Cades Cove is one of the most visited National Park attractions in the US. While most visitors choose to tour “the Cove” by car, it can also be seen by bicycle or on foot. The 11 mile loop is open from sunrise to sunset for cars, pedestrians, and bicycles. However, it is closed to cars on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings before 10:00 a.m. (first weekend in May thru last weekend in September). While much safer without the presence of cars, these mornings can still be congested with cyclists and pedestrians.
An alternative is to bike (or walk) the loop at night during a full moon, which provides a much more intimate look at the Cove without the congestion experienced during the daylight hours.
My wife Penny and I rode the loop on bicycles most recently on the full moon on September 8th, 2014. The moon was rising over the mountains at 9:00 when we pulled into the parking lot where there were several parked cars with bike racks. The temperature was in the 60’s which made for perfect riding conditions. We quickly unloaded and got pedalling. Moonlight in the Cove is much brighter without the intrusion of urban light pollution. Horses, deer, and even a coyote could be seen in the pastures. Churches and houses could also easily be identified without lighting. We encountered several other bikers and one pedestrian, but were mostly by ourselves the entire loop and got back to the car at 10:15.
Touring the Cove at night time is an activity that cannot be fully described without personally experiencing it. Below is all the information you need to do it yourself.
What you’ll need:
Bicycle (unless you choose to walk) – The entire loop is paved, so most any bike will do. The route is somewhat hilly, so a geared bike is recommended. A helmet is also a must. Bicycles are available for sale or rent in Maryville at www.cycologybicycles.com.
Lighting – Bring a high quality light mounted to the handlebars of your bicycle or one that you can carry if you are walking. A headlamp can also be helpful whether you are walking or biking. Also available at www.cycologybicycles.com or www.littlerivertradingco.com.
Full Moon – visit http://www.calendar-365.com/moon/moon-calendar.html for moon phase calendar. The day before or after are also good alternatives. It is also best to wait for a clear night.
The entire loop is well marked. Recreational cyclists typically take about an hour and a half to complete the entire 11 mile loop including a few stops. There are two options to cut the the ride to 4 miles (Hyatt Lane) or 8 miles (Sparks lane) for those seeking less of a challenge.
It is best to show up when the moon is already above the horizon. Parking is located on the left as you enter Cades Cove. There will be a closed gate you can walk around on the left side.
Take your time, be safe, and enjoy. There is truly no other experience quite like it.
Feel free to contact me directly for specific questions.
DISCLAIMER: Touring the Cove at night may not be officially permitted by the National Park Service. It is a long time Blount County tradition that is certainly tolerated. I have never been turned away or heard of anyone that has, but you should check if you want to be sure. Also, as with any outdoor activity, there is an element of danger and you will be sharing this experience with wild critters that occupy the Cove (http://www.cadescove.net/wildlife_cades_cove.html). Normal precautions apply (buddy system, stay on paved road, avoid startling or approaching wildlife, etc.).