GATLINBURG, Tenn. - Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are pleased to announce a shuttle opportunity for visitors to access Cades Cove on Vehicle-Free Wednesdays beginning July 7 through September 1. The shuttle service will be provided by Rocky Top Tours from Townsend, TN to Cades Cove between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. each Wednesday.
“Vehicle-free Wednesdays in Cades Cove continues to extremely popular,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Our staff has worked hard to manage safe parking access, including making improvements to a field traditionally used for parking that allowed us to add 85 more spots this year. But, the demand still far exceeds the space and we’re hopeful the shuttle service will allow more people the opportunity to enjoy this unique experience.”
Park staff and volunteers actively manage parking at Cades Cove on Wednesdays to improve visitor safety, prevent disruptions to campground operations, and to reduce damaging roadside parking along Laurel Creek Road. In the 2021 season, parking lots have typically filled by 8:00 a.m. and stayed full until 1:00 p.m., resulting in hundreds of cars being turned away during that time period. Shuttle service will provide an opportunity for visitors to guarantee access during the morning hours. Advanced reservations are encouraged.
Shuttle service may be booked online at www.rockytoptours.com. Tickets for the roundtrip shuttle service, including transport of personal bikes, is provided for a flat rate of $25 per person. Participants who choose not to ride the shuttle are encouraged to plan their visit to Cades Cove in the late afternoons and early evenings to spread use out throughout the day. Vehicle-free Wednesdays began on May 5 and will run through September 1.
Cyclists are reminded to properly prepare for a safe experience. Serious cycling accidents have occurred along the Cades Cove Loop Road. The State of Tennessee requires that children age 16 and under wear a helmet. All riders are strongly encouraged to wear helmets and to ride properly fitted and well-maintained bicycles.
More volunteers are needed to join the team who manage this opportunity every Wednesday. Volunteers help direct visitor flow, provide orientation and safety information, and monitor visitor use. Training and a uniform will be provided to all selected volunteers. If interested, please sign up at https://tinyurl.com/GRSMCCVFD for more information. To be considered for this opportunity, volunteers must be available each Wednesday through September 1.
The park received 47 comments through mail, email, phone, and comment cards regarding the 2020 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, 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. 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. In 2021, the pilot project was extended with a modified parking plan.
The results of the 2021 pilot study will be evaluated by park management to inform future planning. Vehicle access will continue to be provided seven days a week, October through April, and six days a week during the trial period, June through September, providing ample opportunities for park descendants and visitors to enjoy Cades Cove. Mobility-assisted devices are welcomed during vehicle-free days on the Cades Cove Loop Road for individuals with disabilities. If visitors need accommodation to safely access Cades Cove on designated vehicle-free days, they should call 865-448-4105 for more information in advance of their visit.