The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers over 800 miles of hiking trails and horseback riding trails to more than 11 million visitors every year.
Although there are several small riding stables around the park, Cades Cove Riding Stable is the only one stable that offers both trail rides and carriage rides.
According to the barn’s manager, Ed Kirkland, the stable has a long history with this area of the park.
“We’ve been in this area for quite a while,” he said. “Probably about 40 years.”
For visitors wanting to ride a horse, the stable offers an hour ride through a section of Cades Cove. The horses are trained to walk and occasionally trot on the trails, making them ideal for inexperienced riders.
“They walk in a line,” said Kirkland. “Walk only.”
The horses are trained for the trails considerably quickly.
“They get about 50 hours (of training),” he said.
The trail covers various terrain, including crossing a stream and riding up and down hills.
Depending on the weather, the trail can be fairly muddy. Luckily, the horses are sure-footed and will not slip easily.
With roughly two bears per square mile, sometimes a bear is encountered on the trail. According to Kirkland, usually there is no reason to be concerned.
“It just depends on the bear,” he said. “Most of the time we just walk right past them.”
The only major bear incident happened when a bear tried to rush a group ride – only one horse was scratched. After euthanization, the bear was found to have a brain tumor triggering the bear to be violent.
Trail rides are $35 per rider and last one hour. Riders must not exceed a weight of 250 pounds.
Helmets are encouraged, but are only required for riders 16 years and under. Children six and under are not allowed to ride on the trail rides.
The stable’s season is from Mar. 3 to Nov. 30. The stable is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.