Park officials have announced exciting news about the future of Cades Cove this week, including the return of vehicle-free days and other important park updates.
Let’s dive in.
Is Cades Cove open to cars on Wednesday? When will vehicle-free days begin in 2021?
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials will extend a pilot project in Cades Cove and continue vehicle-free days on the Cades Cove Loop Road.
Vehicle-free days in 2021 will be on Wednesdays from May 5 through Sept. 1.
Park managers implemented vehicle-free days in 2020 in an effort to improve the visitor experience and to reduce congestion.
The park received dozens of comments through mail, email, phone and comment cards regarding the vehicle-free day pilot project.
More than 60 percent of these comments were extremely positive. However, some campers were still impacted by early morning parking congestion.
Other visitors reported disappointment by the lack of vehicle access on Wednesdays.
But overall, the full-day, vehicle-free opportunity provided a more enjoyable and safe experience for the nearly 30,000 bicyclists and pedestrians.
How many visitors participated in vehicle-free days in Cades Cove?
In 2020, 25 percent more pedestrians and cyclists participated in vehicle-free access periods per week as compared to the 2019 season.
The park saw an average of 1,800 participants each Wednesday.
Park managers will continue to monitor use levels, parking availability, visitor experience and congestion.
According to data in 2020, parking lots were full during 30 percent of the observation period. Roadside shoulders along Laurel Creek Road were utilized for parking during 60 percent of the observation period.
Staff and volunteers will implement some changes in parking access this season to ease pressure on campground and picnic area parking lots and prevent roadside parking along Laurel Creek Road.
Reducing roadside parking is important because it damages shoulders and creates unsafe conditions for visitors.
When will Cades Cove close in 2021?
In another recent announcement, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials said that the Cades Cove Loop Road will be fully closed for three weeks in September 2021 to resurface the popular roadway.
This loop is used by more than 2 million visitors per year and was fully reconstructed and resurfaced in 2010. This preventive pavement treatment will maintain the heavily used road in good condition and extend its service life.
While the contract duration is expected to be two months, the actual asphalt paving operation will occur over the three-week closure period.
Work also includes resurfacing of the campground entrance road from Laurel Creek Road to the Cades Campground and the parking area adjacent to the Cades Cove Campground Store.
The one-way road will be closed to all motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and horseback riders from Tuesday, Sept. 7 through Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.
The campground, picnic area, campground store and horse stables will remain open and accessible throughout the duration of the paving project.
Construction along Forge Creek Road extended
Lastly, current roadwork occurring in Cades Cove along Forge Creek Road has been extended.
Forge Creek Road has been closed to all use since Nov. 2, 2020 to replace five bridges.
The closure has been extended through Saturday, July 31, 2021. Due to the complete removal of the bridges and the use of large equipment to perform repair work, the road will continue to be closed.
The full closure prevents all access (by foot, bicycle, or horse) to the Henry Whitehead Place and Gregory Ridge, Gregory Bald and Hannah Mountain trailheads.
Gregory Bald is accessible from trails outside the Cades Cove area, including Wolf Ridge Trail, Long Hungry Trail or a section of the Appalachian Trail.
For more information about these routes, please contact the Backcountry Office at (865) 436-1297.
For more information about congestion monitoring in the park, please visit the park website.
What do you think of the construction plans? Let us know in the comments.