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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.