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Cades Cove Loop Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Travel Guide, Map, and Photos

This travel guide to the Cades Cove Loop includes a map, directions for getting there, and what to do once you arrive.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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Tucked away in a remote corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National park is the beautiful Cades Cove. It’s one of the most-visited and most-praised sections of the national park. Cades Cove is often spoken about with a glint in the eye and a smile on the face.

A day trip on the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road is one of the best things to do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. Abundant wildlife, beautiful scenery, historic cabins, and hiking trails are just a few of the things to do. This travel guide will show you how to get there, what to do when you’re there, and give you a few tips for the best trip.

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Cades Cove Loop Road Map

How to use this map: Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the star beside the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.

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Cades Cove Loop Road Directions

The most difficult part, which is also a big part of the allure, is getting to Cades Cove. Other than Cataloochee Valley it is the most remote section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Getting there can be half the fun or half the pain. Here are some different ways and tips for getting to Cades Cove.

From Townsend, Maryville, Knoxville

Take Highway 321 (Lamar Alexander Parkway) from Maryville into Townsend. It begins as a four lane highway, merges into a two lane for a short stretch, then becomes four lane again through Townsend. Continue through Townsend to The Townsend Wye. Turn right onto Little River Gorge Road. Average time from Townsend to Cades Cove: 30 minutes.

From Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, I-81

Taking the scenic route along Little River Gorge Road would be great once but it’s actually considerably longer, especially when you’re leaving Cades Cove. Instead, take Wears Valley Road (Highway 321) from Pigeon Forge into Townsend. Turn left at a traffic light and continue to The Townsend Wye. Turn right onto Little River Gorge Road. Average time from Pigeon Forge to Cades Cove: 45 minutes.

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From Gatlinburg

The most difficult part about getting to Cades Cove from Gatlinburg is getting out of Gatlinburg in the first place. If at all possible from your start point I would suggest getting on either the Gatlinburg Bypass or River Road to skip the congestion on Parkway. Once inside the national park turn right onto Little River Gorge Road at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Stay on this road to Cades Cove. Average time from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove: 60 minutes.

From Cherokee

It is possible to day trip into Cades Cove from Cherokee but it would be a long day trip. The problem is always the traffic congestion in front of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. From Cherokee take Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) through the park. Turn left onto Little River Gorge Road at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Stay on this road to Cades Cove. Average time from Cherokee to Cades Cove: 1 hour 45 minutes.

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A horse pokes his head between two rows of barbed wire while eating grass in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A deer stands tall in a vibrant green meadow in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
TOP: After a day of carrying passengers, the horses are released from the stables into a meadow beside the Cades Cove Loop Road. BOTTOM: Deer are the most common wildlife spotted in Cades Cove.

Wildlife in Cades Cove

As with most national parks, and this one in particular, there is abundant wildlife to spot throughout Cades Cove. But first let me reiterate an invaluable rule that should never be broken: always stay at least 50 yards (150’) away from the wildlife.

There are lots of reasons such as safety for both people and the wildlife but it really comes down to one thing. If wildlife gets used to human contact and actually makes contact that animal is put down. Do you want to be responsible for that?

In Cades Cove you are most likely to see deer, especially an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. But there are also wild turkeys and black bear throughout the cove. Black bears are most commonly seen in the periphery outside the Cades Cove Loop Road.

READ MORE: Viewing the Elk at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Vibrant yellow leaves surround the age-worn Cable Mill in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Autumn is a great time to visit Cades Cove for the vibrant fall colors but be aware it will be busy.
Vibrant yellow leaves surround the age-worn Cable Mill in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Autumn is a great time to visit Cades Cove for the vibrant fall colors but be aware it will be busy.

Tips for Visiting Cades Cove

Being the most-visited section of a national park means it is popular and that can be both good and bad. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your day trip on the Cades Cove Loop Road.

  • The Cades Cove Loop Road is a one-lane, one-way loop (except for Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane).
  • Arrive early. The gates unlock shortly after sunrise (except on Wednesday and Saturday mornings). Usually by 10am-Noon is when the greatest number of vehicles try entering the one-lane, one-way loop road.
  • Either leave early or leave late. The great number of vehicles try to leave around 5pm-6pm to get back into town or home for dinner. To avoid the traffic congestion either leave Cades Cove around 3pm or until sunset.
  • There is absolutely no cellphone reception anywhere in Cades Cove.
  • The only restrooms are located at either end of the cove at the Campground Store and Visitor Center.
  • Driving from one end of Cades Cove to the other will typically take about 25 minutes but depending on traffic conditions and wildlife it can take much, much longer.

