Cades Cove – Great Smoky Mountains, TN

 

Top of Clingmans Dome

Top of Clingmans Dome

A guy we met at Fort DeSoto in Florida, who was traveling around from his home in Colorado, told us about Cades Cove campground, a secluded area in the Great Smoky Mountains on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. We knew we were heading inland to Nashville to see friends at some point (more on that visit soon) so Cades Cove sounded like a great halfway point on our way out from Charleston. Plus the idea of spending time in real nature after visiting so many cities lately was very appealing.

View of the Great Smokies from Townsend

View of the Great Smokies from Townsend

On our way to the Smokies we stayed just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, at a KOA campground, for the night. It was kinda in the middle of nowhere, and there was a little hot dog restaurant just next door. The back door had a sign on it that said “emplyees only, and Brad Pitt.”

I hope Brad sees this

I hope Brad sees this

After we departed the KOA the next morning, we drove through Tennessee farmland and beautiful green rolling hills with old barns and small towns.  Then we hit Pigeon Forge. What a strange little Vegas-like place that seemingly pops up out of the middle of nowhere. One minute you are on small two-lane roads through mom and pop towns, the next minute you are driving by a ½ size replica of the Titanic and a giant upside-down plantation mansion museum type thing. Welcome to Pigeon Forge. We happened to drive through during Spring Break, so the place was PACKED with tourists. A gas station attendant told Chris that every hotel room in the whole little city/big town was booked solid for the week. There were castles boasting magic shows and an entertainment version of Mt Rushmore with Elvis, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin made out of giant rock. Dollywood is located right outside of Pigeon Forge, too, but we didn’t make it there. We had nature on the brain!

Chris and Zeph tossin' rocks in the creek

Chris and Zeph tossin’ rocks in the creek

Driving up the mountain to the campground was so scenic. There’s a creek that runs all along the road, and everything this time of year is covered in green grass and soft moss.  We realized when we got to the campground that there was no internet signal, so we were really communing with nature up there.  Cades Cove is known for an old pre-Civil War settlement area, and the surrounding park has peresrved many of the houses and churches from back then quite well on the Cades Cove “loop,” an eleven mile drive just outside of the campground. We rode our bikes around part of the loop one evening and saw deer, a coyote or two, plenty of horses and wild turkeys, and countless other birds. We got there just after a big storm so we had to ride our bikes through a few flowing washes. It was quite the adventure. We made sure to make plenty of noise on our ride so the bears would leave us alone (although we were a bit early in the season for bear sightings).

Twilight at Cades Cove campground

Twilight at Cades Cove campground

The campground was primitive in its amenities. It had a dump station and bathrooms with no showers. No hook-ups at the campsites. Most of the sites were uneven gravel but there were some nicely paved handicapped accessible sites that were level. We asked the ranger’s office if we were allowed to stay in one of those and they told us yes, but if someone who needed that site came we would have to move. We took our chances and it worked out.

Our home at Cades Cove

Our home at Cades Cove

The small town of Townsend was just down the hill (about a twenty minute drive) from Cades Cove. We drove down every day or so, so Chris could get some work done on his computer and we could get a bite to eat while he used the wifi. Firefly Café was a tasty local joint with a friendly staff and good food, and free wifi. We went there almost every day for a meal and some time with the interwebs. While Chris worked, Zeph and I ran around in the grassy field to the side of the restaurant and enjoyed the sunshine.

Thomas likes Cades Cove too

Thomas likes Cades Cove too

We did some pretty cool stuff while we were up in the Smokies. We hiked to Clingman’s Dome, a fairly steep paved walkway that crosses the Appalachian Trail (a hiking trail which runs from Maine down through Georgia) and goes up to a viewpoint to look out onto the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the states of Tennessee and North Carolina.

Chris takes a pic of me taking a pic on the walkway up to Clingmans Dome

Chris takes a pic of me taking a pic on the walkway up to Clingmans Dome

We also hiked about two miles up to Laurel Falls. This was a paved path, but pretty narrow and at times with a very steep drop off to one side. Zeph did a great job hiking with us – nothing wears out a toddler like climbing a large hill!

We took a carriage ride through a part of Cades Cove. It was a pretty short ride but fun to be in the middle of the trees and have the horses pull you in the carriage through little streams and stuff. It was pretty cheap, too, so I’d say it was worth it. And Zeph liked checking out the horses.

Checking out Cades Cove from a carriage

Checking out Cades Cove from a carriage

Cades Cove is also the place we became acutely aware that we are beginning to “overshare” with strangers. Fellow campers would walk by our site (we were on the path to the restrooms) and say hello, as is customary in campgrounds (especially in the South and especially in primitive campgrounds like this one), and we would engage them in any form of deeper conversation. “Where you from?” “How big is your 5th wheel?” “How do you like your travel trailer?” …anything to keep them talking to us. Why? Well, after much discussion and a bit of soul searching, Chris and I realized we miss consistent interaction with people like we had at home. We see plenty of people everywhere we go on our travels, but they are all strangers and we are craving meaningful interactions with peeps! We had a good laugh at ourselves when we realized the people we chatted with started squirming and looking for a way to gracefully walk away about ten or so minutes into a conversation. Now I think we might turn it into a game to see who can hold captive audience with neighboring campers the longest!

Maybe we will try chatting up the deer

Maybe we will try chatting up the deer

We were actually a bit sad to leave Cades Cove. There’s nothing like being in nature, away from easy access to modern technology, to slow you down and give you peace. I have a strange feeling we will end up visiting Cades Cove again one day… I am hoping for it!

Chris and Zeph appreciating the view from Laurel Falls

Chris and Zeph appreciating the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Laurel Falls