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 a hot tub and a big fancy TV.
Others like to vacation in places where flushing toilets and drinking water are considered “modern” conveniences.
Does Cades Cove have a campground?
Yes, Cades Cove has a campground. And 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 12 ADA family sites and one group site. And it also offers two CPAP sites.
The restrooms, with the flushing toilets, are ADA accessible with ADA accessible paths to the restrooms.
The Campground features more than 155 campsites – the second largest in the area second only to Elkmont Campground – on three loops; A, B or C. The B-loop is generator friendly.
The Campground is open year-round with stipulations.
Both Loop B and Loop C are open seasonally from mid-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, bicycling and more.
And the mountain scenery in the Cove is bar-none.
Cades Cove also offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Wildlife sightings commonly reported in the area include:
- White-tailed deer
- Black bears
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 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 positive, for others torture.
What amenities are available at the Cades Cove Campground?
Funny you should ask. 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 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 National Park? I don’t know. But it’s one of the amenities. We’ve got to cover it.
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 wifi. 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 pets 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.
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
Is there anything else I should know?
Well, probably a lot of things.
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 that 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.
Have you camped at the Cades Cove Campground? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!