Cades Cove Loop Road Auto Tour
The history of Cades Cove as we know it today begins with the story of John and Luraney Oliver. Arriving in 1818 from Carter County, TN, the Olivers became the first permanent settlers in this part of the Smokies. They were joined soon after by more aspiring pioneers from Virginia, North Carolina and upper east Tennessee, and by 1850 the population in Cades Cove had grown to 700.
Preserved by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service to look much the way they had in the 1800s, a number of historic buildings in Cades Cove still stand. Original pioneer homesteads, barns and churches in Cades Cove—like the John Oliver Cabin, Primitive Baptist Church and Becky Cable House—are easy to spot along the Cades Cove Loop Road Tour. A careful eye will reveal other, abandoned home sites, recognizable by lone chimneys, stone fences or landscaping that doesn't seem natural to the surroundings. In addition, a number of American Indian trails once used by Cherokee hunters have been developed into roads or hiking trails in Cades Cove. The abundant Cades Cove wildlife that once drew the Cherokee Indians is often seen as well.
The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road is a paved, one-way route that allows a self-guided tour of this pioneer village. Sparks Lane near the Cades Cove entrance is one of two two-way roads that cut directly across the loop, the other being Hyatt Lane further west.
As the auto tour route is open to cyclists as well, motorists are advised to watch for tourists biking in Cades Cove. Bicycle and foot traffic only are allowed on the Loop Road before 10:00 am on Saturday and Wednesday mornings from early May until late September. Otherwise, the road is open to motor vehicles from sunrise to sunset daily, weather permitting.
Directions to Cades Cove from Pigeon Forge
- At Parkway Light #3 in Pigeon Forge, head southwest on US-321/Wears Valley Rd for 14.7 miles toward Townsend.
- Turn left onto TN-73 Scenic/E Lamar Alexander Pkwy.
- Take a slight right onto Laurel Creek Rd, and continue straight onto Cades Cove Loop Road.
Entrance to Cades Cove
When you enter Cades Cove from Townsend, you will be at the northeastern end of the one-way Loop Road near Sparks Lane. The Cades Cove Campground, Riding Stables and Campground Store are located near the entrance. Just across from the Ranger Station, the Cades Cove Campground Store and Bicycle Rentals sells grocery essentials, camping supplies, souvenirs and educational materials, as well as concessions such as sandwiches, hot dogs and ice cream.
1. Riding Stables
The Cades Cove Riding Stables offers guided trail rides, carriage rides and hayrides. They are the National Park's only authorized riding stables in Cades Cove. Their one-hour trail rides are excellent for beginners and experienced riders alike. The riding trail crosses streams, winds through Smoky Mountain forests and often offers a glimpse of Cades Cove wildlife. The Stables are open seasonally, typically mid-March through early December.
2. John Oliver Cabin
The Cades Cove pioneers first settled on the higher, dryer northeastern side of the Cove where the Loop begins, away from the swampy land found elsewhere. The original Cades Cove cabin belonging to John and Luraney Oliver stood 50 yards or so behind the cabin now identified as theirs. The current John Oliver Cabin is actually the honeymoon house the family built for their son to use when he married.
3. Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church
The Cades Cove Baptist Church was built in 1827 on land donated by William Tipton, a veteran of the American Revolution. John Oliver and his friend Peter Cable were among the community members to help found the church. Before the Baptist Church was established, members of the community had to travel through the Smoky Mountains to attend Sunday services at churches in Miller's and Wear Coves. Campground revivals were also held in Tuckaleechee Cove, present-day Townsend, TN.
In time a schism developed over biblical interpretation. One side said the Scriptures allowed for missionary work, while others in the congregation disagreed. This difference in views was not isolated to Baptists in the Smokies; the dispute was widespread at the time. The Cades Cove group that did not believe missions work was biblically supported changed their name to the Primitive Baptist Church in 1841 in order to distinguish themselves from Baptists with differing views. The small congregation met in a log structure for 60 years until the current white frame church was built in 1887. The picturesque church building is still used for weddings in the Smoky Mountains.
4. Cades Cove Methodist Church
The Cades Cove Methodist congregation also began modestly, meeting in a log structure with a fire pit and dirt floor. In 1902, after meeting in that first humble building for 62 years, Pastor John D. McCampbell—who also happened to be a carpenter—built the pretty white frame structure that became the Cades Cove Methodist Church.