READ MORE: The Complete Travel Guide to the Foothills Parkway in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

Driving Etiquette in Cades Cove

There is really only one rule that matters about driving the Cades Cove Loop Road and that rule is broken every single day: don’t stop in the middle of the road.

If you see wildlife in the distance pull off the road. If you can’t pull off the road then you’re just out of luck and you need to keep moving. Stopping in the middle of the road and blocking traffic just so you can look at deer or a bear is selfish and can lead to horrible traffic congestion.

There are plenty of places in Cades Cove to pull off the road and get your vehicle out of the way so traffic can continue to flow. Let it flow. Someone behind you may really need to pee.

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No. 1

Information Kiosk

As you enter Cades Cove on Laurel Creek Road, stay straight and you’ll see a long parking area on the left. There is a covered shelter with information about Cades Cove. If you have arrived too early the gate at the end of the parking area may still be locked so this is where you would wait.

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No. 2

Rich Mountain Loop Trail

Use the parking area in front of the information kiosk to access this trail. The 8.3-mile Rich Mountain Loop Trail is a pretty strenuous all-day hike across the summit of Rich Mountain. With a total combined 2,000’ ascent it’s a strenuous trail.

The first 1.5 miles of the hike is pretty easy, though, and leads from the parking area to John Oliver Place.

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A deer meanders through a grassy field before sunset in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Deer are frequently spotted in the grassy fields along Sparks Lane, particularly just after sunrise and an hour before sunset.

No. 3

Sparks Lane

Sparks Lane is one of two roads that cuts across Cades Cove and has two-way traffic. This end of Sparks Lane is 1.1 miles from the entrance into Cades Cove. Taking Sparks Lane now would make the entire loop just 3.7 miles.

The narrow gravel road is a frequent destination for portrait photography. You might also catch some wildlife in the fields or crossing the road around sunrise and sunset. Near the north end of the road there is a neat place where a ford crosses Abrams Creek; there is parking beside the ford where you can get out of your car.

READ MORE: 50+ Favorite Travel Photos From Years of Exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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A log cabin, the John Oliver Place, tucked into a cove of vibrant green trees in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
It’s about a five minute walk to John Oliver Place, the oldest structure remaining in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

No. 4

John Oliver Place

There are two places to park for accessing the trail to John Oliver Place. The first is at the end of Sparks Lane in a small parking lot. The second is around the next curve with pull-in parking spots along the Cades Cove Loop Road. Both of these parking areas tend to be full on pretty days so you may need to drive a bit further to find a safe place to park on the side of the road.

It is a very easy 0.3-mile hike across an open field from the parking areas to John Oliver Place.

John Oliver Place is the oldest remaining structure in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a magnificent cabin to explore considering it was built in the 1820s before the first mills in the area. The cabin is often left unlocked and open to explore during daylight hours.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

Worn tombstones mark gravesites behind the all-white Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The cemetery at Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church is one of about five in Cades Cove.

No. 5

Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church

Getting to Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church, and getting back out again, can be tricky. The short spur road on the left leading to the church is a one-lane road with two-way traffic. There are a couple of places to pull over and allow vehicles to pass. But I once got stuck in one of those pull offs trying to leave the church with one car after another turning off the Cades Cove Loop without giving me a chance to leave.

Once you get to the church it’s a rather beautiful thing to see. The doors are left open during the day and you can walk through the church. There is a short trail leading around behind the church through the graveyard.

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No. 6

Cades Cove Methodist Church

The Cades Cove Methodist Church is located on a little hill directly beside the Cades Cove Loop Road. One time when I visited musicians were set up inside playing music, but I never did find out if that was a regular thing or even allowed.

A long gravel road with rustic wooden fences on both sides and mountain peaks in the distance in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Hyatt Lane is one of two gravel roads crossing through Cades Cove, a good opportunity to skip a portion of the loop road or loop back around again.
A long gravel road with rustic wooden fences on both sides and mountain peaks in the distance in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Hyatt Lane is one of two gravel roads crossing through Cades Cove, a good opportunity to skip a portion of the loop road or loop back around again.

No. 7

Hyatt Lane

Hyatt Lane is the second two-way road cutting across Cades Cove. From here it is about 3 miles from the entrance into Cades Cove. Turning around here would make the entire loop about 8 miles. This is the last place to cut the entire 11-mile loop short.

