The Beauty of Cades Cove
If you ask East Tennesseans to name their favorite place, most likely they will say Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Any time of year, this broad meadow ringed by mountains draws people to enjoy beauty, tranquility and old-fashioned family fun.
An 11-mile loop road beneath a succession of mountains provides broad sweeps of grassland populated by deer, bear, and wild turkey. When I was a child, my father always claimed Eastman Kodak planted bears by the roadside. Now several decades later, a mother bear and cubs will cause traffic to come to a standstill, showing that some things never change.
Cades Cove is a tapestry for all seasons. The grayness of winter gives way to the delicate blooms of spring, followed by the rich deep green of summer with its incredible blue skies. Skeins of morning mist lift from the valley. In autumn the mountains are brilliant red, yellow, orange and purple, and cars creep along the bottomland for 3-hour tours. People let go of their hectic schedules and enjoy the dawdling pace and majestic panorama set before them.
Cades Cove has many special spots, but the Cable homestead connects us directly to our Appalachian heritage with its log cabins, barns, and the grist mill. It’s located far back in the cove, about the halfway spot on the loop road. The coolness of the creek brings relief on hot days. A miller explains how the millstone grinds the corn. The family cemetery offers peaceful rest to our pioneer kin, though at times pranksters can’t resist the urge to display pilfered yellow-and-black Underground Cable signage.
But then Cades Cove is a place to have a good time. Weddings take place at the three churches. I witnessed an old-timey baptism at Abrams Creek. Hayrides and carriage rides depart from the riding stable. Bicycles own the road until 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Wednesdays May through September.
Families gather in the picnic area, or better yet, stay weekends at the campground. Of the many times we took our children for a sleepover, one summer night stands out. Our rambunctious toddlers were keeping the baby awake, so I left the tent to give the baby a feeding at the picnic table. Out of the dark came an albino skunk to scavenger crumbs from our dinner, weaving between my ankles as I kept still as a statue. I’ve also seen a buck with impressive rack stroll up to a picnic table and startled a group of men who—judging by their outfits—were probably deer hunters. They backed away, and the deer devoured their fried chicken. How’s that for turning the tables?
So, I’d love to hear about your experiences in Cades Cove. Share them with readers and tell me about your other favorite places too. I’ll find out about these East Tennessee locales and report back to you. If you haven’t been to Cades Cove, you can get there by entering the park at Townsend. http://www.nps.gov/grsm