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Looking for a vacation that incorporates your lifestyle of using biking to heal? Planning a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains? Here is a simple guide for you to get started: It will show you how to use biking to heal in Cades Cove, Tennessee.

Imagine embarking on a journey that not only revitalizes your body but also soothes your soul and mends the heart. If you’re on the hunt for a vacation that connects physical activity with mental and emotional healing, Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains is for you.

Getting There:

You have several airport options depending on your starting point and preferences:

  1. McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – Located in Knoxville, Tennessee, this is the closest major airport, about 45 miles north of the park.
  2. Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) – Situated in Asheville, North Carolina, this airport is approximately 60 miles east of the park.
  3. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) – About 195 miles east of the park, located in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s farther away, but Charlotte’s airport is a major international hub.
  4. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) – Located in Atlanta, Georgia, this airport is about 200 miles south of the park.

Biking To Heal

This guide is designed to show you how to use biking as a means to heal, offering a path away from unhealthy coping mechanisms towards a journey of recovery and self-discovery. Join me as we explore how this simple activity can become a powerful tool in your healing arsenal, especially for women in their 50s seeking to heal from trauma.

As a trauma survivor who has found peace and serenity in mindful travel, both in the US and abroad, I’ve discovered the power of biking through the landscapes of Cades Cove.

I spent a week exploring the entire Great Smoky National Park, and biking Cades Cove was my favorite part. On the route you’ll view wildlife, learn history, and be inspired by the cultures of the past.

Whether you’re an avid biker, slow rider, or in between, this day of biking has something for you. When you combine mindfully connecting to nature as part of your experience, you embark on self-healing.

So what does using nature to heal look like? Read the hows and whys to begin your healing journey.

Nature To Heal

Nature has an incredible ability to nurture and heal. By making the outdoors a sanctuary for both the body and the soul, you are healing your trauma. This is based on the understanding of long term effects of trauma on the body. Namely, it causes individuals to disconnect from their physical body, because trauma teaches a person that feeling = pain.

Unfortunately, the physical senses become shut down. Over the years, trauma survivors developed unhealthy coping mechanisms to manage, include numbing five senses with additions and compulsions.

Reconnecting with nature and your physical five senses is a beautiful way to heal trauma. Engaging in outdoor activities provides an outlet to do just that. Biking is an excellent way to move your body along scenic routes allows you to see and hear the present moment.

Great Smoky Mt. National Park is the perfect place to have this experience! That’s because Cades Cove is closed to auto traffic every Wednesday May – September! Keep reading for more park details and healing suggestions.

We want to heal trauma in healthy ways

author is happy and standing in front of Great Smoky National Park sign

Biking the 11-mile, one-way loop road in Cades Cove offers an incredible amount of learning and opportunity, from scenic beauty and wildlife encounters to historical exploration and cultural immersion. For example, it’s lined with many stopping points. Therefore, it provides plenty of resting breaks to read, photograph nature, meditate. It is an experience  that caters to nature enthusiasts, history buffs, and those of us seeking healing. If you can’t bring your bike? No problem! Rent one in the park by the hour or for the whole day.

Immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains, surrounded by lush forests, open meadows, and majestic peaks. Practice forest bathing and mindfully release anything you no longer need. You’ll find there’s just something about Appalachia that stands out from anywhere else on earth. I recommend you find out for yourself.

Iconic view of Smoky Mountains when biking to heal in  Cades Cove
Iconic view at the first stop along the Cades Cove biking trail

When you get back to your lodging at the end of the day, don’t forget to journal all the amazing things you saw and felt.

wolf spider is one of creatures you'll see on your biking to heal journey
Wolf spider just hanging out

Enjoy the thrill of spotting diverse wildlife, from deer and wild turkeys to the occasional black bear, as they roam freely in their natural habitat. You may even spot a bear in the upper branches of a roadside tree. If you have a quiet moment with any wildlife, park your bike to get a better look. How can this heal trauma? When focused on the precious gift of life, it opens up your heart to let go and forgive.

picturesque rustic cabin in GSMNP
John Oliver Cabin – homestead of first permanent settlers in the 1820’s

Discover well-preserved historic cabins, churches, and structures that offer a fascinating glimpse into the Appalachian settlers’ way of life. Experience the rich history and culture of the region as you explore the Cable Mill area and its informative exhibits. Did you know that GSMNP offers an abundance of historical context for visitors, including authentic homestead settlements? This is a wonderful learning opportunity for visitors of all ages.

