For some people, a vacation getaway means a room with a nice, comfortable bed.
Possibly with a view of the mountains and a balcony overlooking a babbling brook.
Maybe they want a hot tub and a big fancy TV.
Others like to vacation in places where flushing toilets and drinking water are considered “modern” conveniences.
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Does Cades Cove have a campground?
Yes, Cades Cove has a campground. It’s one of the most popular and scenic camping areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The campground features primitive camping with what traditional campers would consider modern amenities – more on that later.
The campground is open for tent camping and for RVs that are 40 feet long or less. It features 11 ADA family sites and four group sites. And it also offers two CPAP sites.
Are there showers at Cades Cove Campground?
The restrooms, which have flushing toilets, are ADA accessible with ADA-accessible paths to the restrooms. There are no showers.
The campground features 159 campsites in total – one of the largest in the area – on three loops; A, B or C. The B-loop is generator friendly. But once it closes for the season, generators are allowed in Loop C with restricted hours.
The campground is open year-round with stipulations.
Both Loop B and Loop C are open seasonally from early April through Thanksgiving weekend. During the off-season, C1-12 and C26-61 are available by reservation only.
Many sites are booked well in advance. Therefore, if you want to stay at the Cades Cove Campground, you’ll need to plan ahead.
Why is the Cades Cove Campground so popular?
Location, location, location.
The Cades Cove Campground is popular because it is close to Cades Cove and the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road, two of the most popular spots in the Smokies.
You can stage an entire vacation around the Cove with hiking, horseback riding, hayrides, bicycling and more.
And the mountain scenery in the Cove is bar-none.
Are there bears in the Cades Cove Campground?
Black bears are commonly spotted around the Cove. Therefore, be very aware of your food storage and trash disposal.
Overall, Cades Cove is known for offering excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Wildlife sightings commonly reported in the area also include:
- White-tailed deer
I can tell you from personal experience that some forms of wildlife are more abundant than others. Expect large numbers of deer, turkey and raccoons.
The Cove is also rich in history.
The Cherokee hunted in Cades Cove for hundreds of years.
And some of the relics from the earliest European settlers – who established homes and businesses in the Cove prior to the park’s existence in the early 1800s – like cabins and mills still remain today.
In fact, in the United States, some consider the Cove as housing one of the best collections of historic log cabins.
What else is there to do at the campground?
There are nine official recreational activities listed on Recreation.gov although some are dubious.
Their list includes:
- A day-use area
- Wildlife viewing
- A visitor center
- Horseback riding
- Fishing (with an abundance of trout)
- Interpretive programs
- Historic and cultural sites
But should camping really be listed among the activities at a campground? Seems like stat padding to me.
Is there Wi-Fi or cell service?
Fair warning, there is no Wi-Fi at Cades Cove and your cell signal is probably not going to work.
For some that would be a good thing, for others not so much.
What amenities are available at the Cades Cove Campground?
The official website lists a variety of campground amenities, some of which are more amenable than others. That list includes:
- Accessible sites
- Accessible flush toilets
- An amphitheater
- Accessible parking
- Campfire rings
- Drinking water
- A dump station
- An emergency phone
- A firewood vendor
- A general store
- Horse rentals
- Picnic areas
- Picnic tables
- Tent pads
- Utility sinks
- Vending machines
- Fire pits
- A quiet area
- Electric hookups
- Food lockers
The seasonal Cades Cove Campground Store is certainly an amenity, while the parking area seems more like a necessity than an amenity.
You’ve got historic buildings, fire rings, bike rentals, full-service grocery stores, a dump station and a nearby horse stable which is not related to the dump station but sounds like it could be. The horse stable usually offers hayrides and carriage rides between March and October.
And there are also bear-proof dumpsters, which also proved to be my cousin Danielle-proof on a recent trip to the nearby picnic area.
Bear-proof dumpsters may not sound like much of an amenity but when you’re tent camping, it’s a big deal. You don’t want bears – or my cousin, Danielle, for that matter – rooting around the campsite at night looking for trash.
