I live close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hardly get out there, it seems. This morning I decided it was time for that to change.
I brought my water bottle. Forgot my small backpack and my ball cap. Since I was going alone, I turned toward to Tremont and Cades Cove to look for something short and easy. Say two or three hours into moderately hilly territory. I saw the sign announcing closure of Cades Cove Loop Road until 10 a.m. to traffic. I thought: Sounds about right.
If you’ve been to GSMNP at a time of day when Cades Cove is open to traffic, you know how jam-packed that one-lane loop road gets. I went once and got stuck on the loop and swore I’d never make that mistake again.
Saturday morning still had its share of non-motorized traffic. Platoons of bicyclists poured on to the loop despite the rain: families and couples, solo riders, and groups of men my age riding against the clock and heart disease. Runners and walkers like me filled in the gaps.
Cades Cove is historic. People come to see the old cabins and churches, the grist mill and the wildlife. Everybody wants to see a bear. I wanted solitude.
Solitude in the Cove?
Which begs the question: if you wanted some alone time, why go to Cades Cove? It can be the busiest place in the Park. I stumbled on to the solution at Sparks Lane, which is the short loop of the trek and cuts across the Cove. I could not make the nine miles on foot to complete the loop, not before 10 a.m, so I took the left on Sparks.
I saw a family and a couple on Sparks Lane. That was it. For about 20 minutes, I was alone in the Cove. The valley spread out before me, the mountains stretching along the horizon. I breathed deep and felt lucky to be living in East Tennessee.
I’m tempted to do the Cades Cove Night Hike, which goes until Aug. 16, Mondays and Fridays. If you’ve got a Cades Cove story, send it to me. I enjoy comments and feedback.