Cades Cove is an 11-mile loop in Great Smoky Mountain National park that can be driven or bicycled. I heartily recommend bicycling the loop for those who are able to do so. The trek is more enjoyable, and you don’t have to worry about parking should you want to stop to explore any of the historic cabins, larger homes, mills, churches or barns (and you absolutely should want to stop!). Many of the historic buildings are adjacent to the loop. A few are within a short hike from the loop; the farthest was about a half mile, and the trek was absolutely worth it to me!
The loop is closed to car traffic Wednesday and Saturday mornings, which makes it the perfect time to bicycle with your family. I preferred bicycling when I didn’t have to worry about cars. The loop is narrow with no real shoulder to pull off. Animal life, such as deer or black bear are also more active in the early morning hours. Better yet, the whole valley is draped with the “smoke” that represent the region’s namesake during the morning. Sunrise in the valley is gorgeous and worth waking up early. Bicycling the loop on a Wednesday or Saturday morning cannot be beat.
As for difficulty, I would have to say that it depends. My husband and I had no trouble with my road bike and his touring bike. Unfortunately, we had to rent bicycles for the girls from a campground shop, and they struggled with their shifters. They hated it and complained rather incessantly about the difficulty and their bikes. Still, we passed many a young child—some who looked to be about six—merrily bicycling along the loop and having a grand time. The road meanders and in some places ascends or descends steep hills where it’s recommend to walk your bicycle downhill, which we did with the girls but did not do by ourselves. We found it delightful.
My recommendation? Bicycle Cades Cove. Bicycle it more than once. Each trip is different and absolutely gorgeous. We passed many a walker on the loop too. If you do plan to drive it, expect to take just as much time (if not more) to drive the trail rather than bicycle it. We absolutely understood why rangers caution to expect the loop to take two to four hours to complete by car and why they tell drivers to be courteous and not block traffic for wildlife.