This is How the Cades Cove Got Its Name in the Smoky Mountains

buildings in cades cove

Cades Cove was named after a Cherokee leader Chief Cades (photo by Morgan Overholt/

It is believed that Cades Cove is named after a real-life historical figure

I can remember taking an elementary school field trip to Cades Cove back in the late 1900s. I can’t say for sure that it was my first visit because my grandparents frequently took us on weekend getaways to the Smokies, and we spent a lot of time exploring the national park. When I was in graduate school, I visited with my now husband as a quick detour on a hiking trip. We accidentally got a little too close to a foraging black bear on a short hiking trail. We’ve also returned with our children several times over the years.  

It’s one of the most visited areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and it’s a great place to learn about the history of the mountains and the people who lived there. But have you ever wondered, how did Cades Cove get its name?

Cades was named for Chief Cade, a Cherokee leader from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. The 11-mile paved loop is accessible to motorists who want to catch a glimpse of wildlife without leaving their cars. There are preserved historic buildings for history buffs (and adventurous kids) to explore. Traffic can get a little heavy during the summer and on weekends. Thankfully, Cades Cove is periodically closed to motor vehicle traffic. This allows cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy exploring the area without so many cars present. 

bikers on the cades cove loop
The Cove is a great place to learn about history and take in the beauty of the mountains (photo by Morgan Overholt/

What is Cades Cove?

Cades Cove is a 4,000-acre scenic valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is surrounded by mountains. It’s accessible for motorists by an 11-mile one-way road. At the time of this writing, Wednesday mornings from May – September are vehicle-free days at Cades Cove. There’s a campground, horse stables, and access to several hiking trails. Cades Cove is an excellent spot for wildlife viewing. Black bears, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and even coyotes inhabit the area and are frequently spotted by visitors. 

About halfway around the loop, the Cable Mill historic area is home to The Cades Cove Visitors Center. There’s a bookstore, restrooms, and several historic structures (including a gristmill and farmhouses) that visitors can explore. Additionally, there are historic churches, houses, and other structures throughout the area. 

Horses grazing in Cades Cove
Cades Cove is believed to have been named after Cherokee leader Chief Cade (photo by Morgan Overholt/

How did Cades Cove get its name?

Cades Cove is believed to have been named for Chief Cade, a Cherokee leader. According to the National Park Service, archaeologists believe that the Cherokee used the area as a seasonal hunting camp rather than a permanent settlement for hundreds of years. However, European pioneers did settle in the area in the early 1800s. Several families lived in the area, and the population grew to over 600 residents by the mid-1800s. By the time the national park was established in 1934, most of the residents had sold their land and moved. The few who remained signed leases enabling them to live on their land for the remainder of their lives, and the area was designated a historical area by the National Park Service in 1945. 

View from Cades Cove
Cades Cove is 20 miles or so after passing the Sugarlands Visitor Center (photo by Morgan Overholt/

Where to find Cades Cove?

Despite its size, Cades Cove is only accessible from one entrance on Laurel Creek Road. From Gatlinburg, head into the park and turn right onto Little River Road (past the Sugarlands Visitor Center). It’s about 20 miles from there.

From Townsend, you’ll take the Lyon Springs Road park entrance to Little River Road. Follow the signs to Cades Cove. Townsend is closer to Cades Cove than Gatlinburg – just 9 miles away. If you’re planning on driving the Loop, allow at least half a day for your visit.

Have you been to Cades Cove? Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains soon? Make sure to check out our coupons page before your trip!

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