The building's two-front-door design, an architectural feature common in the 1800s, typically allowed men to enter and sit on one side of the chapel, with women and children on the other. Some churches during this period even had a divider through the center of the chapel. However, the Cades Cove Methodist congregation was more relaxed, and church members sat where they pleased. Records indicate the builder was simply copying the design of another church building. The lovely result is a balanced design that lends a feeling of peace and harmony in its Smoky Mountain setting. In fact, the Cades Cove Methodist Church is still used as a Smoky Mountain wedding venue.
Sadly, the structure's peaceful setting and harmonious design did not shield the congregation from controversy. The Cades Cove Methodist Church was troubled by division during the Civil War and Reconstruction, resulting in a congregational split and the formation of a separate Hopewell Methodist Church. The Hopewell building no longer stands.
Like many roads in the Smoky Mountains, Hyatt Lane began as a Cherokee Indian trail. The Cades Cove settlers used the trail when traveling to Tuckaleechee or Maryville. Eventually the trail was upgraded to a road and named after a local resident. Today, Hyatt Lane is a dusty, two-lane shortcut across Cades Cove.
Visitors are cautioned that taking Hyatt Lane cuts short the Cades Cove Tour. The Loop Road is a one-way route, and the majority of the historic sites on the Cades Cove Tour lie beyond Hyatt Lane.
Rich Mountain Road
Like Hyatt Lane, Rich Mountain Road began as a Cherokee Indian trail. Originally named Cades Cove Road, Rich Mountain Road served as one of the main routes between Cades Cove and Tuckaleechee.
Rich Mountain Road offers a number of famous views of Cades Cove. However, this one-way dirt road leaves the Cades Cade Loop Road Tour and exits the Great Smoky Mountains National Park after 12 mountainous miles.
5. Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church
As was common among Smoky Mountain churches at the time, early Cades Cove Baptists were divided on religious issues. Differing views on missionary work, temperance societies and Sunday schools eventually led to a split, with a number in the congregation—including Pastor Johnson Adams—dismissed from the original Baptist church.
Adams and the other disenfranchised Smokies pioneers established the Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church on May 15, 1841. With no church building of their own, the young congregation met in members' homes or at the Primitive Baptist or Methodist church buildings on occasion. During the difficult years surrounding the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Missionary Baptists didn't meet for long periods of time. Following the war, however, they enjoyed a particularly successful revival and erected their own church building on Hyatt Hill in 1894. The burgeoning congregation soon grew from 40 to more than 100 church members, and in 1915 a new, larger building was erected in the present location.
When spring wildflowers bloom in the Smokies, a particular patch of daffodils in Cades Cove bears a message of gratitude. A close eye and a bit of imagination reveal "Co. 5427" amidst the buttery yellow blossoms of the Cades Cove daffodils. Blooming in March and April between the Missionary Baptist Church and Tater Branch stream, the daffodils were planted as a memorial to a company of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that built many of the trails, roads and bridges within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
6. Cooper Road Trail
The trailhead for the Cooper Road Trail lies between the Missionary Baptist Church and Elijah Oliver Place. The full trail stretches just over 10 miles, terminating near the Foothills Parkway, though an intersection with the Wet Bottom Trail offers an alternative route back to the Cove without retracing steps.
Like many other routes in and around Cades Cove, the Cooper Road Trail began as an Indian trail that was later utilized by white settlers. This road in particular led to Maryville where settlers bartered or bought goods that couldn't be made or grown at home in the Cove. In the 1840s, the road was named for Joe Cooper who improved the trail so that it could be used by wagons.
7. Elijah Oliver Place
Son of original settlers John and Luraney, Elijah Oliver was born in the original Cades Cove cabin in 1824. When Elijah grew up and married, he and his bride moved from their honeymoon house to this site where they built the cabin that bears his name. The Elijah Oliver homestead included a cabin, smokehouse, corn crib, springhouse and barn.
For Cades Cove settlers mindful of their own vulnerability and dependence on one another, Smoky Mountain hospitality extended beyond family and friends to travelers and strangers. In fact, Cades Cove hospitality was so well known that fishermen came to the Cove knowing the residents would provide a meal and lodging at no charge. The Elijah Oliver Cabin offers an example of a "stranger's room," a special room built onto the front porch specifically to house strangers in need of shelter.
