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Cades Cove is a favorite destination for many people visiting the Smokies with its broad, lush, green valley surround by mountains, including history and wildlife. Many choose to drive, walk or bike the 11-mile, one-way loop road that circles the cove. But there are also hiking trails.
Along the trails are waterfalls, caverns, monuments, grist mill. Hikers might see white-tailed deer, black bear, coyote, ground hog, turkey, raccoon, or skunks.
Located 27 miles from Gatlinburg and 9 miles from the Townsend, Cades Cove has short and gentle hikes to more challenging. In May, the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to vehicles on Wednesdays. This arrangement lasts through September to allow for pedestrians, hikers and bicyclists.
“The Cades Cove Nature Trail is particularly beautiful in the spring when the dogwoods bloom and also in the fall when the sourwoods and maples turn a beautiful red” NPS.gov.
Cades Cove Nature Trail is a two-mile circle, so you end right back where you started. Look for the trailhead about seven miles from the entrance to the Cades Cove loop road.
On this trail, hikers see the remains of a chestnut grove from the 1800’s. Almost one third of the forest surrounding Cades Cove’s was made up of Chestnut trees. Today the large trees growing along the Cades Cove Nature Trail are primarily oak, dogwood, sourwood, and pine trees.
Abrams Falls Trail
Just northwest of the Cades Cove Visitor Center, the trailhead for the Abrams Falls Trail is off the side of Cades Cove Loop Road, between exits 10 and 11. A gravel road leads to a large parking area near the trailhead.
This is one of many popular day trips in the Smokies and is approximately 2.6 miles in length. The hike to the Abrams Falls is fairly level and follows the Abrams Creek.
The falls is a great place to have a picnic. While the falls are only 20′ feet high, it pours a huge volume of water per second into a pool roughly 100′ wide. The unique geologic structure of this waterfall makes the pool too dangerous for swimming. Backpacker Magazine listed this trail among the “10 most dangerous hikes in America” in 2008 (due to accidents near the falls).
Rich Mountain Loop
Rich Mountain Loop is an 8.5-mile hike for more experienced hikers. It starts at the entrance of Cades Cove Loop Road. Walk by the historic John Oliver cabin from the 1820s, pass the 25-foot Crooked Arm Falls, and climb up Cerulean Knob for a view from the highest point on Rich Mountain. At the top, hikers will see the remains of the old Rich Mountain Fire Tower.
Many people choose to hike this loop clockwise – so they park at the interpretive pavilion in the large lot on the left BEFORE driving into the loop. The trailhead is to the right just before the loop begins. Low elevations are first and then the real climb begins just after the historic Oliver Cabin. Climb for nearly three miles to reach the junction to the old Rich Mountain fire tower – it’s a gain of almost 1,800 feet in elevation.
Ace Gap Trail
Ace Gap is located 3.5 miles from Townsend, Tennessee, and is one of the most peaceful trails in Cades Cove. The 5 ½ miles has little altitude gain or loss. The trailhead is down Cades Cove Loop and up Rich Mountain Road. Near the trailhead, hikers pass Bull Cave, the largest cave in Cades Cove. Beyond the cave, the trail goes five miles to the place known as Ace Gap. “Ace Gap was so named for card playing loggers that once congregated there. You will know you have come to Ace Gap when you come to an old railroad bed.”
For you next stop, hike on over to one of the My Bearfoot Cabins. You can enjoy, relax and enjoy one of the most beautiful areas of the USA.
Pat and Don Kirchhoefer, Owners