#RV Journal: Cades Cove Campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location, location, location. That’s why Cade’s Cove Campground is so popular. There are few amenities – bear-proof dumpsters, a cold-water-only bath house – let’s not really call it a bath house; it has no shower facilities. The C-loop also has a nice dump station. There is also a campground store, but this appears to be more of a snack and souvenir shop than a place where you can get the groceries you need for camping, so make sure you are well-supplied before you come. They do sell approved firewood – all firewood brought into the park must be certified, to reduce the likelihood of you bringing a tree infestation or disease into the park.

But it’s the location…

Cade's Cove

Cade’s Cove

Location / Name: Cade’s Cove Campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Date: 03/21/2016 – 03/22/2016

Site: Site #B27, back-in. Tent pad. Picnic table and fire ring.  No other amenities at site. No real privacy between sites, but reasonably roomy. Definitely not a “parking lot”.

Campsite B27 at Cade's Cove Campground

Campsite B27 at Cade’s Cove Campground

Access: Good but winding, steep road for access to the campground in the park. The campground roads are somewhat narrow; they are one-way except for the perimeter road. There are several pull-thru sites, but most are back-in. No trees or other low clearance problems; large motorhomes were at the campground.

Electric:  None except for 5-amp at a few of the Accessible sites if it could be demonstrated that the power was medically necessary.

Water: None at the sites. Carry your jugs to the bath house, or fill up at the dump station.

Bathhouse: Basic but clean. Just a toilet in a stall and 2 or 3 cold-water sinks in a vanity-style top. There is an electrical outlet at the sinks, and a blow-dryer for your hands. There is also the gray-water station attached to the bathhouse.

Sewer: None at the sites. A triple-station dump station in the C-loop. The loop was closed for camping, but the dump stations were accessible. There is both potable and rinse water available. The dump valves themselves were well-designed, with no curbs to run your hose up and over, and with a decent slope down to the low-fitting valve from the road. While I didn’t use it, it seemed to be one of the better-designed dump stations I’ve run across. Expected access is on the driver’s side.

Cell Phone Service/Wifi: None. If you need to stay in communication bring your satellite phone.

Trash disposal: A couple of bear-proof dumpsters per row of campsites. Reasonably located.

Part of Loop B, Cade's Cove Campground

Part of Loop B, Cade’s Cove Campground

Cost: $17 except during peak months, when the sites are $20. With my federal Senior Pass, it was $8.50 per night. Unfortunately the office was closed, and I didn’t have correct change, so I put a $20 bill in the envelope for my $17 2-night stay.

Reservations: Sites in Cade’s Cove Campground can be reserved from May 15 thru Oct 31. Outside of that window only parts of the campground may be open, and all available sites are walk-up only, as was the case when I was there. During the walk-up season only part of the campground may be open; while I was there only 45 of the campground’s 160 sites were open. You might want to get there early if you are going during the walk-up season. I arrived around noon and there were only 3 or 4 sites left available (one of the reasons I didn’t check for dead trees before setting up. People kept driving through the open part of the campground until after sunset hoping to find an available site. During walk-up season, the campground registration office may not be staffed; you grab an envelop at the door, go pick a site, fill out the information on the envelope and put your payment in that envelope (cash or check, clearly no credit cards for this payment method), and drop the envelope in the slot back at the office. There is a tear-off stub to put on the site number post to show that it is occupied. It would be nice if you wrote in bold letters the dates the site will be occupied so folks driving by will know whether the site is really occupied or if instead the previous occupant just forgot to remove the stub before leaving.

General description of campground: The campground itself is nice. There is not any privacy between sites, but the sites are reasonably large, most with a driveway, picnic table, fire pit, and tent pad. Some sites are tent-only, some sites are pull-through, but most are back-in. The roads

Big Rig

Big Rig at Cade’s Cove Campground

are fairly narrow, and there are concrete curbs on the sides and back of the driveway, so these make backing in a bit of a challenge; easily doable with my little 16′ T@b, but also doable for some very large rigs – apparently the drivers have some pretty decent backing skills, and a helper is handy at this campground. There are many large trees throughout the campground (more on that later), providing shade in the hot summer, and with the leaves off, providing enough sunshine that I could use my solar panel to keep the battery charged for the little bit of electricity I needed (only a few hours of refrigerator operation in the two days I was there.

The campgrounds are undergoing some needed refurbishing of the driveways. The one I was on was wrinkled and rough asphalt, and some were gravel-only. The C loop, which was closed when I was there in late March, had new driveways in all sites, making access and leveling easier. I think within the next couple of weeks they are going to open the C loop and then close the B loop, where I stayed in site B27, so they can refurbish the B loop as well.

