We’ve come to enjoy cycling as a family, and one reason we chose to camp at Cades Cove was so that we could ride the eleven-mile paved Cades Cove Loop Road without traffic. The loop road is closed to motorists Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10:00 a.m. those during the tourist season, May through September. We were lucky: the weather allowed us to do the ride both car-free mornings!
We brought our own bikes, but the Cades Cove Trading Company runs a bike rental shop that opens early on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. The cost was $7.50/hour for adults and $4.50/hour for kids, and helmets are included. They have mostly cruiser-style bikes and some hybrids, and they were all brand new when we were there! You can read more about their bike selection here. Based on my own kids’ bike sizes, I’d say if your kid is 4 or older and can ride on their own, you could rent a bike here that fits them.
Although we didn’t rent from them, I can tell you the employees were very nice. They allowed us to use their good tire pump to top off our tires after I had broken my own.
Since Wednesday was our first morning at the campground, it took us longer than expected to get on the road – we had to make sure our helmets were properly adjusted, fill everyone’s water bottles, pack our saddlebags with a pump, CO2 inflator, tools, snacks, etc. It was well after 9:00 a.m. when we started, but we got almost all the way around the loop without being passed by cars because the speed limit is 20 mph and rangers drive through first, at or under the speed limit.
Signs direct cyclists and pedestrians to a shortcut to enter the loop road, and it’s a rocky dirt path up a steep hill. On car-free mornings, it might be easier to ride on the road rather than take the shortcut.
Once you’re on the loop road, you’ll see horses grazing, beautiful views of fields and the surrounding mountains, and lots of churches and houses from the 1800s. You can tour the houses; some are right on the loop road, and others are a short hike. Make sure to park your bike by the road or in the parking lots; we were scolded for walking our bikes on the path to one house.
I’ll be honest: the Wednesday ride was difficult for us. There were some steep climbs that left our hearts pounding and legs screaming, and we were really hot and drank every ounce of the water we brought. We didn’t check our tire pressure before setting off, and found out later that almost all of them were under their minimum recommended pressure. Oops! Saturday’s ride was much better.
There are a couple of shortcuts across the loop on dirt roads if 11 miles is too far. The loop is one-way only, and it is strictly enforced, so there’s no turning back.
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The hills seemed particularly difficult because I was towing Selah on her own bike using our FollowMe Tandem connector. She can ride on her own, but climbing hills is tough for her and she doesn’t like going downhill fast. I love that I can hook up her bike when she needs help and release her when she doesn’t.
Andy gave Josh a boost up the large hills using the BikeToad bungee connector. This kind of ride was perfect for that; we would not use it in traffic.
We ran into many other like-minded families biking the loop road – it was a gearhead’s paradise! We exchanged mini-reviews of our bike gear after catching our breath atop the hills, and many of us took notes. Some of the “biking with kids” gear we saw making it all the way around the loop were the Weehoo single AND double, the WeeRide Kangaroo seat (which we loved when Selah was a toddler), the iBert, and a few trailers. RESPECT! What a workout!
The Abrams Falls trailhead and Cades Cove Visitor Center are about halfway around the loop. Both are worth a stop at some point – our family definitely did not have the stamina for both the bike ride and the hike on the same day!
At the Visitor Center there are bathrooms, a souvenir shop, a working grist mill (you can buy bags of flour!), a couple barns, a wild boar trap, and some houses.
As you make your way around the loop, you are sure to see some wildlife! We saw a total of six bears, a coyote and too many deer to count during our rides. It is absolutely imperative that you keep your children close to you and teach them how to behave around wildlife! A huge, beautiful bear emerged from the forest and walked very close to us when we were exploring a barn.
My hands were shaking and I couldn’t figure out my camera quickly enough, but that dark spot in the photo here is a mama bear and two cubs!
When we finally finished the loop road ride, we were drenched in sweat and famished – but very proud of ourselves! We ate ice cream cones at the Cades Cove Trading Company, and began our quest to find a shower.
I would love to answer any questions you have, or hear about your own adventures on the Cades Cove Loop Road!
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