It looked like something out of a movie.
Moving through an early morning mist, with the deep green of the mountains in the background, a herd of horses ran through a valley in Cades Cove.
I’ve been going to the Cove for 30 years now. I’ve seen all of those elements at one time or another, but I’ve never seen them quite so perfectly assembled.
The light, the colors, the mists and the artistry of the rippling muscles as they galloped through the field.
It’s the kind of thing artists have been trying to capture since man started drawing on the walls of his cave, the kind of ephemeral moment that inspired impressionism.
It was art and artistry and nature captured all in one perfect moment.
They looked wild and free and spawned a million Google searches by people like me who saw the footage and wondered …
Are the horses in Cades Cove wild?
For the record, there are no wild horses in Cades Cove.
As far as I know, there are no wild horses in the Great Smoky Mountains. The closest I’ve personally seen is a feral donkey loose on the backroad to Max Patch.
There may even be some feral horses that once escaped – maybe even breeding in the mountains – but feral does not equal wild.
The horses you see at the entrance and possibly the exit of Cades Cove Loop Road are part of a domesticated herd, numbering somewhere around 50.
They belong to the Cades Cove Riding Stables.
Can you ride horses in Cades Cove?
The Cades Cove Riding Stables is an independently contracted business. It is located just inside the Cove, near the Cades Cove Campground.
The riding stables offer three varieties of guided rides: trail, carriage and hayrides. Each offers different benefits.
The stables have horses with different temperaments and capabilities for novice and experienced riders. The guided trail ride lasts about an hour with a maximum of nine riders per group.
There is an orientation provided so you can get comfortable with your horse prior to setting out on the trail. Helmets are recommended for all riders, but it is required for riders under the age of 15.
The ride is a leisurely walk through the woods. Galloping or cantering is prohibited, even for experienced riders. The horses are trained to take it easy, and anyone pushing that envelope confuses them.
How much does it cost to go horseback riding?
The guided tour isn’t a race, it’s a chance to sit back and soak in the views – and possibly see some wildlife – from a unique perspective.
Prices for the guided trail ride are $40 per adult and $35 for riders 6-12.
The maximum weight limit for the guided trail riders is 250 pounds – though it appears that has changed or is changing to closer to 300 pounds.
There is no weight limit for the guided carriage or hayrides.
No one under the age of 6, or under 4 feet tall, will be allowed to ride. Double riders are also prohibited.
Click here to learn more about the riding stables.
Carriage rides and hayrides in Cades Cove
Carriage rides may prove the more practical, and affordable option for families with plus size members or small children.
There is no weight limit, and the carriage is limited to 6 riders, but they may be adjusted depending on the riders’ size. The carriage ride lasts for about 30 to 45 minutes over winding forest trails.
The guide will tell stories about the history of the area and point out native plant and animal lives. It’s a unique way to explore Cades Cove.
The guided hayride is a truck-pulled, hay-filled trailer on a nostalgic ride through the loop road. The guides will tell stories about the early settlers and how they lived off the land in the days before the arrival of the National Park.
If you take the hayride, keep your schedule open as they are dependent on Loop Road traffic. They can take an hour and a half to three hours.
Reservations, with deposit, are available for groups with 15 riders or more. The cost is $20 for everyone 16 and up and $15 for those ages 2-15.
On special occasions, Rangers will lead tours at the price of $22 per rider for ages 13 and up, and $17 per person 2-12.
For more information, visit their website.
Have you ridden horses in Cades Cove? Let us know in the comments.