What not to do at Cades Cove, 7 things a local wants you to know

Visiting Cades Cove is a great way to see wildlife and get your selfie game on, just make sure you follow the rules (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
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Cades Cove is the crown jewel of the Smokies. 

It is a confluence point of natural beauty, mountain history and conservation. 

It is among the best the region has to offer, yet there are many days I’d rather go to the dentist than risk a trip around the Cove.  

It’s not the Cove itself mind you. I’ve been lucky enough to be alone with my thoughts at night in the Cove. I consider it a sacred, almost holy place. 

But it is also a place that attracts thousands upon thousands of people each year, many of whom are perfectly wonderful, but they either don’t know or don’t care about the social contract that exists in the park and its places of wonder. 

I’d rather gnaw my own arm off than spend an afternoon stuck in a Cades Cove traffic jam. 

Traffic in Cades Cove
Traffic can be thick on the Cades Cove Loop (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

It’s actually gotten considerably better over the years. The internet and its many tips to maximize the experience have helped people navigate the park in better ways. 

Still, some people haven’t gotten the message, and when you run up against these people, it’s painful.  

It’s not about simply maximizing your experience.

It’s about maximizing your experience without minimizing others’ experience. 

Here are top tips on what NOT to do while in Cades Cove to help you have the best experience when you visit this beloved section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

7. Don’t harm the environment

Don’t litter or vandalize.

Frankly, the people who need this advice are probably not going to take it, but there are those who come to the park with no respect.

They’ll carve their initials in a tree, or worse a cabin, leave the remnants from a KFC picnic where they shouldn’t, or they’ll do something else that will make you question the relative value of humanity.  

Please don’t be an idiot.

Black bear in Cades Cove
Cades Cove is a popular place to view wildlife, but obey the law and stay at least 150 feet away, and never feed the wildlife. There’s a reason they say a fed bear is a dead bear (photo by aheflin/stock.adobe.com)

6. Don’t bother the wildlife

Everyone warns you about bothering the bears and for good reason. Bears can kill humans, and that tends to be an attention-getter. Every other month or so we get a video of someone getting too close to the bears.

They want to feed the bears. They want to get a good picture of the bears, or worse, people want to pet them. The bears are awesome. But leave them alone.

If you want a great picture of a bear either invest in a camera with a long lens or go to Zoo Knoxville. Bears in the wild deserve and demand our respect.

Watch them from a distance that is safe for you and for the bear, which is at least 150 feet according to the NPS. Remember human contact can prove fatal for a bear.

But it’s also important to note bears are not the only wild animals in the park. Even though you are unlikely to be killed by a deer or a wild turkey doesn’t mean you should treat them differently than you would a bear.

Read Also: What to do if you see a black bear: These tips might surprise you  

5. Don’t block the road

Not everyone on the loop is on the same schedule.

While some are there for sightseeing, others might be planning to hike a particular trail or visit a particular cabin. If you stop to take in the sights, try to make room for other drivers.

Sometimes you’ll see wildlife in a place that doesn’t allow you to get off the road. Try to be mindful of others.

Certainly, take your time and enjoy the experience, but remember there are people who would like to see the animals and enjoy the rest of the park as well. 

Read Also: How to visit Cades Cove, 7 things to know before you go

Biking in Cades Cove
If you plan to bike around Cades Cove, bring and wear the proper safety gear (photo by Morgan Overhot/TheSmokies.com)

4. Don’t overestimate your abilities

A lot of people like to walk or bike the loop or hike the many trails. Be sure to understand the difficulty of the trails or the loop.

Bring and wear the proper safety gear, including a helmet if you’re going to bike the loop. The loop can be an idyllic ride, but accidents happen. Be smart. Be safe.

3. Don’t blast music

I get it. The sun is out. The mountains are a luscious green. The sky is blue and filled with giant white clouds. The visuals are stunning.

You’re in a good mood and want to improve the day with some jams. Time for some Bay City Rollers, right? Wrong. Get some headphones or keep it turned down, OK?

Taking a rock might seem harmless, but taking and moving rocks will hurt salamanders like the Eastern Hellbender (photo by ondreicka/stock.adobe.com)

2. Don’t take souvenirs

Some people will find a rock or a flower or some other naturally occurring treasure and decide to take it home.

After all, there are hundreds of rocks in the stream or flowers in the patch, who’s it going to hurt? Nobody is going to miss a single rock or flower, of course, but the attrition of everyone who visits the park taking some small token will add up over time.

