If you are a yearly visitor to the Smokies, you probably spend part of one of your days in idyllic Cades Cove. If you want to change up your trip the next time you head around the loop, try taking Rich Mountain Road. This rugged journey, that starts almost halfway around the Cades Cove Loop Road, is not for everyone but it does offer a different view of the mountains and the valley that is Townsend, TN. The road is gravel and dirt from start to finish but on a clear day, the views are worth it.
While there is only one way into Cades Cove, there are three ways out. Either you can follow Cades Cove Loop road out of Cades Cove, or you can take Rich Mountain Road or Parsons Branch Road. Rich Mountain Road is the more popular of the two alternative routes as it drops you out in Townsend. If you have gotten one of the self-guided tour maps you will see the turn off for Rich Mountain Road across from the Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church. You will turn to the right before you get to the church and follow the road out of Cades Cove.
The road you find yourself on is gravel and dirt the whole way. Make sure that you are prepared for this because once you start down the road, you will not be able to turn around. Rich Mountain Road is a one way road that allows you to leave Cades Cove and take an alternate route to Townsend. During the winter, this road is closed due to bad road conditions. Keep that in mind when you decide to take this alternate route. Also remember that the road is closed to RVs and campers. In fact anything bigger than a truck will make some of the turns a little difficult to simply impossible.
But though the road is twisting and mountainous, you get to see some amazing scenery as you climb your way out of Cades Cove. One of the highlights is always the view of the Primitive Baptist Church. The setting is incredible and it is perfectly set against the mountainside for a vacation photograph that you will love to see and take home. Also, as you creep along the mountain you can watch wildlife that is not as viewed nearly as often as the wildlife in Cades Cove proper. The animals tend to climb the mountains to get away from the tourist traffic and the possibility to see not only bears but smaller mammals is greater here. Along the way, you will come across small waterfalls and some old growth forest along the ridge lines as well.
All in all, you need to add Rich Mountain Road to your bucket list. Make sure at one point while you are on vacation in the Smoky Mountains that you make the trip from Cades Cove down Rich Mountain Road. Follow this gravel road from the middle of Cades Cove and see a different side of the Smokies as you work your way to the “Peaceful Side” of the Smokies: Townsend, TN.