The most visited National Park in the United States, Great Smoky Mountains National Park takes our breath away each time we visit. In both Tennessee and North Carolina, there's something for everyone with 400 miles of roads, various trails, rivers and streams, waterfalls, diverse wildlife including a large black bear population, camping, hiking, and historic settlements. Accommodations, restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions are nearby. All roads are open to biking, and while the steep ride and narrow roads are not recommended for the recreational biker there are, however, several areas where casual recreational biking is possible including Cades Cove, Cataloochee Valley, and Tremont (Middle Prong Road). There are no mountain biking trails in the park. Also visit nearby Townsend and the pleasant, paved Townsend Historical Trail. (Detailed map and photos below.)
Great Smoky Mountains
Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina (See map)
Surface: Paved and unpaved roads
Support and Advocacy:
Friends of the Smokies
Cades Cove Bikes (park concessionaire)
Cades Cove in the northwest portion of the Park in Tennessee is one of the most popular destinations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Traffic jams are common as people stop to admire the scenery and watch the wildlife including black bear and deer. Biking is best from May 5 to September 1 when the road is closed to auto traffic all day on Wednesdays - this is a pilot program, check the Park website for future status. The Cove was settled in the 1800's and dismantled in the 1930's on creation of the National Park. (Updated: July 2021)
The 11-mile loop includes churches, homes, and other 18th and 19th century buildings with a self-guided tour booklet available. Some of the hills are quite steep, we admit to walking part of the way. Parking is available at the start of the loop, at the concession area, and at several spots along the loop.(Sept. 2018) (See map)
Take a shortcut at Sparks Lane for a 4-mile loop, or at Hyatt Lane for an 8-mile loop. On the Sparks Lane shortcut, a bridge crossing the stream is often under water.
Cataloochee consists of three valleys in the southeast area of the Park in North Carolina, a remote area in the Balsam Mountain range. Originally a Cherokee hunting ground, settlers moved in during the 1800's and the settlement grew to became one of the largest in the area (1,200 inhabitants), known for its farms and orchards. The community was dissolved upon creation of the National Park in the 1930's.(Sept. 2013)
The valley is relatively flat for easy biking, through the road into the valley is narrow and twisty with no guard rails. Today, as in Cades Cove, a few historical buildings exist with exhibits that provide a glimpse of life in the valley. Very scenic, with a variety of wildlife including elk. After nearing extinction, elk were reintroduced into the Park in 2001.
Tremont Institute is an outdoors and wildlife learning center. Tremont Road past the institute goes up the mountain along the Middle Prong Little River and is one of the most scenic areas in the Smokies. (Sept. 2018)
The pavement ends past the Institute, and the 3-mile ride gets steeper at the top - we did walk part of the way. Many places to stop along the way and enjoy the view (and sound) of the stream.
The road ends at the top of the mountain, and a bridge crosses the river to several hiking trails - no bikes.. The hike along the Middle Prong Trail is well worth it, with scenic waterfalls and cascades.
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