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Great Smoky Mountains National Park Implements Vehicle-Free Wednesdays in Cades Cove

Do you want to explore Cades Cove without all the congestion? Now you can! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced “Vehicle-Free Wednesdays” back in 2020, but the pilot program is continuing into 2021. This gives cyclists and pedestrians a chance to enjoy time in Cades Cove all to themselves! We’ve gathered all the info we can on Vehicle-Free Wednesdays in Cades Cove.

Continuing Vehicle-Free Days

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials just announced that the pilot program for vehicle-free Wednesdays in Cades Cove will continue through 2021. This program will run from May 5 through September 1, 2021. Around 30,000 pedestrians and cyclists enjoyed the program last year. Park officials say participation was up 25 percent compared to 2019, and there was an average of 1,800 people participating every Wednesday. To help with parking congestion, the national park is planning on changing parking access on Laurel Creek Road.

Shuttle for Vehicle-Free Days

Due to the growing popularity of vehicle-free days, the National Park Service announced a shuttle opportunity for guests starting July 7 and running through September 1, 2021. Although The National Park Service made improvements and added 85 parking spots, the need for more parking in Cades Cove was still present. Park staff and volunteers actively managed parking during vehicle-free Wednesdays, and the lots filled up before 8 am and stayed full until 1 pm. Hundreds of cars have had to be turned away because there weren’t enough parking spots. With this shuttle service, the goal is to prevent people from being turned away. The shuttle will be provided by Rocky Top Tours from Townsend to Cades Cove, and it will run from 8 am to 3 pm on Wednesdays. Tickets for the shuttle are a flat rate of $25, and this includes the transport of personal bikes. Guests can reserve their spots online at Rocky Top Tours’ website.

Behind-the-Scenes Look at Vehicle-Free Wednesdays

The first Vehicle-Free Wednesday was June 17, 2020, and visitors took the opportunity to explore on foot and bike without any car traffic. Visitors weren’t the only ones who loved the lack of car traffic, however. The black bears seemed to enjoy not having any cars in Cades Cove too! Watch the video from WVLT below to see how the black bears reacted to not having any cars around, and get a behind-the-scenes look at Vehicle-Free Wednesdays in Cades Cove!

Vehicle-Free Days in Cades Cove

bikes in Cades CoveCades Cove is closed to vehicle traffic every Wednesday through September 1. This gives cyclists and pedestrians a chance to explore Cades Cove without congested areas interfering with their experiences. The initiative will also allow staff and volunteers to better support visitor programs instead of having to focus on traffic management. Mobility-assisted devices will also be welcomed on the Vehicle-Free Wednesdays in Cades Cove!

Vehicles will still be allowed on the Cades Cove Loop Road the remaining 6 days of the week, and 7 days a week from October through April.

Why Vehicle-Free Days?

This change is part of a pilot study the Great Smoky Mountains National Park proposed because of the congested parking areas and disruption of visitor services associated with the vehicle-free periods that were previously held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Park officials said they’ve received feedback from more than 2,000 people from 37 different states. The results were as follows:

  • 60% were supportive of the trail change
  • 20% were opposed to it
  • 15% wanted closures on Saturday mornings to continue, but most supported the full-day Wednesday closures too

Cades Cove Loop RoadSince the beginning of the vehicle-free periods in Cades Cove in 1995, the park has been collecting data. Usage has increased, with up to 1,100 people a day cycling or walking along the Cades Cove Loop Road during the closure periods. As a result, the park saw more congestion, lack of parking and disruption of picnic and campground areas. That’s because access to those areas had to be blocked to accommodate parking for cyclists and pedestrians, including access for hiking trails and horse concession operations. This led to a line of motorists waiting for the road to open on those mornings.

Vehicle-Free Wednesdays are expected to help solve those issues by providing cyclists and pedestrians a full day to use the road without cars!

About Cades Cove

tree in cades coveCades Cove is the most popular area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! The vehicle-free days now provide the opportunity for more pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy its beauty. Whether you explore Cades Cove by foot, by bike, or by vehicle, one thing is for sure: You’ll fall in love with the area! Cades Cove provides incredible opportunities to take in gorgeous views, get a glimpse into the past by seeing the historic structures, and observe Smoky Mountain wildlife. It’s one of the most popular places to spot a black bear in the park, and you can also see white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and a variety of other animals!

Are you excited to explore Cades Cove on Vehicle-Free Wednesdays? Before your visit, check out our step-by-step guide to the Cades Cove Loop Road!