Around 1900, some of the Cades Cove residents began to charge a modest rate for the room and board. Today, there are more than 8,000 cabin rentals and chalets surrounding the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
8. To Abrams Falls
Abrams Falls and Creek are named for a Cherokee chief whose village once stood downstream. The turnoff for the trailhead that leads to Abrams Falls is just past the Elijah Oliver Place on the Cades Cove Loop.
What Abrams Falls lacks in height, it makes up for in volume. The picturesque falls features rushing water cascading 20 feet into a long, deep pool at its base. This moderate-to-difficult hike meanders through pine-oak, hemlock and rhododendron forest for approximately five miles round trip.
9. Cable Mill Historic Area & Visitors Center
Historic buildings at the Cable Mill site include a sorghum mill, the Becky Cable House, Cable Mill Barn, a corn crib, smokehouse, cantilever barn and blacksmith shop. The John P. Cable Grist Mill still stands in its original location, though the other structures on display were assembled here by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service.
Open from mid-April through October, the Cable Mill Visitors Center offers restrooms, information and emergency assistance, in addition to postcards, maps and books for sale. Items such as corn meal or molasses are sometimes available as well.
In the Cable Mill Historic Area
In addition to using maple syrup, maple sugar and honey as sweeteners, Smoky Mountain settlers used a dark, sweet and thick syrup called molasses. Molasses was made in Cades Cove at the sorghum mill.
Molasses begins as sorghum cane, which is stripped of leaves and fed between the rollers of the mill. Long poles at the Sorghum Mill were attached to the harness of a farm animal such as an ox, mule or horse. As the animal walked in a circle, the pole turned the rollers, pulling the stalks into the mill and pressing out the sorghum juice. The sorghum juice was then boiled down in an outdoor furnace until it became thick and dark. Today, the Cades Cove Visitors Center sells molasses from mid-September into October.
Becky Cable House / Gregg-Cable House
In the Cable Mill Historic Area
One of the most famous historic buildings in Cades Cove is the Gregg-Cable House, also known as the Becky Cable House. The home was built in 1879 by Leason Gregg on land purchased from John Cable using lumber from the Cable Mill. Originally located on a one-acre tract along Forge Creek Road, the historic home was moved in 1940 to its current location in the Cable Mill area.
The first frame house constructed in Cades Cove, this structure served as both the Gregg family home and the family business. The family lived on the upper floors and ran a store downstairs, a custom brought to America by their European ancestors. Goods were brought from Maryville by way of ox and wagon, then sold to the residents of Cades Cove or traded for farm items such as eggs.
Eventually the house and land returned to John Cable's family when they were purchased by his daughter Rebecca—better known as Becky Cable—along with her brother, Dan, and his wife. The Cable family ran the store for eight years before converting it into a boarding house. When Dan and his wife fell ill, "Aunt Becky" ran the boarding house and cared for her brother's children. She also managed her brother's farm, raising gardens, cattle and food for herself, her family and her boarders. Becky Cable died in her Cades Cove home in 1940 at the age of 94.
In the Cable Mill Historic Area
Cades Cove settlers depended on corn for themselves and their animals, so they relied on corn cribs to protect this important crop. The corn was ground into cornmeal for making cornbread and grits. It was also left whole to make hominy or used as grain for livestock.
Corn cribs in Cades Cove were built with horizontal slats and narrow gaps between the boards to allow maximum air circulation while holding in the corn. The harvested ears of corn were tossed into the corn crib through a hatch above, usually with the shucks still on the ears, and left to air dry into hard kernels still on the cob. Once dry, the corn could be retrieved through a small door at the bottom of the crib, then shucked and rubbed together briskly to remove the hardened kernels from the cob. Once off the cob, the kernels could be made into hominy, hominy grits, cornmeal, mush, or feed for chickens and livestock.
In the Cable Mill Historic Area
Pork was the principle meat of the day, so smokehouses were common in Cades Cove and throughout the Smokies. To improve the flavor of the meat, hogs were fattened up on chestnuts before the slaughter. Farmers would let the hogs loose in the chestnut groves that were once common in Cades Cove. There was little concern that the hogs would wander off because they would not leave the abundant chestnut feast in the grove. After weeks of gorging on chestnuts, the hogs were brought back to the barn and "topped off" with corn for a few more weeks.
