Experience history and nature at Cades Cove, Tennessee


I can’t be everywhere to discover new things to do with my kids, no matter how much I wish I could. I’ve asked a few friends to jump in with what they love to do in their cities. Alecia  from FamilyVacay.com is sharing about one of her favorite spots in the Great Smoky Mountains. 


Driving in to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee is like driving back in time. The one-way, drivable loop provides you with 11 miles of history. You have the option of stopping at various cabins, churches and other pull-offs to enjoy this wonderful valley in the park.

The Cades Cove area was settled in the early 1800s, and became a thriving community until the early 1940s. Many of the residents sold their property to the National Park Service when it began buying up land in 1927. Others agreed to life leases and remained on their land until they died. The population was almost gone by 1944 when the school closed and the post office closed in 1947.


The first building you will encounter on the loop is the Oliver’s cabin. The Olivers were the first to settle in Cades Cove. The building that you see when you take a short stroll up the path is the second home built on the site. It was built for John Oliver’s son and bride.

Three churches are preserved within the loop area: The Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church, Cades Cove Methodist Church and Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church. A fascinating part of the churches today is their cemeteries. Gravestones give you a glimpse into the families of that settled there.


Halfway through the loop, at the Cable Mill area, you will find a visitors center. This a nice place to stop and view historical buildings, purchase some gifts and is also where the Junior Ranger Program occurs at various times through out the year.

The Junior Ranger Program is offered by the National Park Service. It gives children hands-on experience with the history of the park they are visiting as well as with nature. On weekends and certain more popular weeks, park rangers set up three children’s activities at the visitor center. One activity will allow children to play with toys of the pioneer days and make their own. The second activity gives children an understanding of the animals that live in the park and how they interact. Finally, children can create their own dinner triangle in the blacksmith shop. Once they complete all three activities, they are awarded a certificate and badge.


The visitor’s center also contains the mill that is still working to this day. You also will see your first of several cantilever barns with their unique design. The second floor of the barn is wider than the base. This allowed for animals that are normally outside to stand underneath the overhang and get out of the rain or sun.

As you are completing the second half of the Cades Cove loop, there are several more homesteads you can visit, including another cantilever barn. As you exit the loop, you will have options for picnic areas, campgrounds and horseback riding. One of the best things to do while driving the loop is keep your eye out for wild life. You will often see deer, wild turkeys, and even bears.

With so many things to see and do in this 11-mile loop, Cades Cove is a must-see on your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.


Alecia is a resident of Tennessee and visits the Great Smoky Mountains National Park often with her two children. She writes two family travel sites: Family Vacay for general vacation locations including Disney and cruises, and Family Time Travelers, a site dedicated to getting children hands on and excited about history when they are on vacation.

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  • Kate and Mike

    Great post! We were in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last summer. We thought about doing this, but went up to the mountain tops instead. We though the drive up to see the views would not be long…..we ended up spending the day driving across various peaks and then hiking up to Clingman’s Dome (we wrote about it on our sitte- exploretheworldwithyourkids.com

    Your post makes it clear that we need to return and see this part of the park. It looks wonderful and your pictures are great.

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