Bike Cades Cove and Be Amazed
The Scout leader stops his bike and motions to his troop to stop and be quiet. He points to a spot in the woods about 25 feet away where two deer are foraging.
A mother rides with one hand, motioning to her two children with the other at the fog bank that is just lifting over the valley. “What do you think of that!?” she asks.
And, an older couple blow the air out their cheeks and smile after reaching the top of a hill while walking their bicycles. They sigh in relief.
This place is magical.
It’s Morning in the Smokies
On Wednesday and Saturday mornings from early May until late September the roadway at Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed to motorists until 10 a.m. Earlier in the morning, traversing the 11-mile, one-way loop can be done only by walking or bicycling.
Cades Cove is an amazing place. Deer, raccoons, wild turkeys and the occasional bear are all part of the experience. The cove holds much history. European settlers arrived around 1820. Their log cabins homes, churches, cantilever barns, and a grist mill are still here for viewing. Also, the cove is just about the most beautiful place you’ll ever see, especially in the morning when the fog is lifting, the air is crisp and the smell of the forest most vibrant.
No wonder Cades Cove is the most visited part of this country’s most visited national park.
Grab a Bike and Go!
And, it’s no wonder that the Wednesday and Saturday morning bikes and walks are extremely popular. On a busy Saturday more than 800 visitors will make the excursion. A bike rental shop at the cove campgrounds has around 140 bikes available, and on a good Saturday all will be rented out. They rent at $6 an hour with gears and $4 without.
The ride can be a little challenging, but folks aren’t in a hurry. The hills that show up sporadically are usually filled with bikers walking their bikes to the top. Stretches that seem to tunnel through vibrant forests where you can almost reach out and touch the trees on both sides are followed by long runs of flat pastures and meadows. It’s a journey through shadows to sunlight then back again.
Some spots are just so pretty that bikers put on their brakes, plant their feet on the ground and stare out at the bottomland.
A recent Saturday brought out the usual crowd — families with little children on their small bikes working hard to keep up with the parents. Groups of a dozen or so, usually Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, pedal in neat lines on the paved road. Older folks are in abundance too, taking their time like everyone else and possibly recalling other trips around the cove. For many people, “riding the loop” is a tradition they look forward to every year.
One couple from Arkansas explained to new friends how they had not known about Saturday mornings in the cove and had planned to take their car around. When informed of the situation, they hopped on bikes instead and you could tell it was the greatest change-of-plans of their East Tennessee visit.
You can ride a bike or walk around the cove any day, but the biking-and-walking-only mornings end in just a few weeks. These weeks in September should be the best as autumn starts to take over and the leaves change their colors. The mountains wrapping around Cades Cove turn into a brilliant tapestry of amber, orange, red, and purple.
Planning Your Trip
Here are some things to think about if you are planning to a ride: Get to the cove early because it is closed to cars only until 10 a.m. If you’re not finished by then, you’ll be dealing with vehicles as you finish up your ride. Also, know your limitations. Most people can make it around the loop fairly easily, but if you have health limitations, this ride may be too challenging. Walking is also a possibility. Remember, everyone is here to have fun, but riding around with 800 people requires some Southern politeness.
Biking through Cades Cove is one of East Tennesseans’ favorite things to do — a pleasure everyone should experience at least once. For visitors from afar, Cade Cove is often the best thing about their trip to the Smokies.
What’s your favorite part of Cades Cove?