Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Cades Cove

I don’t know about you, but as we enter the third year of the pandemic, I am tired. Just bone weary and soulfully exhausted. There have been brief moments of respite, where things feel like the are slowly settling into some kind of normal, but then the waves of sickness, hospitalizations and fear roll over my community again.

I miss the quiet moments nourishment that ‘adventuring’ brings. I miss loading up the Jeep and heading out for a weekend with my adventure buddies brings, from a time when we didn’t also check the local hospitals in our destination, to make sure that we would receive adequate care in the case of the unexpected. The heavy blanket of this pandemic continues to slowly suffocate our abilities to recharge.

One of the harder aspects of this has also been watching my friends and family go through these waves; knowing that my friends are also not getting the levels of sustenance that their souls need to thrive, and wishing that I could do more to help.

On the eve of Teri’s birthday, we loaded up our newest Jeep for her inaugural adventure to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our home park never disappoints, and with the unusual weather patterns in our area, we also hoped to glimpse some final bursts of color. As you already know from the headlining image of this post, we definitely found it!

Our trip through the Southeastern corner of the park did not look too promising for fall color; there were deep piles of leaves on each shoulder of the road, most likely removed from the trees in the storms that preceded us by mere days. As we wound our way through the heart of the park, there were brief glimpses of color here and there, but just outside of Cades Cove, we found an absolute treasure trove of color, protected from the storms by the valley. It was absolutely magic, the kind of color that you can hardly capture; the kind of color that we here in the South only imagine to be found in the North.

We arrived in Townsend, TN, and made a beeline for two crucial stops; coffee, and the Jeep Outpost. Despite multiple trips to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I’ve never been able to visit Cades Cove Jeep Outpost, a must-stop shop of all things for Jeep lovers.

Caffeine and Jeep fixes satiated, we headed into the Cades Cove campground to set up the Tiny Camper. Initially, we planned on mom and I sleeping in the camper, and Teri camping in the back of the Jeep. We brought an inflatable mattress that mom had laying around the house, but it was one of the super posh extra thick ones, and once inflated, Teri looked like some cartoon character trapped inside of a fishbowl in the back of the Jeep. Watching her try to climb into her nest was quite comical to say the least. As we all three piled into the Tiny Camper for dinner, we decided that we all three could probably sleep inside the camper, especially since I mostly sleep curled in a tiny ball when it’s cold, and Teri is a half-pint. It worked out pretty well! It probably won’t work in warmer weather, but we’ll cross the bridge when we get to it.

The next morning, Teri’s birthday, dawned beautifully. The weather was clear and mild, so we packed Blue with our essentials for a morning in the Cove, and headed out. The best thing about camping directly in the Cove is easy access to the Cove Loop, and we jumped onto the loop as soon as it opened, making a bee-line for the misty field where we always see horses, turkey and deer.

This tree is one of our favorite things about the Cove, and I’d love to get a variety of photos of it in different seasons and in different weather. Everytime we’ve been to Cades Cove, if you hit the Loop right at sunrise, this field is shrouded in thick mist, but it burns off quickly, slowly revealing the beautiful landscape, transporting you back in time.

As we continued around the loop, we did not see as many deer as we did on our last trip. Sometimes you can drive the loop and see hundreds of wild animals, and other times you will drive the loop and see nothing. We took the opportunity to pull off in most of the parking areas and take photos, and of course I took the opportunity to take photos of Blue. I will say I really loved being able to drive the whole loop in electric mode because it reduced our sound to only the crunch of rocks under the tires.

Our favorite church in Cades Cove is the Primitive Baptist Church, because it’s tucked down a long winding drive off the beaten path, surrounded by the pastoral beauty of the untamed fields and forest that surround it. It’s the perfect place to spend some quiet moments of solitude.

After visiting the Church, we hopped back onto the Loop road, eyeing a line of cars that had congested ahead of us. Usually this indicates wildlife of some kind, so Teri readied her camera as we continue to look around for what might be nearby. Suddenly, a small bear darted up from the left embankment, jumping onto the large tree and starting to climb. Then it jumped down and crossed right in front of the Jeep. I suddenly realized that just in front of the car ahead of us was the mother bear and another cub, hurriedly making their way towards the right side of the road.

As we watched the three bears, another cub raced directly in front of the Jeep, too close to photograph. We all squealed with delight; baby bears! And we were one of the closest to see them! What an amazing birthday gift for Teri – birthday bears!

We actually saw a fifth bear about a quarter of a mile further, a large adult browsing along the treeline, too far for photography, but close enough to enjoy watching. FIVE birthday bears came to visit Teri.

We stopped off at the Visitor Center and spent some time perusing the stickers, magnets and shirts. By the time we exited the shop, most of the morning mists had burned off, revealing the rest of the valley and it’s beautiful fall colors. It was warm enough to flip the top back on the Jeep, letting my passengers hang out of the roof as we continued our tour around the loop.

One of the coolest things about the Cove is that at any moment, you might encounter animals just out and about living their lives. They come and go in the Cove as they please, and usually glance at the traffic with a look of annoyance as we interrupt their quiet lives. These turkeys were a perfect example – they both wanted to cross from right to left, and the first one made it, leaving the second one behind. The second turkey didn’t have enough confidence to walk into traffic (I wouldn’t either) and so he waited until I came to a complete stop before crossing in front of our Jeep (Birthday Bears and Turkeys!)

We’ve adventured to Cades Cove multiple times, and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. There is something absolutely magical about it, and everytime we go, we experience something totally new and different. It’s my favorite place in the park so far to camp, and we’ve been blessed with some of the best photos in the Cove. I hope that you are able to plan a trip there sometime soon, and if you have any questions about it, please let us know, we’re always happy to chat!

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Adventurer / SysAdmin / Photographer

Hello fellow adventurer! I'm Jessica Jones, or just Jess if you'd like. I'm a driver at Jeeptographer.com, primarily with Blue, my 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon . I'm 36 years young, and I enjoy adventuring to beautiful spots with the primary intent of taking photos. I *love* capturing our natural world.

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