KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Visitors of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are now able to enjoy a vehicle-free afternoon at Cades Cove once again.

Vehicle-free Wednesdays at Cades Cove run through Sept. 1 after park staff conducted pilot study last year aiming to reduce congestion and improve the visitor experience in the park.

Parking on site is limited, with parking lots often filling to capacity during the early morning hours. Staff will manage on-site parking to improve visitor safety, minimize impacts to campground operations, and reduce roadside parking on non-durable surfaces.

“We look forward to offering this unique experience again, but we are making some modifications to better protect our roadside infrastructure and camping experience from out-of-bounds parking,” said Superintendent Cash. “I heard from many people who loved having the full day to walk or ride their bikes around the cove. The credit for the idea goes to the local field staff who brought the concept forward in an effort to allow people more time to enjoy the loop road and to reduce congestion.” 

Comments received by the park after last year’s pilot study were mostly positive of the change, according to park officials.

“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,” a release from the park states. “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.”

Information systems to better alert visitors when parking lots are full before they enter the park are being developed, according to a release from the park.

Park staff are also exploring shuttle opportunities to safely bring people to Cades Cove from the Townsend area. Staff plan to have some of these additional options in place later during the summer season.

All bike riders are strongly encouraged to wear helmets and to ride properly fitted and well-maintained bicycles. During summer and fall, bicycles may be rented at the campground store located near the Cades Cove Campground on a first-come, first-served basis. For information call 865-448-9034.

For more information about congestion monitoring in the park, please visit the park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/management/ves.htm.