Each fall, when the weather turned cold enough to process the meat before it could spoil, the Cades Cove farmers would have a "hog killin'." Families in the Smoky Mountains tended to be large, so it was not uncommon for a family to kill up to 10 hogs at a time. The meat was then spiced and smoked over a slow fire, and the pork made into hams, bacon, sausage, jowls and hogshead cheese. After the pork had been prepared, it was stored in the smokehouse until needed.
John P. Cable Mill
In the Cable Mill Historic Area
A large water wheel powered the grist mill in Cades Cove, turning large stones that ground corn and wheat into meal and flour. Today the Smoky Mountains Natural History Association keeps Cable Mill running in Cades Cove to teach visitors about life in the 1800s; the mill is operated April through October.
A handful of enterprising residents in Cades Cove built water-driven mills to grind grain. Their hope was that other Cades Cove families would pay them to grind grain rather than struggling with small, inefficient tub mills at home. Cornmeal was the only grain that could be ground in the tub mills, and they were capable of processing only a bushel of corn per day. So, waterwheel-driven mills that could grind wheat into flour were a welcome addition to the Cove.
The entrepreneurs were correct and ran a fine business milling in Cades Cove as a result. Payment for grinding grain was sometimes made using money, though it was also common to pay with a portion of the resulting flour or meal.
Besides John Cable, Cable's son and also Frederick Shields operated mills. Cable was the only Cades Cove miller to use an overshot waterwheel. Like most businessmen in the Cove, Cable was also a farmer. Customers could summon him from the fields using a large bell on his property.
Cable and Shields put their waterwheels to double advantage, powering sawmills as well. Sawmills were important in the history of Cades Cove, changing the way people built houses here. Homes before sawmills were built of logs. After the advent of sawmills, however, Cades Coves homes were built almost exclusively of lumber and frame construction. In addition, most log home owners bought lumber for siding to disguise that they were living in old-fashioned cabins.
In the Cable Mill Historic Area
Cades Cove pioneers used a mill flume to divert water from a stream to power a mill. Water flowed from the stream through the flume to a waterwheel, turning the waterwheel as it fell on the wheel's large paddles.
In the Cable Mill Historic Area
The Cantilever Barn in Cades Cove features one of the most interesting architectural designs of the historic buildings in the Cable Mill area. With an upper story that is larger than its base, the unique cantilever design could offer shelter from sun or rain to animals standing below the barn's overhang. Farm equipment could also be kept dry under the large eaves of the cantilevered barn, since there were no posts or walls to get in the way.
Animals on a Cades Cove farm would have included pigs, hogs, chickens, goats and, in the wintertime, cattle. During the summer, cattle grazed on the grassy balds of the Great Smoky Mountains. Gregory's Bald, named for one of the men who looked after the cattle in the summer, is a popular destination for hiking in the Smoky Mountains today.
In the Cable Mill Historic Area
Every farmer in the Smokies needed the talents of a blacksmith. So, when James V. Cable inherited the mill and farm from his father, he added blacksmithing to his repertoire as well. Mules and horses used for farm work in the Cove needed their metal shoes pulled and reset about every eight weeks, putting blacksmiths in constant demand. Customers traveling to Cable Mill by wagon also found it convenient to have their animals shod there rather than making another trip elsewhere. A blacksmith could either trim the horse's hoof and reset the old shoe or make new shoes for the animal by shaping white-hot metal with a hammer and anvil.
In addition to shoeing horses, the Smoky Mountain blacksmiths made all sorts of metal products for the home, farm and light industry. Other products made by blacksmiths included hardware like nails, chains, hinges, hooks and bolts; tools such as hammers, hoes and broadaxes; blades for axes, adzes, kitchen knives and draw knives; and even farm implements like plows.
10. Cades Cove Nature Trail
This Smoky Mountain trail is particularly beautiful in the spring when dogwoods bloom, as well as in fall when the sourwoods and maples turn a brilliant red. Once the location of a chestnut grove, the Cades Cove Nature Trail now has many stately pines and oak trees. The chestnut trees that provided an important source of food for early Cove settlers were killed by disease many years ago, though chestnut sprouts continue to spring up in this area of the Smoky Mountains.
