The Cades Cove debate: Is it worth it?

Nestled in a serene corner of the Smoky Mountains, Cades Cove is a small getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. An 11-mile loop with pull-offs and hiking trails that offer a mountain filled view from almost every angle, Cades Cove is a welcome retreat to almost every nature lover. However, there are those that don’t think the trip is worth the hype it gets. 

Recently, my friend and I visited Cades Cove for the first time. Our takeaways from the trip were both wildly different from one another even though we experienced the exact same thing. Both of us are adventurous nature lovers who would rather be hiking than anything else, so when we went to Cades Cove, we expected to love it. While my friend thoroughly enjoyed our visit, I was left dissatisfied with the time we spent at the cove.

Sierra Lee, a freshman at Maryville College, says there were “amazing views surrounding us the entire time we were there.” I won’t argue with her on the first look aspect of the cove. The second you drive into the openness of the park, you’re surrounded by mountains entirely. However, driving the entire 11 miles, you’re surrounded by that same view the whole time. Very little changes in the way of scenery the entire trip, even when you stop at a pull-off.

Cades Cove claims to “offer some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park.” However, unless you’re an avid bird watcher or just really love deer, there is a very little chance that you’ll see any other animals unless you go in the morning or evening and even then, it’s entirely based on the luck of your visit. 

On top of only seeing birds or deer, you’ll also have to be on the lookout for the people slamming on their brakes to get a good picture of the deer. Remember those pull-offs I mentioned earlier? Almost no one uses them, and instead, people prefer to stop in the middle of the road to take pictures of whatever it is they’re looking at. A typical trip around the 11-mile loop would take the average driver around an hour, but with the 5 mile-per-hour speed limit and the constant stops, the trip can last up to two or three hours. 

While I may not have enjoyed my visit to Cades Cove, others have greatly enjoyed theirs. Lee has visited the cove on numerous occasions and has done many of the hiking trails that encompass the cove. 

“There are a variety of hiking paths, each with different length. Some are short and some are longer, so you can decide which one you’re feeling for different trips,” said Lee.

Another saving grace of Cades Cove is how accessible it is to all types of people. By having a drivable loop around the scenic views of the Smokies, the Cove allows for anyone, even people with physical disabilities, to enjoy nature in the same way. Most other specialty viewing sites are not viewable directly from the road and require some level of hiking to access them. This means that not everyone will be able to enjoy them. Cades Cove eliminates this problem.

It’s almost a rite of passage at Maryville College that you visit Cades Cove at least once while you’re a student. For some, the experience is entirely pleasurable, and you’ll love every second of your trip. For others, the experience will be lackluster, and you will check the visit off your to-do list. The Cades Cove debate will likely never end and whether you love it or hate it, the cove offers an escape from the stress of college life that we all may need at some point.

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