Published February 24, 2021
Cades Cove, Tennessee – If you are planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s Cades Cove this summer, be ready to hike or bicycle only in the middle of the week, as the Cades Cove Loop is closed to vehicle traffic every Wednesday from May 5th through September 1st.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have extended the vehicle-free Wednesdays pilot project on Cades Cove Loop Road for the Summer of 2021.
According to Park managers, this weekly, full-day opportunity was introduced in 2020 as an effort to improve the visitor experience and to reduce congestion associated with vehicle-free mornings that were previously offered until 10:00 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
According to a release from the park, “The park began collecting data on visitor use during vehicle-free time periods in 1995. Over the last 25 years, use continued to increase with up to 1,100 people a day cycling or walking along the roadway during the 3-hour closure time period.”
The increased use presented the park with several challenges including congestion, lack of parking, and disruption in campground and picnic area operations.
During the previous morning closures, access to the campground, picnic area, horse concession operation, campground store, and hiking/equestrian trails was blocked to accommodate parking for the biking/pedestrian opportunity on the Loop Road.
As a result, traffic leading to the Cades Cove area was often gridlocked by a line of motorists waiting for the Loop Road to open at 10:00 a.m.
Prior to the announcement of the plans for the 2020 Summer Season, the park invited people to comment on the proposed change.
The park received 47 comments through mail, email, phone, and comment cards regarding the vehicle-free day pilot project.
More than 60% of these comments were extremely positive.
However, some campers were still impacted by early morning parking congestion and some visitors were disappointed by the lack of vehicle access on Wednesdays.
Overall, it was found that the full-day opportunity provided a more enjoyable and safe experience for the nearly 30,000 bicyclists and pedestrians who participated in the vehicle-free day opportunities, according to Park Managers.
During the 2020 season, 25% more pedestrians and cyclists participated in vehicle-free access periods per week as compared to the 2019 season, with an average of 1,800 participants each Wednesday.
Park managers, however, state they are still concerned about parking congestion and will monitor use levels, parking availability, visitor experience, and congestion throughout the second year of the pilot project.
According to data collected in 2020, parking lots were full during 30% of the observation period and roadside shoulders along Laurel Creek Road were utilized for parking during 60% of the observation period.
Staff and volunteers will implement some changes in parking access for the 2021 season to ease pressure on campground and picnic area parking lots and to prevent roadside parking along Laurel Creek Road.
According to the park, roadside parking damages shoulders and creates unsafe conditions for visitors walking from their car to their destination.
For more information about congestion monitoring in the park, please visit the park’s website.