11. Henry Whitehead Place
The same frontier hardships that forged strong communities sometimes strained marriages. Though divorce was rare in the Smokies, Cades Cove was not immune to broken homes.
Such was the fate of Matilda Shields Gregory, abandoned by her husband and left to raise a young son alone. Matilda's brothers offered what aid they could, hastily building a cabin to shelter their sister and nephew. With logs roughly hewn by a felling axe and a stone chimney made of rubble, Matilda's new home was one of the crudest cabins in Cades Cove.
In time, Matilda was re-married to the widower Henry Whitehead, and in 1898 Whitehead built his bride one of the Cades Cove's nicest log homes. For one thing, the Whitehead Cabin had a brick chimney—a rare feature in Cades Cove, as bricks had to be made by hand.
The process of making bricks began with digging a hole in clay soil and filling the hole with water. Using a hoe, the brick maker would scrape soil from the sides of the hole, mixing it with the water until the clay became thick and smooth. The wet clay was put into brick molds and dried. Afterwards, the dried clay was fired to make the bricks durable.
The rest of the Whitehead Cabin was made of square-sawed logs that were finely finished inside to be smooth and attractive. In fact, the cabin was so nice that it looked very much like the framed homes that would become fashionable when the first sawmills were introduced to Cades Cove.
The couple's masterpiece was especially warm according to Cades Cove standards. Square-log construction was naturally well insulated by walls four inches thick and practically no space between the logs. The Henry Whitehead Place in Cades Cove is the only remaining square-sawed log home in the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
12. Dan Lawson Place / Peter Cable Cabin
In the mid-1850s, Dan Lawson married Peter Cable's daughter, Mary Jane, and purchased this cabin and land from his father-in-law. Like the Henry Whitehead Cabin, the Peter Cable Cabin had a brick chimney—a rarity in Cades Cove, as bricks had to be made by hand on the property. A pre-Civil War dwelling, the original cabin was built of hewn logs and improved over time by the addition of sawed lumber. Lawson also expanded his land holdings beyond the original homestead acquired from Cable, eventually owning a large strip of land that stretched from ridge to ridge.
13. Tipton Place
Colonel Hamp Tipton, a descendant of William Tipton and veteran of the Mexican War, built the two-story log home at Tipton Place shortly after the Civil War. The cabin was occupied by his daughters, "Miss Lucy" and "Miss Lizzie," the schoolmarms of Cades Cove, while Tipton himself lived in Tuckaleechee Cove, now known as Townsend. The Smoky Mountain homestead he built eventually included a smokehouse, woodshed, corn crib, blacksmith shop, cantilever barn and an apiary for bees. Tipton also sold land to many of his family and friends, including Joshua Job, Jacob and Isaac Tipton, and Thomas Jones.
In 1878, the Tiptons rented their cabin to James McCaulley, a blacksmith looking to settle in the Cove with his family. In time, McCaulley built his own home, as well as top-quality blacksmith and carpentry shops. McCaulley became a trusted blacksmith, carpenter and coffin maker in Cades Cove, working here for a quarter of a century.
Across the road from the Tipton House is a cantilever barn. Once a common site in the Smokies, the current building is a replica of the barn which stood there in the 1800s. Its two-pen design and huge eaves allowed overhang protection for outside animals and equipment, as well as complete shelter for stalled animals. An isle between the pens was large enough to accommodate a wagon.
14. Carter Shields Cabin
The final homestead on the Cades Cove Loop Road Tour is the Carter Shields Cabin. Crippled in the Civil War at the Battle of Shiloh, George Washington "Carter" Shields eventually retired to this beautiful location, where he lived from 1910 to 1921. Dogwood trees bloom here in the spring, making this one of the loveliest cabins in Cades Cove.
Sparks Lane, South
The southern end of Sparks Lane marks the end of the Cades Cove Loop Tour. This is the other end of the first road on the Loop, a two-way road that cuts across the Cove. Visitors can turn left onto Sparks Lane to repeat the tour. Continuing straight ahead on the Cades Cove Loop leads to the picnic tables, Cades Cove Campground and Store, and the exit from Cades Cove.