Additionally, taking or moving rocks in mountain streams hurts the salamander population in the Smoky Mountains.

Also, it’s a crime. Don’t believe me? Ask the ginseng hunters. 

Read Also: Secrets of the Smokies: 5 little known facts and stories

1. Don’t wear the wrong shoes

Finally, you want to be comfortable.

Your plan is to drive the Cove so you don’t need hiking shoes. Then you see a deer off in the distance behind the cabins and you decide to go for a closer look. Suddenly those flips flops are a bad choice.

You don’t have to wear hiking boots, but comfortable shoes you can walk in if necessary should be mandatory. 

What do you think of these Cades Cove tips? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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27 thoughts on “What not to do at Cades Cove, 7 things a local wants you to know”

  1. Great advice. We were at the Cove in July and it took 2 1/2 hours to drive through. Was not fun at all.

  2. I spent six miserable hours in Cades..saw the first cabin and no more.. played follow the leader. No parking to be had..trial guides were never opened. People were stopping in the road to take pictures on wildlife..one parking area was taken up by a group painting the scenery which I would like to have parked and looked at too. Working in school I can only go in summer when its busy.

  3. I totally agree with everything said, especially don’t block the road. I’ve probably been around that loop as much or more than anyone except employees. Over the years there have been more and more little spots made where cars just pull off and eventually its a dirt spot to park. I’ve always thought it would be nice if the park service could make more parking areas or just little pull offs. I know you can’t always count on that exact spot where some type of wildlife will walk out, but they’re could be an educated guess to the most likely spots and either widen the road or add a pullover. I also think, as you emphasize not feeding the bears, there should have been a greater emphasis on feeding wildlife period. Especially the raccoon who is most likely to take did from your hand. Overall great article and wish more prior would adhere to the suggestions.

  4. I live 90 minutes from the smokies, I travel there quite often, The one thing I noticed is the honking of the car horns, They stop in the middle of Cades cove, and people honk, yell, scream, others see bears, they walk up to them as if there long lost friends, These bears are being killed, by an idiot from up north, It’s unfair, They need to monitor the loop more closely, I know the park rangers know the ins and outs of the loop,

  5. Could not agree more !! I love Cades Cove, I grew up not far from there. But I see idiots every time I go there. Breaks my heart that they have no respect for the beauty that’s there.

  6. I was down there about a week ago and none of this has changed ,they still hold the line up, when they could be kind enough to move over when they see something .

  7. You left one out. Don’t go at peak times. There are to many people to fit in the cove.

  8. we are coming on friday and of course want to visit cades cove before they close on the 7th what are the best hrs to try and avoid this ?early am? thank you for any input

  9. We’ve been visiting Cades Cove for 40 years. It’s a beautiful place to enjoy nature. The ranger programs are very good. The tips in this article are spot on. It’s unfortunate that people have to be reminded not to litter, get too close to bears or block the road, etc. For every considerate person, there’s going to be one apathetic or just plain ignorant one.

  10. This is Paula Evans my husband and I have been going to Cades Cove for years taking our kids and grandkids but we have quit going all it is now is a 3 to 4 hour ride DON’T enjoy going anymore.

  11. I live in East Central Alabama and I have been going to Cades Cove for 49 years. I got to enjoy it long before it got so over run. I agree with everything that was said. Have respect not just for other people but the land and wildlife so many more can visit and enjoy the wonders of the Great Smokey Mountains. Number one thing not to do is stop in the middle of the loop road and take pictures and try to interact with the wildlife. It is free to everyone so you can’t use the excuse I paid my money I will do what I want. Just remember keep the traffic moving around the loop.

  12. We were there a couple of weeks ago. We typically go in May right before Memorial Day. This year we had to push it due to my job. We actually pulled my son out of school for vacation this year, we all needed it. We went to Cades Cove almost every day we were there. For best experience: go early or go late, not mid-day. For best experience, go on Wednesday…no cars are allowed then! I ran the entire loop and my husband and son biked it. It was the most epic experience to see the Cove on foot. I did see a mom and cub. Glad a ranger was there to alert all of us runners and hikers. And yes, leave the wildlife alone! Bears are cool, but I also realize they can rip my face off in a quick swipe of a paw; much respect for them as well as the other wildlife in the park. And for the love of all mankind, utilize those awesome pullouts drivers, they are there for a reason. Each time we went through the Cove, we enjoyed it! But each time, there was ALWAYS that one person/car.🤦🏽‍♀️

  13. Being a native East Tennessean I’ve been in the mountains and Cades Cove all my life. These tips are spot on, and when everyone is respectful we all benefit. Cades Cove is so rich in history and my hope is people learn it and show respect not only to nature but also for the ancestors of we natives to the area and how they lived, loved the mountains, died, and are laid to rest there.

