Camping Confidential: Cades Cove Campground

Cades Cove is a great park for a family to explore nature

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Occasionally, we find rare spots in nature that combine beautiful views and easy access to wildlife. These areas provide fun and entertainment for the whole family. If millions of fireflies lighting up the night and playing seek and find with black bears piques your interest, then look no further than Cades Cove Campground in Tennessee.

Cades Cove has plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing. (Photo: Corey Hunt)

Cades Cove is the largest campground on the western side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The campground has 159 sites for tents and RVs and is open year-round. Dogs are allowed in the campground but not on the hiking trails. The campground has a store on-site where you can purchase grocery items and soft-serve ice cream on those hot summer days. If your legs tire, horseback trail riding is also available at the stables right in the campground. Reservations can be made through the park.

Cades Cove is the largest campground on the western side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo:Corey Hunt)

Hiking: The Smoky Mountains have something for everyone. Near the Cades Cove Campground, you can find hikes for every level, and many end at a waterfall or cross water along the trail. One of our favorite kid-friendly hikes is Laurel Falls Trail. The trail has very little elevation gains and is an out-and-back 2.4-mile hike to a waterfall. Get to the trailhead early to beat the midday crowds — this trail is very popular.

Anthony Creek Trail is an out-and-back trail that follows the creek for approximately 3 miles. (Photo: Corey Hunt)

On our last trip to Cades Cove, we hiked part of Anthony Creek Trail. This trail is also an out-and-back trail that follows the creek for approximately 3 miles. Along the way there are wooden bridges to cross and plenty of creek access to play in. This trail begins at the Cades Cove picnic area, and horses are allowed on the trail.

Anthony Creek Trail has wooden bridges to cross and plenty of creek access to play in.
(Photo: Corey Hunt)

What Not To Miss: Our favorite part about camping at Cades Cove is the easily accessible, 11-mile driving loop. The Cades Cove loop is a one-way paved road that offers breathtaking views of the valley and wildlife that can be viewed from the road or your car. Several trails begin at different points around the loop. The loop is open to cars and bikes from sunrise to sunset, but you can walk from the campground after dark to view the millions of fireflies that light up the trees in the valley. On our last trip in late May, we saw two different groups of bear cubs with their mother and one bear that was chomping walnuts just feet from the main loop. Along this loop there are three historic churches, barns, a working grist mill and some log houses. All of these buildings can be entered during daylight hours.

The Cades Cove loop is a one-way paved road that offers breathtaking views of the valley and wildlife that can be viewed from the road or your car. (Photo:Corey Hunt)
(Photo:Corey Hunt)

Outside The Park: Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are a short drive from this area of the park. If camping isn’t in your wheelhouse, many tourists and hikers choose to stay outside of the park and drive to Cades Cove for the day. On the way to Cades Cove from Gatlinburg, there is a popular beach pullout near Townsend that allows swimming and tubing during the summer months. Pigeon Forge may be the mini golf capital of the world (or it would seem so driving through it), so if your family tires of the outdoors, a little check back into civilization is a short drive away.

If your family loves the outdoors, look no further than Cades Cove Campground.
(Photo: Corey Hunt)

Although Cades Cove is tucked into a remote part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, tourists drive from all over to visit this iconic section of the park. Wildlife viewing is abundant in the mornings and evenings, and the trails in this section offer kid-friendly access and sometimes even bear encounters. The campground at Cades Cove is large and provides easy access by car or bike to the Cades Cove Loop year-round. If your family loves the outdoors, look no further than Cades Cove Campground.

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