KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Great Smoky Mountains National Park will make vehicle-free Wednesdays a permanent summer fixture at Cades Cove following a 2020 pilot program to test the concept.
Beginning May 4 through September 28 in 2022, no vehicles will be allowed on Cades Cove Loop Road on Wednesdays.
According to park officials, visitor feedback in response to the vehicle-free pilot was largely positive. In 2021, 84% of visitors provided supportive comments and 42% of commenters requested additional vehicle-free access opportunities on the Cades Cove Loop Road.
An average of 1,296 visitors participated each Wednesday from May 5 through Sept. 1, 2021, according to GSMNP. Each day around 44% of those visitors walked and 56% cycled. Park officials say the full-day approach, along with on-site parking management, allowed better access and more opportunities for visitors throughout the day.
Additionally, officials said parking was available 82% of the time, however, during the morning, parking lots were consistently full.
Throughout the past 40 years, park managers implemented several vehicle-free opportunities for bicyclists and pedestrians in Cades Cove. Before 2020, the road was closed to vehicles on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10:00 a.m. from May through September. However, officials found that this caused traffic leading to Cades Cove to become gridlocked by a line of motorists waiting for the road to open to vehicles at 10:00 a.m.
For Cades Cove Vehicle-Free Days, visitors are encouraged to come in the afternoon and evening hours for a better chance of securing a parking space. When there is no parking available, park staff will notify visitors with signage along Laurel Creek Road. To find out more about vehicle-free days, click here.