  14. RESECT IS THE KEY,THESE ARE GREAT TIPS BUT UNTIL WE START RESPECTING EACH OTHER AND THIS WONDERFUL WORLD GOD HAS BLESSED US TO INHABIT
    THINGS ARENT GOING TO GET BETTER WE ARE DESTROYING EACH OTHER AND THIS WORLD.

  15. Close the cove down to public conveyance, open a park shuttle service only, to the cove. A timed shuttle schedule will allow visitors to see the cove and lessen the public vehicle impact on the area. This is not a new idea, Zion NP does not allow vehicle access to the main canyon, it is only accessable by park shuttle.

  16. Enjoyed the ride through the cove, good advice to not disturb the wildlife, there’s more respectable people than less and I always make sure that I do not disrespect the scenery as well as other people. I can not stand a person who leaves there trash everywhere hopefully they will get charged for littering.

  17. Watch in your rear view mirror for cars lining up behind you. If you choose to go 5 miles an hour, pull off and let the other cars pass so you won’t hold others up. Photographers are hurrying to make a photo when the light is right, people go on hikes and need to get started and sometimes folks are trying to hurry and make it to the bathroom! PLEASE USE THE PULL OFFS.

  18. I go camping at Cades Cove in late October. I’ve long given up on driving the loop and now hike it. Start just at dawn walking the loop road against the traffic pattern you can jump off the road and walk the meadows to the right. Occasionally you will have to us the road to cross creeks. When you reach the village at the west end go a little further then jump over to the meadow. Take a compass and shoot a route due east. There will be a lot of Bushwacking the forest and fields but you will have the cove all to yourself. Bears, turkeys, deer and surprisingly a few elevation changes. Be careful, tell someone where you are hiking , take bear spray and the 10 hiking essentials. Cross Abrams creek on one of the cross road bridges. Impossible to get lost as you will be inside the perimeter of the loop road.its an all day hike

  19. I am from Mexico and have been visiting Cades Cove 2001 I absolutely love this place it makes me feel like I driving in paradise. I feel so sad when people litter, they have no respect for nature. I have barely been anywhere else for vacation

  20. I have been going to Cades Cove for over fifty years. I do believe that there should be signs telling the visitors that if they mingle with the bears, they may have to be euthanized “killed” because of their stupidity. When I told a guy that was feeding a cub oreos that he shouldn’t do that Mom is nearby his response was, “oh if these bears were dangerous, they wouldn’t allow them in the park.” So many are illiterate of the park. It isn’t a zoo. These people need to be told that their feeding them or interacting with them could be fatal to them but also the bear.. They would be responsible for the bear being euthanized. And if I catch anyone carving or writing on the buildings, they will wish they hadn’t done it in front of me.

    Yep, he really said that.

  21. Great tips! But #1 should be “don’t stop and park in the middle of the road just because you see wildlife.” Park on the side of the road if you can, and if you can’t unfortunately you need to just move on. Make another loop around if you can’t stop and are just dying to see that bear or deer. #2 should be to keep your distance from bears. Not wise to get too close or try to feed them. This is how bears become aggressive and many times why they are euthanized. To recap, just don’t be that idiot that makes this drive unenjoyable for others and respect the bears.

  22. I’ve been to Kies Cove numerous times the wife and I even biked it the last time year . That was a great experience we drove it several times we had a great experience each and every time crowded or not crowded all of the rules you are suggesting are great rules but the one about the bike helmets you work from giving good advice to meddling in other peoples business
    The wife and I have been there many times enjoyed every time and will be back crowded or no crowds is still a great outing

  23. Shuttles or horse drawn wagons/hay rides would be great! I’d pay to ride either!!!

  24. Guided tours will be the only way to stop the traffic jams, and then the inconsiderate people will have to ride a trolley. Bill Lewis 10- 06 2021

  25. We stayed in a cabin in pigeon forge Memorial Day week (9/2021)but much to our surprise the cades cove loop was closed for repaving

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