Home > ultralight bicycle touring > Base Camp Bike Touring: Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Base Camp Bike Touring: Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Another way to explore an area is to set up a base camp and tour an area with day rides.  What could be more laidback and relaxed than to head out each day on a lightly loaded bike and return that afternoon to an already setup tent and well stocked cooler!  Of course “base camp” could be a cabin by the lake, cottage by the beach or a hotel room in a city.  This is a great way to incorporate a little bike exploring into your vacation.  I’m sure many hard core bike-tourists have already clicked away from this post with a harrumph, but for me, finding any way to get out on my bike and explore the world around me is important.  And with my busy and stressful schedule, I want to squeeze all the fun I can out of my off-time.

Cades Cove is a relatively flat valley surrounded by towering mountains.  It sits in the North West corner of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and is stuffed full of both hungry wildlife and plump people.  This past weekend though, not as many people.  Children have begun their school year and most folks are waiting until next weekend (Labor Day) to flood in.  So my wife and I enjoyed a half empty campground and almost traffic free rides around the valley.

A narrow paved road circles the lower rim of this bowl at the foot of the surrounding mountains.  Traffic is funneled through one-way, so once you’ve entered the eleven mile loop, you’re committed unless you want to risk riding against the flow.  The ride itself is not challenging to experienced cyclists, but beginners will find one or two of the climbs to be a workout.  This would be a great place to bring someone new to the sport; overall very easy, but with enough climbing to leave a beginner with a sense of accomplishment. This is a wonderful place to bring younger riders as well to get them accustomed to riding in traffic.  Car traffic is moving very slow and in one direction.

Before the establishment of the park, this was a picturesque mountain farming community and the beauty has been preserved along with many of the homesteads.  Houses, barns, churches, and pastures look as if they are still in use.  Although the mileage is low, there is enough to explore in this beautiful valley to spend a few days.  Be sure to pick up a guide book from the ranger station when you check in.  Also, if this ‘front country’ campground is a bit too public for your taste, Elkmont, 19 miles deeper into the park, may be more secluded and quiet.

Thanks for reading, Jack

  1. August 29, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Grrr… I shouldn’t have looked at that last image as it is 5:00 p.m. and I’m still at the office and hungry! 🙂 I’m glad you had a mostly “traffic free” time. The last time I was there it was 11 miles of bumper-to-bumpter fume spewing cars and trucks. The most wildlife we saw were some contented cows! Looks like you had a great weekend! I’m hoping that the Navigator and I get to head into the park next Sunday. I’m thinking most of the Labor Day crowd will be heading home.

    • The Velo Hobo
      August 30, 2011 at 6:12 am

      On our way home we drove through Elkmont. Beautiful campground right on a nice trout stream. I’ve never stayed there, but that’s where we are staying next time we do Cades Cove. Jack

  2. August 29, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Nice idea! Who cares if someone else doesn’t like the idea, as long as you have fun. You ain’t preachin’ 🙂

    Peace 🙂

    • The Velo Hobo
      August 30, 2011 at 6:14 am

      Thanks Chandra,

      We had a very relaxing couple of days. I think I’ve gained 5 pounds eating smores.

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