READ MORE: 6 Awesome Auto Touring Routes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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No. 8

Rich Mountain Road

There is only one way into Cades Cove, but there are three ways out. One of those is the 7-mile Rich Mountain Road. The path across Rich Mountain was carved between Townsend and Cades Cove in the 1800s and its one of the curviest roads in Tennessee.

Rich Mountain Road is a one-way gravel road. It takes about two hours to rich Townsend on the route. The road is open seasonally from May through October.

A hymnal lays open on a pedestal inside Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church is frequently open for visitors where you’ll find hymnals and old pews.

No. 9

Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church

This is my favorite of the three historical churches in Cades Cove to visit. The church is located directly beside the Cades Cove Loop Road (across from Rich Mountain Road). There are a few parking spaces on either side of the road.

The interior is sparse, but gorgeous in a simplistic kind of way. Walk through the church to the back door and then around the graveyard. It’s a short and easy walk.

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The view from a slight hill overlooking the green meadows of Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Bring a blanket and plan for a picnic at the Native Plant Overlook, the best place for an overall view of Cades Cove.

No. 10

Native Plant Overlook

This scenic overlook sits on a hill near the end of Cades Cove with a commanding view looking along the mountain ranges surrounding the cove. This is probably the biggest parking lot in the cove besides the one at the visitor center.

No. 11

Early Days Parking

Just down the hill from the previous overlook, this one has a much smaller parking lot and not much of a view. It’s a good overflow parking area, though, and a great place to get out and wander.

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No. 12

Wet Bottom Trail

This long parking area on the left side of the Cades Cove Loop Road has a nice view from the bottom of the cove. Across the road is a short spur trail leading to the Wet Bottom Trail and eventually another spur trail to the Elijah Oliver Cabin.

The Elijah Oliver Cabin was built in 1865 after the Oliver family returned to Cades Cove following the end of the Civil War. It’s the most remote historic structure in Cades Cove with a 1-mile roundtrip hike from the parking lot.

The parking area is also a great overflow parking area for Abrams Falls. If the Abrams Falls Parking Area is full, continue around the Cades Cove Loop Road to Hyatt Lane and return to the Wet Bottom Trail Parking. The Wet Bottom Trail leads to the Abrams Falls Trail.

READ MORE: Travel Guide to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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No. 13

Abrams Falls

Abrams Falls is the most popular waterfall in Cades Cove and one of the most popular in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Getting there is a fairly easy hike, but it’ll take a few hours.

The primitive parking area at the end of a short spur road will often fill up before noon. There is ample parking, so you’ll probably find a place there.

The 4.9-mile roundtrip hike follows alongside Abrams Creek most of the way. There is about a 600’ ascent on the trail as you cross a couple of short peaks and then climb down to the base of the waterfall. The trail can get very muddy at times so be sure to wear really good footwear for this trail.

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Water spins the wheel at the Cable Mill in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Water runs along a dull gray aqueduct in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Water slides along the rustic aqueduct to the Cable Mill, one of the oldest (and still operational) grist mills in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

No. 14

Cades Cove Visitor Center

It almost seems kinda silly for the Cades Cove Visitor Center to be at the far end of Cades Cove. But I have to admit it is a good location.

The one-room visitor center doubles as a rather nice gift shop with all sorts of books and souvenirs. It’s a small gift shop, but still worth browsing through. The restrooms are located in a separate building beside the parking lot. The parking lot has plenty of spaces but it does tend to get crowded on popular days.

Beside the Cades Cove Visitor Center is the John Cable Mill. This iconic grist mill is one of the most-photographed locations in the entire national park (I have quite a few photos myself like the one above).

The paved trail from the visitor center passes the Cable Mill, Becky Cable House, a small barn, and ends at the Cable Drive-Thru Barn (I don’t know if that is the official name but that’s what I’ve heard people call it). At the Cable Mill you can follow another trail along the aqueduct feeding water to the grist mill.

READ MORE: Where to Find the Visitor Centers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

An old log cabin at the end of a gravel path in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
It’s only a three-minute drive and a one-minute walk to see the Henry Whitehead Place.

No. 15

Forge Creek Road

The road that begins as Forge Creek Road eventually becomes Parsons Branch Road. This is another one-way route leaving out of Cades Cove. The 10-mile gravel road takes quite a while to drive and leads to Highway 129 near Fontana Dam, North Carolina.

