Biking Cades Cove is the absolute best way to explore this charming Great Smoky Mountain valley. Cades Cove is an 11-mile one-way hilly loop that meanders around a scenic valley. Framed by mountain peaks and filled with active wildlife, Cades Cove is a must-see on your visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This guide is going to dive deep into all of the details that you need to know to bike Cades Cove, including how to get there, where to park, the best times to go, what to bring, safety details, and insider visitor tips.
If you are looking for a Cades Cove Travel Guide, you can read that here!
Things You Need to Know Before Biking Cades Cove
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How To Get To Cades Cove
The entrance to Cades Cove is at the end of Laurel Creek Road. This is the only way to enter Cades Cove, but you can exit Cades Cove through two other seasonal roads: Parson Branch Road and Rich Mountain Road.
Distances To Cades Cove
- From Cherokee, NC – 57 miles
- From Knoxville, TN – 44 miles
- From Gatlinburg, TN – 27 miles
- From Townsend, TN – 9 miles
Where to Park at Cades Cove
There are multiple parking areas for vehicles.
- Right before the entrance to the one-way Cades Cove loop is a single line of roughly 20 parking spaces. These spaces will be on your left. These will fill up first as they are the closest to the loop.
- There is a massive gravel overflow lot across from the riding stables. If you can’t get a space at the entrance of the loop, this lot is the next best option. There is a gravel bike/pedestrian path that directly connects the parking lot to the loop.
- There are some parking areas by the campground store and picnic area.
- There are many small pull-offs along Laurel Creek Road that can be used if all other lots are full. If you park in one of these, prepare to do some extra walking (or biking)!
Cades Cove Bike Rentals
If you don’t have your own bike, or you’re on vacation and didn’t bring yours, you can rent bikes at Cades Cove! The outfitter rents kids and adult bicycles along with helmets.
The bike rental is located at the Cades Cove camp store. Currently, they are open 7 AM – 5 PM with the last bike rentals available at 3 PM. Check the current hours and prices here before you go.
Best Time to Bike Cades Cove
The best time of year to bike Cades Cove is on vehicle-free Wednesdays in the summer. Exact dates vary each year, but typically the park closes the loop to vehicles every Wednesday from the first week of May to the last week in September.
While it’s completely possible to bike the loop on any given day of the week, you will run into quite a bit of vehicle traffic. Bicycle safety dangers increase, and in my opinion, trying to dodge vehicles puts a damper on the overall experience.
The best time of day to bike Cades Cove is mid to late afternoon. Typically, all of the bikers and cars arrive right when the gates open at sunrise, so there is a major traffic jam. Even if you are biking on a vehicle-free Wednesday, you are going to encounter lots of vehicles looking to take all of those golden parking spaces close to the loop entrance. So if you arrive at sunrise, even though it’ll be beautiful, you won’t be alone, and you might have to park further away.
Arriving after 1 PM allows much of the early morning traffic to dissipate. By 4 or 5 PM, traffic will be gone, parking will be cleared up, and you’ll get to enjoy much more solitude. I imagine biking Cades Cove at sunset would be amazing!
NOTE: Cades Cove is open to vehicles daily from sunrise to sunset, weather permitting. Hikers and bikers can enter the loop at any time of day.
What to Bring on Your Bike Ride
Helmets are required to be worn if you are 16 years old and under. This is strictly enforced by park staff that circles the loop. And while helmets are not required for those who are 17 years and older, it is strongly encouraged that you do.
The loop is extremely hilly, and in the event that you lose control and fall off on a downhill jaunt, you don’t want your unprotected head to smack the pavement or crash into fencing. And deers, turkeys, and other wildlife have caused numerous biker crashes.
It’s best to pack your own snacks. While there are two places to purchase snacks in and near Cades Cove, options and hours may be limited.
You can purchase snacks at the Cades Cove Campground Store (located right before the loop) and at the Cades Cove Visitor Center (located halfway through the loop) during normal business hours.
Bring salty snacks that can replenish your electrolytes like pretzels, trail mix, or nuts. Biking the loop is exhausting, and you’ll need and want to take many breaks for rest, snacks, and water.
Bring at least one liter of water. This is a good amount for biking the loop in about two hours in moderate heat. This amount will need to be adjusted depending on what time of day or year you go, and how long it takes you to bike the loop.
There are two water fill-up stations in Cades Cove:
- Cades Cove Campground Store (before the loop) by the restrooms.
- Cades Cove Visitor Center (halfway through the loop) by the restrooms.
Dress in layers. Be prepared for the weather by packing (or wearing, if needed) a lightweight rain jacket and some light layers. Dressing like an onion allows you to add or peel layers, as needed.
If you arrive at sunrise, temperatures might start cool but will gradually warm up. You’ll also warm your body by tackling the hills.
If you arrive later in the day, temperatures might be warm but could cool off later in the evening.
There is no cell service at Cades Cove. While there are park staff members that circle the loop, and you’ll probably run into other bikers (or drivers), be prepared to tend to your own injuries.
Common bike injuries include blisters, knee pain, back pain, neck pain, sore muscles, abrasions, and road rash. Tackle these common injuries with blister pads, pain relief medications like ibuprofen, antiseptic wipes, and bandages/tape.
