One of the most popular areas of the park, Cades Cove is loaded with things to do. In addition to the year-round campground (which has the only snack bar in the park; closed in winter), Cades Cove offers a picnic area, horse stables that give guided trail rides and hay rides (closed in winter), a bike rental shop (closed in winter), a visitors center, and an 11-mile, one-way loop road that winds through the 6,800-acre valley itself.
The drive is one of the best spots in the park for viewing wildlife (most active and visible in the early morning and at dusk) and also takes visitors past a treasure trove of preserved mountaineer homesteads — many dating from the 1800s — that are all open to the public for exploration. Count on several hours for the loop drive (although there are two cut-offs that take you to the opposite side, closer to the exit, if you want to get back quicker), thanks to the long line of cars that snake through here daily, as well as the “bear jams” caused when some of the more famous and furry park residents amble into view. You’ll also find a few trailheads for great hikes along the road (most notably the hike to Abrams Falls, a five-mile roundtrip hike of moderate difficulty — not for younger explorers unless you’re carrying them in a baby backpack).
The loop drive is open year-round but is closed from sunset to sunrise. From early May through late September, it’s also closed to motor vehicles on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 a.m., when walkers and bicyclists rule the road.
To get to Cades Cove, take Little River Road from the Sugarlands Visitors Center and just keep driving, even after the road changes names to Laurel Creek Road at the Townsend entrance. Another option is to enter the park at the Townsend entrance and turn right onto Laurel Creek Road.
Restrooms are located both in the Cades Cove campground right before the start of the loop drive and at the Cades Cove Visitors Center, which is about halfway around the loop drive.