Date Explored: October 11, 2012
Weather: 60°, showers and cloudy
GPS: 35.608237, -83.826134
We had never traveled down these roads before and wanted to experience them ourselves. Having explored Parsons Branch Road earlier in the week, on this day we decided to return to Cades Cove and head out via Rich Mountain Road.
It was raining and misty in the cove, which offered some great views of the mist and clouds winding around the mountain peaks. Considering the slow but steady rain, we asked a park ranger about how “primitive” Rich Mountain Road was. After our Parsons Branch experience, we wanted to make sure we could make it through Rich Mountain.
The ranger said it shouldn’t be a problem and that it was a much better road than Parsons Branch. We were excited to hear this, and we took off in our SUV.
The one-way gravel road winds up for several miles through Rich Mountain Gap. On the way up, we saw a great overlook (the only one) of Cades Cove and its Primitive Baptist Church. We snapped some photos and moved on.
For a few minutes, as we neared the top, we were driving through fog or low-level clouds. After a mile or two, the road began to descend. The rain had formed long-running streams on the road, so there were some minor washouts and potholes, but we managed just fine. In fact, just about any typical mid-sized sedan would have had no trouble navigating the road.
As we approached the national park boundary, we noticed an abandoned building that was just on the other side of the line. It was for sale, but based on its looks I doubt anyone would be interested in buying it.
As the road exited the park, the road became paved and very curvy. Occasionally, we would see a private drive or a home, but it seemed like we were far from civilization. After approximately 15 minutes, we came to an intersection and noticed that the road was now named “Old Cades Cove Road.”
Rich Mountain Road was a neat experience and a fun drive. We didn’t see any significant wildlife, but the drive offered another perspective of the park that we hadn’t seen before.
The road would make a great bike ride for someone to take. We didn’t see any other cars in front of us or behind us the entire time, although that could have been because of the poor weather conditions. Regardless, the trip was enjoyable.