However, Cades Cove gives you the distinct advantage of seeing these historical buildings in the true context of their past. Also, it’s usually quieter, less crowded, and therefore a more intimate experience. When pausing to learn about the history of people, it is a reminder of perspective.

Similar to the people who lived in Shenandoah before it was a national park, the people in the Great Smoky Region of Appalachia were also relocated. However, GSMNP also relocated Native Americans. In 1830, all Native Americans who refused to move and assimilate into the new American culture had to move west of the Mississippi River to a newly designated homeland. This fiasco has since become known as the “Trail of Tears” due to the massive loss of life. Take a moment to dip deep into the people and their ancestors who came before, and acknowledge their loss by learning their stories.

Reflect on the universality of loss, and affirm your self healing in the assertion that you are not a victim. Loss is an integral part of life, a foundation for the human experience. It’s not happening to you. Rather, it’s something that happened.

If possible, bike during the quiet morning hours when motorized vehicles are restricted, allowing for a peaceful and serene ride. Or better yet, bike on Wednesdays, when the road is totally closed to motorists all day!! Mornings are also great for wildlife viewing because the animals are alert and energized for the day.

Make morning meditation a part of your daily morning practice, you can even take your mental health therapy on the road with you. It may take some time, but eventually you’ll discover starting your day with the intention to heal yourself is powerful and effective.

Of the 13 National Parks I’ve visited, GSMNP is in the top 3 in terms of educating its visitors on a multitude of topics. Learn about the park’s natural and cultural heritage through informative signage and interpretation programs. For example, some programs are Teacher Workshops, Student Programs, Science Learning Center, Institute For Field Research, and Programs for the public. opportunities for residents of Tennessee and North Carolina, but also extend throughout the nations.

Want to get involved? Have a calling to volunteer your time? Being of service to these or any organization designed to help others facilitates healing. Trauma crushes the spirit and damages the heart’s capacity to give and receive love. Extending a helping hand, giving to the community, doing any unselfish acts of love reverses that effect.

nature healing stream in the National Park

Remember I mentioned the Appalachians? These are the oldest mountains in the world, Photos of the National Park, especially in the fall foliage, can  compete with any global Instagram post out there. There is something special about the land here. Get a good backpack to hold your camera and capture stunning photographs of the pristine scenery, wildlife, and historic sites.

Art therapy is a profound way to heal yourself from trauma’s crippling grip. Did you know photography is an art? You don’t have to be a professional photographer to appreciate the breathtaking beauty of a simple stream or sunset. Putting your time and focus toward expressing admiration for nature is art. Doing it just because it makes you happy is self-healing therapy.

The park employs three permanent, year-round wildlife managers, an additional 4-5 people plus 6 interns. Their jobs include programming to manage bears, deer, and elk. In addition, workers coordinate services in the backcountry to search for invasive hogs, monitor elk and bear populations, fix broken cable systems for hanging backpackers’ food, map habitat for endangered species, and much more.

Many trauma survivors are animal lovers. Perhaps because the effects of abuse and neglect leaves survivors struggling to trust. Animal conservation is a meaningful outlet for ‘safe’ trusting. It carries a low vulnerability risk for being abandoned. Taking small steps, one at a time, enables trauma survivors to apply those to other relationships and grow their trust levels.

Remember I mentioned those stopping points? You’ll likely make use of them. The ride is challenging when you hit the hills. You may need to dismount your bike and push it up the hill. I promise you, no judgment and no hassle. You won’t be the only one, I’m sure. You will still enjoy a healthy and invigorating outdoor experience and be super proud when you finish. 

Overcoming obstacles, no matter how literal or metaphorical, is the strongest predictor of resilience. Without building that resilience muscle, trauma recovery is very difficult. Showing up for your goals, even if it’s one about riding a bike, builds self esteem. Self-esteem is a precursor to self love.

peaceful stream along the path for your biking to heal journey

Cades Cove is filled with moments for you to relax,  contemplate, and self-reflect. I hope you will find much peace pedaling through this picturesque mountain paradise that combines the joys of cycling with the beauty of nature. Spending this quality time with yourself, for the purpose of healing, creates a strong foundation for your lifelong journey.

Final Thoughts Biking To Heal

On I hope I’ve inspired you to pedal at your own pace through The Smokies, and bask in all of the diversity, beauty, and education this amazing National Park has to offer!

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