Refurbished Driveway in C-loop

Refurbished Driveway in C-loop

General description of park/area: So the campground itself is decent, but the location is fantastic. Driving the loop is a must-do if you’ve never done it before, but depending on time of year (most of the time) it can be quite busy. There are many great hikes right out of Cade’s Cove, some near the campground, and also an abundance of hikes, views, and scenic drives close by. I hiked from the Laurel Creek Road (the road into Cade’s Cove) on the Schoolhouse Gap Trail to Schoolhouse Gap and back, but you can have your choice. If you want higher elevations, Anthony Creek Trail out of the back of the nearby picnic area joins other trails to get to the Appalachian Trail on the mountains above the Cove. The Chestnut Top Trail accessible at the Townsend/Cade’s Cove wye is known for great wildflowers, especially in the first half-mile.

Deer in Cade's Cove

Deer in Cade’s Cove

Supplies/Food: Campground store has firewood, ice, lots of souvenirs, and a selection of snacks. It is NOT a grocery store. You need to be supplied up when you arrive. There is a nice IGA grocery store in Townsend, about 10 or 12 miles away. That distance can take quite some time, depending on traffic.

The rest of the story: The office was closed when I checked in; it was closed the next morning when I went by, and was also closed when I went by to see why they were closing my site. I mentioned above that the sites were among larger trees. There was a dead pine next to my site, leaning toward the site. I didn’t notice it when I set up (Excuse: it was partially hidden by another large tree. Real reason: Few campsites available so I was mostly looking for an available site, and didn’t inspect the site too closely before backing in.) Park staff came by the campsite on Monday afternoon and looked at the tree, but didn’t say anything to me. I looked at the tree, and registered some concern, but since the tree had clearly been dead for quite some time, I figured it was unlikely that it would pick the next two days to fall. The next morning I headed out around 9 AM for a hike of Schoolhouse Gap Trail, and didn’t return until 2 PM. When I

Rue Anemone

Rue Anemone on Chestnut Top Trail

returned there were orange cones at the end of the driveway, and a note had been stuck in the door (at noon, according to the note) saying the campsite was being closed, and I needed to move to another site if I was staying the night. What! 2 PM, I didn’t want to move, and since the campground was full, couldn’t anyway. If I moved, it would be to go home, which I didn’t want to do. Since the office was closed, how was I going to find out what was going on? I walked down to the ranger houses below the registration office, and saw a sign on a building that said “Visitor Services.” Except that there were orange cones blocking the walkway to the door. There was a side door, so I knocked on it and waited. And waited. No one came. Then a ranger car pulled up and I accosted the ranger, who turned out to be quite helpful. He didn’t know anything about the site closure, but tried to radio (walkie-talkie) the person who would know. No answer. We walked to the campground office and knocked. No answer. We went back to the “Visitor Services” office and went in (past the orange cones). He got on the radio there and managed to track down the person in charge, who explained about the tree. Me: “It’s been dead for quite some time, is it coming down now?” Well, he couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t, so if there was another site available, I needed to move. But if there wasn’t another site, they weren’t going to make me leave, but I had to assume responsibility in case the tree did come down.

Acceptible. Except I didn’t know about the wind storm coming through that night. After leaving the ranger, I headed back to the campground, circled around again to make sure no sites were available (they weren’t) and then stopped to make a latte and take a rest. After the latte, I drove a partial loop of the Cove, chatted with a couple of folks (one born in the Cove; one visiting from Florida) and made supper. Took in my solar setup at sunset to be ready to move tomorrow.  I

Bloodroot on Chestnut Top Trail

Bloodroot on Chestnut Top Trail

read a while, and then planned on watching a movie. But at 8:30, I layed down and quickly fell asleep, noting that the wind had picked up a bit. I woke up and heard the wind howling. Looked at my phone/clock (clock only, since no phone service) – it was 12:30 AM. Laid there a while listening to the wind howl. Prayed a bit. The wind continued to howl. I figured if the tree was coming down, this wind might do it. Rolled over and tried to go to sleep, but the wind just got stronger. So I got up, figured that I could work my way toward getting ready to leave, and decide later. First 1:30 AM bacon-and-eggs that I’ve had in a while. Sponge-bathed and washed my hair. Went for a walk. Packed some stuff away. It is now 3 AM, and the wind is continuing to howl. No trees down yet…

After a bit the wind seemed to die down a little, so I laid back down to see if I could sleep. I slept fitfully, as the wind continue to blow, even shaking the trailer from time to time. I eventually got back to sleep, and woke up between 6:30 and 7 AM. Since I already had breakfast (even though it was a few hours back) I just made some coffee and ate a container of yogurt. Broke camp, hooked up the trailer, and headed out by about 8:15. As I was driving by the registration office, a ranger flagged me down. He asked if by any chance I had replaced the cones in the site driveway, which I had, and we chatted about the site / tree / wind for a bit, leaving on friendly terms. In spite of the discomfiture about the site closing, and the difficulty contacting someone about it, I left with a good feeling about the campground and the park staff.

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