So Cades Cove is one of the most popular areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
And one way to experience Cades Cove is by walking the Cades Cove loop road! At least part of it. Walking the whole thing might be a bit much, as it’ll end up being at least 11 miles of walking, possibly up to a couple extra miles if you walk to a few extra things here and there that’s along the way.
One of the options for walking Cades Cove is by making it a smaller loop. And you can make it a smaller loop by looping around at Sparks Lane, instead of walking the entirety of the Cades Cove Loop Road.
Walking Cades Cove on a car-free day
If you want to walk Cades Cove, it would be best to plan for it by walking on a day that’s designated as car-free hours or car-free days if you can.
While it’s possible to walk the Cades Cove Loop Road at any time that the road is open, you may not want to be constantly walking alongside cars and the car exhaust that goes with it!
In 2020, as a “trial” there were full days in which cars were not allowed on the Cades Cove Loop Road. (In previous years, there were car-free mornings, with afternoons open to cars.)
For your 2021 visit, check in with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website as your travel date gets closer.
The 4+ mile loop to walk in Cades Cove
Your Cades Cove walking route can go something like:
- Start the walk
- John Oliver cabin
- Sparks Lane
- Back to the start
Explore the map.
The John Oliver Cabin isn’t directly on this loop, but it’s pretty close. It’s just beyond the turnoff onto Sparks Lane, so you’ll backtrack a bit to get back to Sparks Lane. If you have an interest in seeing historic cabins in the Smoky Mountains then this cabin may be worth a visit.
Adding this cabin to your loop walk will add maybe a little less than a mile to your walk.
When you arrive in Cades Cove, you can find a paper map for taking right outside the Cades Cove campground store and gift shop.
The flooded road on Sparks Lane
It was shortly after starting to walk on Sparks Lane that I encountered a flooded road. This water was pretty deep!
And well, if you’re a local and you’ve got extra pairs of shoes back home, you probably won’t be bothered if your shoes get completely soaked.
Knee deep water!
But if you’re just visiting and you don’t really have an extra pair of shoes to spare… well, you might just want to take off your shoes and walk across!
Side note! See the more of the Smoky Mountains:
- Best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains
- Best hikes with VIEWS in the Smoky Mountains
- Best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains
- Driving the scenic route from Gatlinburg to Clingman's Dome
- Driving the slow scenic route from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove
- The big list of things to do in the Smoky Mountains
A little bit more of what it’s like to walk the Sparks Lane loop in Cades Cove!
I did this walk at the end of September 2020.
There is a parking lot at the start of the Cades Cove Loop Road, and this will be the best spot to park.
And then, you can start the walk!
👆 Don’t underestimate walking the loop either! Make sure you bring a daypack with water and snacks! You can load up on snacks at the Cades Cove campground store before your walk if you need to!
👆 I didn’t see any bears on my sunset walk in Cades Cove. But on another day in Cades Cove I did see a bear! It seems like seeing bears in Cades Cove is not all that unusual. If you do see wildlife though, as the sign says, for your own safety: “Stay back 50 yards. You can be injured or killed!”
Walking the Sparks Lane loop, there were actually 2 sections of flooded roads when I went.
The first flooded road wasn’t as bad as the flooded road on Sparks Lane. I had on waterproof hiking boots and the water was shallow enough so I was able to walk through slowly and keep my feet dry.
And then after walking about 30 minutes from the start of the loop road, you’ll come across a sign that will direct you to Sparks Lane. And if you don’t want to go to the John Oliver Cabin, then you can follow the sign and turn left.
But if you do want to walk to the John Oliver Cabin, then you’ll keep walking straight. And then you’ll see a sign for the cabin too. And then from there, you can basically make a loop around the cabin to return back to the main road. (It’s easy enough to figure out once you’re there.)
See more about walking this part of Cades Cove Loop Road: Walking to John Oliver Cabin
And then you’ll do a bit of backtracking to then continue on to start walking on Sparks Lane!
And then once you reach the other end of Sparks Lane, you’ll complete your loop!
And that’s a bit about walking Cades Cove!
For biking in Cades Cove, see about biking the Cades Cove Loop Road.
For hiking in Cades Cove, see about the famous Cades Cove waterfall hike. (You’ll want to drive here!)
For camping in Cades Cove, see about the Cades Cove Campground.
Also see things to do along the way as you drive from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove. This includes another waterfall hike that you’ll pass!
There’s also the big list of things to do in the Smoky Mountains!
HAPPY WALKING CADES COVE AND SPARKS LANE!
Best shoes for hiking in the Smoky MountainsYou will want good shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains.
In general, the best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains will be hiking boots (more ideal) or trail running shoes (more versatile for everyday activities compared to hiking boots but still will give you advantages compared to regular shoes).
I liked wearing my hiking boots for the thicker soles (good on rocky trails) and the waterproof (water resistant) nature of them.
They were especially helpful on rainy day hikes to keep my shoes (and socks!) dry! They are also better to be walking on mud compared to regular shoes.
On rougher terrain (like the trails that are a bit rougher with more rocks), hiking boots are more ideal so you won't feel it on the bottoms of your feet as much.
If you want shoes that can work out better as everyday "out and about" kind of shoes, then you might like trail running shoes better! Trail running shoes are a little more durable than regular shoes, so they can also work out as good hiking shoes. Trail running shoes are a bit lighter weight and less bulky compared to hiking boots.
Shoe fit is very important for your feet! Be sure to break in your new shoes by walking around the neighborhood and/or at the grocery store before you go on your "big hike" in the Smoky Mountains!