Cades Cove campground on Memorial Day weekend is definitely not a place to expect peace and tranquility. Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the US by almost double. Cades Cove, with its 11 mile scenic road, is the epicenter of activity for casual tourists wishing to get a small taste of the park and hoping to spot a bear.
The 159 site campground is nearly at the entrance to the loop road, behind the large and popular picnic area and camp store. The entrance to the campground is also home to the bike rental shop. Apparently this area is newly renovated and expanded. I can’t imagine how crowded it was before. Firewood was available at the store, but the hours did not make it very convenient for people who prefer to spend daylight hours exploring the park.
Please note that, like most eastern forested areas, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is asking cooperation in preventing the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer and other invasives that are rapidly destroying our wild lands. Please do not bring firewood into the park unless it has been heat treated. There are many local stores that sell wood with the seal marking it as safe for use in the park. Please help protect our forests.
Sites are good-sized, but close together. There are plenty of trees for shade or hanging a hammock. Brand new tent pads make for perfectly level sleeping. We were lucky to have a pair of Cedar Waxwings that visited our site regularly.
Our biggest complaint besides the crowds this weekend were the bathrooms. We are accustomed to a lack of showers and going into to Townsend to get clean. (We usually go to the Lazy Daze Campground – $5 for a decently clean and hot shower.) Our problem was that, for some reason, the floors in the bathroom were consistently wet and therefore consistently dirty. Not sure whether it was leaky pipes, condensation, or people making a mess, but it was impossible to change pants without dragging clothes through the sludge on the floor. We did notice the bathrooms seemed to be cleaned on a daily basis, but the floors never got dry. Alternative bathrooms could be found in other loops or behind the camp store, but these did not seem much better.
Campsites run $20 per night, which seem to be pretty standard for the national parks. Advanced reservations are highly recommended ASAP. For future trips, we will probably stick with Elkmont or one of the other campgrounds, but this Cades Cove is a great option for those who want to spend time in that region of the park.