They also make a pretty big deal about the nearby amphitheater, which is, I guess, a nice amenity.
Maybe on your camping vacation, you and a dozen or so fellow campers would like to do a little Summer Stock. And perhaps put on some Shakespeare in the park?
The best day for biking is probably going to be during vehicle-free days on the Loop during the summertime – which usually falls on Wednesdays between May and September each year.
What are the best campsites at Cades Cove?
Ok. The amenities have convinced me. We’re going camping. What are the best campsites?
In truth, it depends a bit on what you’re looking for.
The B sites at the top of their respective loops – B19, B18, B20, B21, B67 and B70 are all relatively close to Abrams Creek which really gives them a leg up in desirability.
From a practical standpoint, sites like B79 and B06 and B08 are near restrooms, which can be a curse or a blessing.
A curse, because you get more traffic passing your site and a blessing because if you’ve ever camped on a cold night, you know that trip to the bathroom can be brutal.
Does the campground have electricity?
So, no Wi-Fi. No cell. But yes, Cades Cove campsites can use generators. And 5 amp electric hookups are available at some accessible sites for medical equipment use.
I find it strange that electricity is at the bottom of that aforementioned official list. I don’t know who the National Parks Service put in charge of marketing. But they have a tendency to bury the lede.
Are dogs allowed at the Cades Cove Campground?
Yes, pets are allowed in the campground but must remain on a 6′ leash and never be left unattended.
However, pets are prohibited on most nearby trails. The Gatlinburg Trail, The Oconaluftee River Trail and the Townsend Trail are among the few exceptions.
What are the rules for Cades Cove?
For the most part, basic camping rules apply. Food and any equipment used to prepare food must be kept sealed in a vehicle or camping unit constructed of solid, non-pliable material when not in use.
Campfires are permitted only in fire grates.
Also, quiet hours are in effect from 10 pm to 6 am. Generator use is prohibited from 8 pm to 8 am.
Your stay is limited to 14 consecutive days. You may have up to six people per campsite and up to two vehicles. Visitors must park in designated areas only, and tents must be pitched on a pad where provided.
Since the campground is not gated, you can check in after hours. However, try to keep noise to a minimum. If you check in after the office is closed, check in with the staff the following day.
For more information, visit the NPS website.
How much does it cost to camp at Cades Cove?
Ok. How much will this set me back?
The park service breaks down the campsites into three categories. They are as follows:
- Standard electric – $25
- Standard non-electric – $25
- Tent only non-electric – $25
Pricing is subject to change.
It’s also important to note that beginning March 1, 2023, parking tags will be required on any vehicles parking longer than 15 minutes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Visitors who have a campground reservation do not need a parking tag, but if you plan to park your car outside of the parking area, you will need one. The tags are available on Recreation.gov.
Is there anything else I should know?
Well, probably a lot of things.
We’ve written a lot of times about Cades Cove and its historic structures and hiking trails and grist mills and Abrams Falls and everything else on this site. Check those out.
Finally, a last bit of advice.
If you’re going to plan a camping vacation to Cades Cove, you should probably plan for your vacation to be 85% camping or more.
But if you want a campsite where you can go enjoy other parts of the mountains and dine, shop or drive to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg on the regular, etc., Cades Cove is probably not the spot.
It’s not convenient for anything else. It’s out of the way, tucked back in a secluded part of the park and not a quick drive to anything other than Townsend. And that’s not very quick. However, Townsend is certainly your best option if you need to refuel or shop for supplies as it features a couple of full-service grocery stores and gas stations.
If you’re going to go camping in the Smokies to really camp, this is the spot for it. You get easy access to the scenic beauty of Cades Cove.
If not, you’re better off doing something else.
How do you get to the Cades Cove Campground?
To arrive at the campground, if you’re traveling from Maryville, take US-321 North from Maryville to Townsend. Then, at the traffic light, continue straight on TN-73 and follow signs to Cades Cove.
If you’re traveling from Pigeon Forge, take US-321 South to Townsend. Then, turn left at Townsend and follow the signs.
Have you camped at the Cades Cove Campground? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!