Biking Cades Cove: What You Need To Know


Biking Cades Cove: What You Need To Know

Cades Cove is an 11-mile paved road loop located in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It passes through forest and meadows, allowing visitors to take in some historical sights (log cabins, churches, and a very old cemetery) as well as gorgeous scenery and an up-close view of local wildlife. Every Wednesday from May through September, Cades Cove is closed to vehicle traffic, making it the perfect time to try walking or biking the trail with your family.

I recently biked the entire 11-mile loop with my two young boys, and I’m here to answer all of your questions about what you can expect when biking through Cades Cove!

Map credit:

1. Do I have to do all 11 miles of the loop? 

There are actually two different shortcut roads to make the loop a little smaller if you’re not up for the entire 11 miles. The first time you come to a fork in the road, you’ll see Sparks Lane to your left, just before you reach the Oliver cabin. If you take a left down Sparks Lane, you will end up back at your starting point in about five miles total. If you choose to continue on, shortly after passing the Methodist church, you’ll come to Hyatt Lane. Taking a left down Hyatt Lane will get you back to your starting point in about seven miles total. Please keep in mind that both shortcut roads are gravel, so your bike ride will be a little bumpy until you reach the other side of the loop. 

2. Is the terrain pretty flat? 

Before biking the loop recently, I had incorrectly remembered the road being really flat. There are many places along the road that are flat (in fact, the first few miles of the loop are either flat or downhill, giving you the deceiving impression that your ride will be pretty easy). However, much of the road after you pass Sparks Lane is uphill. We found ourselves dismounting from our bikes and walking uphill over and over again. There are also stretches of road that are steep going downhill, with signs warning you to dismount and walk down. We were too tired of walking to follow those instructions, but we were able to safely cruise down the steep roads using our brakes to slow down.

3. Will my young children be capable of completing the loop on their bikes?

I can’t answer with certainty about what your children can do, but I can tell you about my children. My boys are ten and eight, and both only recently (within the last year) graduated from training wheels. Neither ride their bikes very often (which is one reason my ten-year-old took so long to learn to ride on two wheels), and both are very indoors sort of kids who complain about the heat and whine about excessive physical activity. Doing the entire 11-mile loop was fun but also very challenging for them, particularly during the last four to five miles when the novelty of the ride had worn thin and their energy levels were at their lowest. However, they were able to complete the loop successfully and they felt so proud of themselves. I brought a small lunchbox/cooler loaded with a water bottle and a Gatorade for each of us, as well as a picnic lunch with snacks. I planned on making several stops to rest along the way and brought a rolled up picnic blanket for us to sit on. If you’re not in a hurry, it can be done! 

4. How long will it take to complete the 11-mile loop on a bike?

Plan for the ride to take at least two hours. When I did the ride with my two young boys, it took us about four to four and a half hours because we made frequent stops to rest and refuel. 

5. Are E-bikes allowed? 

E-bikes are allowed, and they are a super popular option for the Cades Cove loop! We rode traditional bikes, and we frequently looked on with envy as riders on their E-bikes zoomed past us going uphill. If you have a child small enough to ride in a baby seat or in a trailer on the back of your bike, this might be the best option for you. There are multiple places to rent E-bikes both near the Pigeon Forge entry and the Townsend entry to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

6. Do I have to pay for parking?

Parking is a $5 daily fee throughout Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as of the recent change made in 2023. However, entry to the park is still free (meaning that you don’t have to pay a fee to simply drive through it, but you do have to pay to park your car for longer than 15 minutes). There are occasional free days (we actually did our ride on Juneteenth, which was free), but plan to either purchase online and have your parking pass shipped in advance, or visit one of the in-person sales locations: 

  • Gatlinburg Welcome Center: 1011 Banner Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
  • Sugarlands Visitor Center: 1420 Fighting Creek Gap Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
  • Greenbrier Grocery: 2406 E. Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
  • The Great Smokies Welcome Center: 7929 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Townsend, TN 37882
  • Cades Cove Visitor Center: 686 Cades Cove Loop Road, Townsend, TN 37882
  • Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont Store: 9275 Tremont Road, Townsend, TN 37882

7. Is there a restroom to use? 

There are public bathrooms in the campground lot where you will park your car to enter Cades Cove. There is also a restroom about halfway around the loop, located at the Visitor’s Center/Cable Mill. The Visitor’s Center also has a bottle refilling station which we gratefully used to refill our water bottles. Rest assured that these are permanent bathrooms, not portable restrooms. My children are infamous for needing to use the restroom at inconvenient times when one is not available; however, we biked on such a hot summer day that we ended up sweating most of the water we were drinking, and needing to use the restroom was not a problem. 

8. Will we encounter bears? 

I have never failed to see a bear when visiting Cades Cove. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is estimated to be home to nearly 2,000 black bears, meaning there are roughly two bears per square mile. I was admittedly a little nervous about what we would do if we encountered a bear on our bike ride, something that we have always looked forward to when we were safely locked inside our car while driving the loop. However, I found that the park rangers were closely monitoring the situation and working hard to keep everyone safe. When we did reach a portion of the loop where a bear was meandering close to the road, two park rangers were already there ahead of us, blocking the view of the bear with their vehicle and instructing us to stay on the other side of the road and keep moving. There were other bear sightings along the way, but the rangers always seemed to have a handle on the situation. 

9. What if I have an emergency or I am unable to complete the loop for some reason? 

Rest assured that park rangers are stationed all over the loop, monitoring foot/bike traffic and ready to lend a helping hand if needed. My oldest complained about the park rangers who kept driving past us in trucks because he knew that it was supposed to be a vehicle-free day. I reminded him that the rangers were the only ones allowed to drive the loop, and they were there to make sure that everyone was staying safe. If you happen to blow out a bike tire or get injured, you will probably only need to wait on the side of the road for a little while before a park ranger will drive along and find you, fully willing to load your bikes into the back of their truck and safely transport you back to the parking lot. 

10. Is it worth it? 

My answer is a resounding YES! While it was a physically strenuous ride (my boys and I definitely had jelly legs the entire next day), the scenery was gorgeous, and it was an unforgettable family memory. This was our first bike ride through Cades Cove, but we will probably make it a yearly tradition from here on out.

Have you biked Cades Cove? Tell us about your experience by leaving a comment below!


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