The Grans recently put into practice an old saying…”It’s like riding a bike.” We were ready for a short getaway and a chance to be outdoors, so riding a bike was just the ticket! Here are our top reasons to go biking in Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains.
Biking in Cades Cove is a Private Affair on Wednesdays
Are you looking for outdoor activities to do during the current pandemic? Have you tried riding a bike? The famous Cades Cove Loop Road in the Smoky Mountains is now closed to car traffic on Wednesdays from June through September. Therefore, we needed no better reason to rent bikes and head out on a safe excursion in the clean mountain air!
The Riding Conditions, Distance, and Stamina Required are Moderate
Biking in Cades Cove is on the 11-mile loop road, which is one-way, paved, and has several places to stop and enjoy the scenery. There is a general store at the mill at the half-way point where you can buy water and souvenirs. This stop includes restrooms and a water fountain to refill water bottles, as well as a historic grist mill and surrounding buildings.
The 11-mile loop includes several hills, so depending on one’s physical condition, this might be challenging. We are not regular bicyclists, and the inclines were steep at times, so we chose to walk our bikes up a few of the hills. However, we never felt rushed and often chatted with other cyclists along the road.
The 7-speed roadster bikes were adequate, but we noticed experienced cyclists with 10-speeds had an easier time. We even saw a couple of people who brought their electric bicycles, which looked like a good idea for the Grans! There are options for biking shorter distances of 8 miles and 4 miles total, and these short-cuts include one dirt road each.
Renting Bikes in Cades Cove is Easy and Economical
Renting bikes in Cades Cove is a well-organized process. We called the day before to check on the schedule. You need to arrive at the campground store at about 6:30 a.m to get a morning rental. The bike shop opens at 7:30 a.m., and those waiting in line are processed quickly. Rental prices are $7.50 per hour for adults and $4.50 per hour for children.
Many people complete the loop in 2-3 hours. We chose to rent for a maximum of 4 hours, which allows you to keep the bike all day. You can rent bikes continuously throughout the day as they are returned. If you arrive after the first rentals are complete, you might have to wait for a bike.
Seven-speed cruises make up the majority of rental bikes. Bike helmets are available and included in the rental. The State of Tennessee requires anyone under the age of 16 to wear a helmet. A few steep inclines make wearing a helmet a good idea, as accidents do happen. The absence of car traffic on Wednesdays is a definite factor for novices like us. We felt safe, comfortable, and not rushed on our excursion.
Bike Rentals in Cades Cove Are Easy to Find
We stayed in Townsend, Tennessee, which is a ten-minute drive to the entrance of the Smoky Mountain National Park at Cades Cove. From Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, the drive is about an hour. Once in the park, you follow signs to the campground and picnic areas.
To rent bikes in Cades Cove, just follow the signs to the campground store. Park in the parking lot in front of the store if you arrive early enough. Overflow parking is in the picnic area of the campground adjacent to the store.
Buildings with a Rich History in Cades Cove
The area’s history is in plain view in Cades Cove, with many original buildings remaining open to the public along the Loop Road. Cyclists enjoy the breaks along the 11-mile loop to view the outdoor museums.
Three churches, built in the 1830s, served the community during the Civil War, with surprising divided loyalties among them. However, the Primitive Baptist Church supported the Union cause, which was a dangerous position during that time.
Several cabins, built in the mid-1800s, give a glimpse into the lives of the early settlers.
The Elijah Oliver Cabin is the most remote home in the park, located a half-mile from the main road. It is famous for wildlife in the area.
A nice half-way stop is the John Cable Grist Mill and visitor center. The original grist mill, built in the early 1870s, served the 700 residents at that time.
The proprietor was named John Cable, a farmer by trade, and he was often in the fields when customers brought their grain. They could ring a large bell to call Mr. Cable in from farming for service at the mill.
View Wildlife Along the Cades Cove Loop Road
The best time to view wildlife in the park is at dawn or dusk; however, we saw black bear cubs, wild turkeys, and deer on our ride during the mid-morning hours. Other cyclists and visitors were stopped along the road, indicating it was an excellent place to see this little guy foraging for blackberries.
You might even see horses who have a beautiful mountain valley to graze, run, and romp in freely.
Enjoy the Peaceful Side of the Smoky Mountains
Townsend, Tennessee, is conveniently nestled in the valley just three miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The locals call the quaint mountain town, the “peaceful side” of the Smokies.
There are walking and bike paths along the main road used each evening by locals and visitors. You can spend time outdoors at the swinging bridge over the river or plan a family wedding at a charming wedding chapel.
Things to do in Townsend
The Cherokee named the City of Townsend “Tuckaleechee Cove,” meaning “peaceful valley.”
The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center has plenty of indoor and outdoor exhibits to learn more about the history of the area.
Driving along the Lamar Alexander Parkway, you’ll see numerous community art galleries, photography shops, a Locomotive Museum, and more. There’s even a barn quilt in view on the main highway.
The Little River runs through Townsend, and as a result, you have options of exploring the scenery or taking part in the tubing. Several tube rental companies are based in Townsend, so you’re sure to find an adventure to suit your desire. You can have a gentle floating experience, good for children, or select more challenging rapids upstream.
The Special People’s Park, just off East Lamar Alexander Parkway, provides a perfect place for individuals with special needs to get close to and enjoy the river. ADA-certified grills and handicap-accessible tables provide for the perfect picnic.
Grans on the Go Smoky Mountains Packing List
Where to Stay in Townsend
We stayed at the Highland Manor Inn in Townsend and enjoyed the staff’s friendliness, the family atmosphere, and the cleanliness of the rooms. Because of the pandemic, we chose one room with a full kitchen to cook some of our meals inside. Our other room was furnished with a refrigerator and microwave. During our stay, we also ordered take-out from excellent local restaurants.