I just brought my first aid kit that I use for hiking. Thankfully, I didn’t need anything inside of it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
READ NEXT: First Aid Basics for Hikers
Carry bug spray if you are biking in the summer. You don’t want to be swatting at bugs while you’re riding a bike!
While it’s a one-way loop and there’s only one way to go, it’s helpful to have a map so that you can track your progress.
Toward the end of the loop, we were wondering how much further we had to go, so I pulled out my map to check landmarks and determined where we were on the loop.
Gaia GPS also works wonders so that you can see exactly where you are on the loop.
Safety Tip: Maps are also helpful because you can use them to determine if you should take one of the shortcuts. If you are exhausted by mile 2 or 3, you may not want to complete the whole 11-mile loop. Refer to the map to see how far you are from the nearest “bailout.”
Rules Of The Road & Safety Tips
Walk your bike down steep hills. There will be signs indicating this at the top of the hills that require it. I talked to someone who had recently witnessed another biker crashing into a fence at the bottom of the hill because he didn’t follow the posted signs.
Wildlife gets the right of way. Bears, turkeys, deer, and other wildlife are often spotted on and around the road. Be vigilant, watch out for them, and keep a safe distance.
Never feed or approach bears at Cades Cove, or any other wildlife that you may see.
READ NEXT: Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Campers
You must bike the loop counterclockwise. If you need to cut your biking adventure short, you can take one of the two shortcut paths that cut through the middle of Cades Cove – Hyatt Lane and Sparks Lane.
Wear a helmet.
Don’t litter. Pack out all of your trash, and don’t leave anything behind. LEAVE NO TRACE!
Do not climb on or deface historic buildings or cabins at Cades Cove.
Stay to the right. If you need to pass someone, announce your presence before going around them.
When biking around vehicles, always be aware of your surroundings. Signal your turns, check before turning, and make your presence known to the drivers.
Be prepared for potholes, debris, and other obstacles in the roadway.
Traffic laws apply to bikers just as they do to auto drivers. Stay to the right, obey signs, and signal your turns.
Bring plenty of water and snacks.
Carry the 10 essentials with you.
Insider Tips: Know Before You Go
Everyone arrives right at sunrise – vehicles and bikers. Be patient and wait until later in the day (after 1 PM). Crowds clear up, and it’s easier to get a parking space and bike the loop.
As of March 2023, passes are required to be displayed on all vehicles who are parked inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you want to bike Cades Cove, make sure that you purchase and display your pass prior to your biking adventure. You can purchase these passes online or at the visitor centers. You can read all about the Park It Forward program in my guide here.
If you arrive on vehicle-free Wednesdays, and parking lots are full, you may be turned away and told to come back later. To avoid crowds, arrive later in the day after many bikers have left.
Biking Cades Cove FAQs
What Can I Expect When Biking Cades Cove?
Cades Cove is an 11-mile one-way loop road that provides excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing and historic building touring.
Bikers need to go counterclockwise and have the option of “bailing out” at two different shortcuts – Hyatt and Sparks Lane. These two shortcuts could cut the 11-mile loop into just 4 or 8 miles.
The loop is quite hilly and can be difficult to peddle or slow down at times. There are signs posted at the top of two hills that instruct bikers to walk their bikes to the bottom due to the steep grade.
If you go on vehicle-free Wednesday, you will only be sharing the road with other bikers and pedestrians.
If you go on any other day besides vehicle-free Wednesday, you will be sharing the road with other bikes AND vehicles.
Can Kids Bike Cades Cove?
Yes! I’ve seen many kids biking this loop. In the event that they tire out, there are two roads to bail out from, or they can walk their bike until the terrain levels out again.
Will I Have To Worry About Running Into Wildlife?
You will see wildlife, but you don’t have much to worry about. Bears, deer, and turkeys frequent this area, and they are very acclimated to bikers. As long as you stay out of their way (i.e. don’t get off your bike and approach them), you won’t have any problems.
There are also park staff and volunteers who patrol the loop and do everything they can to keep bikers safe from wildlife encounters.
Basically, when it comes to wildlife and especially bears in Cades Cove, just be smart and use common sense. Keep your distance, don’t antagonize them, and don’t feed them.
READ NEXT: Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Campers
What Do I Do In The Event Of An Emergency?
Since there is no cell service at Cades Cove, there are a few things you can do in case of an emergency.
- One, you can wait for another biker (or vehicle) to pass by so that they can go get you some help.
- Two, if you can, peddle to the camp store at the beginning of the loop or visitor center at the halfway point, whichever you’re closer to. There are rangers and park staff at both of these locations who have radios.
- Three, carry a satellite phone that is equipped with an SOS button. In the event of a real emergency where you may need to be helicoptered out quickly, you will need a way to phone for help sooner than later.
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!
- Great Smoky Mountains – Is Tennessee or North Carolina better?
- Red River Gorge – Go backpacking!
- New River Gorge – Walk across the legendary catwalk!
- Dry Tortugas National Park – Visit one of the most remote islands in the US!
- Cummins Falls State Park – Hike to the base of the falls!
- Blue Ridge Parkway – Take a road trip on one of America’s most scenic drives!