive one way.

“The Cove” as it’s known to local folks was originally a pioneer settlement first homesteaded by John and Luraney Oliver around 1818. The Olivers and their descendants lived in the Cove until the Park was established in 1934.

Cades Cove is a very special place to me. The “Cove” as the local folks know it, is an oasis of peace and tranquility in an all too “hustle & bustle” world. Spending a few hours here amid the surrounding green mountains in the meadows and woodlands are like a relaxing ‘mini vacation’. I always come out the other side of the loop road a happier, more tranquil person than when I started off.

A lot of the original buildings have been preserved by the national park service to illustrate how life was back in those days. One of the very enjoyable things you can do in the Cove is to ride your bike around the 11 mile loop road that circles this scenic valley.

Cades Cove great smoky mountains national park knoxville tennessee

This past Saturday I took my bike up to the Cove and set off about 8:00 am to ride the loop. I got a bit later start than usual and there were lots of other bikers either on the road already or getting ready to go. There are also usually quite a few walkers and some runners as well; no exception today.

It’s a great ride with several pretty good pulls up hills that get your heart pumping. Since it’s getting pretty close to fall I saw several bears up in Oak trees stuffing themselves with Acorns in preparation for going into hibernation soon.

cades cove gsmnp knoxville tennessee

This looked to be a pretty young bear. He was busy stuffing food into his mouth and oblivious to everyone below his tree watching and taking pictures.

The Cove also abounds with lots of deer and it’s not unusual to see as many as 100 or more during your tour. Other game include big flocks of wild turkey like the one pictured below, black bear, wild boar, and multitudes of small game and birds of all sorts.

Cades Cove 002 wild turkey in great smoky mountains national park

Wild turkey in Cades Cove

Wildlife in Cades Cove are very used to visitors and it’s usually easy to get some terrific photos of the plentiful bear, deer, wild turkey, and other wildlife.

One cautionary note; these are wild animals and there are no bars between you and them like in the zoo. This is also their home; you are the visitor so please respect them, don’t try to get too close, and above all else DO NOT try to feed them or touch them. It is against the law and the park rangers will cite you or arrest you on the spot if they see you. It also does harm to the animals by teaching them to go to humans for food instead of finding it on their own as nature intended.

Here’s another shot of some Cades Cove deer having breakfast. This photo is from a previous visit.

cades cove gsmnp knoxville tennessee

If you’re visiting, the Cades Store has a bike rental for you. $4.00 an hour for coaster bikes and $6.00 for geared models. I highly recommend the geared models for an extra two bucks unless your name is Lance Armstrong.

Riding the loop road takes anywhere from 2-4 hours depending on your fitness level and how much sightseeing you do along the way. I recommend taking your time and enjoying all the Cove has to offer.

If your time is short there are also two roads, Hyatt and Sparks Lanes, you can cut through the middle of the Cove and finish much quicker.

From early May until late September the Cove loop road is closed to vehicles on Wednesday and Saturdays until 10:00 am. I strongly suggest planning your ride during these times especially on Wednesdays if you can arrange your schedule.

Cades Cove is a very, very popular destination and the loop road is typically clogged with vehicles especially during the summer and a bear sighting brings all traffic to a halt.

We usually try to hit the road on Wednesdays just at first light. That’s the time the most animals are out feeding and the crowds are almost nonexistent then.

Enjoy your ride, take along plenty of water, stop and enjoy the views often; I guarantee it’s a ride you will remember for years to come.