Forge Creek Road starts as a two-way road as far as the Gregory Ridge Trail Parking, where it becomes the one-way Parsons Branch Road leading out of Cades Cove.

The Henry Whitehead Place is one of the most-overlooked historic cabins in Cades Cove because most people don’t know it’s there. This beautiful cabin has a much older cabin directly behind it, each with a stone/brick fireplace. It’s a fascinating comparison between old notched timber and milled plank construction side-by-side.

But it’s also the result of a very sad story. The cabin was built after a man abandoned his wife and son in the cove.

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Warm light from sunset bathes the rustic wooden cabin at the Dan Lawson Place, surrounded by vibrant green grass and other buildings.
The Dan Lawson Place is an excellent example of a “new” cabin in Cades Cove.
Warm light from sunset bathes the rustic wooden cabin at the Dan Lawson Place, surrounded by vibrant green grass and other buildings.
The Dan Lawson Place is an excellent example of a “new” cabin in Cades Cove.

No. 16

Dan Lawson Place

If I were to have settled in Cades Cove almost two hundred years ago this is where I would have built a house. The Dan Lawson Place is a collection of a few buildings in a little cove surrounded by trees with a magnificent view across Cades Cove.

For some reason (or maybe the view is the reason) the parking spaces always seem to be taken. A little further down Cades Cove Loop Road are a couple of pull-offs on the right side with enough room for a couple of vehicles. It would be a five-minute walk back to the rustic cabins.

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The kitchen wing on the back of the rustic Tipton Place in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Tipton Place is the largest historic residence in Cades Cove and features the popular cantilever barn across the road.

No. 17

Tipton Place

Tipton Place is the location of the iconic cantilevered barn that is a popular photographic subject. I’ve never been able to capture a photo, however, because each time I have visited I have found a photographer there with couples and families and brides capturing portraits.

Across the road from the barn is the beautiful Tipton family home. The two-story home with a kitchen addition in the back is the biggest historic home in Cades Cove. There are a couple of smaller outbuildings surrounding the house.

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No. 18

Valley View Overlook

The parking area along the left side of the Cades Cove Loop Road overlooks the valley across the cove. This is one of the best spots to see deer grazing in the fields just before sunset each day.

A small log cabin surrounded by towering trees and vibrant green grass in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Carter Shields Cabin is one of the simplest and smallest historic structure in Cades Cove.
A small log cabin surrounded by towering trees and vibrant green grass in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Carter Shields Cabin is one of the simplest and smallest historic structure in Cades Cove.

No. 19

Carter Shields Cabin

Just when you think you’ve seen enough historic cabins you come across this one. It’s located back from the Cades Cove Loop Road on a gravel path. The small log home is in a beautiful setting and one of my favorites to walk around.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

No. 20

Lone Grove Overlook

The Lone Grove Overlook is the final scenic overlook on the Cades Cove Loop Road before returning to the entrance. A lone tree stands in the middle of a meadow near the overlook. Beneath the tree is the LeQuire Family Cemetery, a collection of about a dozen gravesites marked only with fieldstones.

READ MORE: Travel Guide to Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

No. 21

Cades Cove Campground Store

The Cades Cove Campground Store is a great place to start a day on the Cades Cove Loop Road. The store has a very nice gift shop with clothing, drinkware, photography, and lots of souvenir items. If you are camping, they also have a good selection of groceries just in case you need a thing or two.

The deli has some pretty good food like burgers, hotdogs, and ice cream. It’s not a bad place to grab something to eat but it’s pricey and the meats are usually frozen so the quality isn’t the greatest.

Bicycle Rentals

Next door to the store is the bicycle rental office. Seeing Cades Cove from the perspective of slowly pedaling around the loop is a real treat. Rentals are first-come, first-served so again you will want to come as early as possible.

Rentals are $7.50/hour for adults and $4.50/hour for children under 10.

Did you know? The Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to automobile traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings before 10am (May – September). This allows visitors with their own bicycles or rental bicycles a couple hours of early morning sunlight to enjoy a peaceful ride around the loop road.

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No. 22

Cades Cove Riding Stables

Going horseback riding in Cades Cove is an incredible experience. The people at Cades Cove Stables are friendly and know exactly what they are doing to help people who don’t normally ride horses to enjoy this experience. Each guided horseback ride lasts about an hour and costs $35 for adults and $25 for children under 13.

If horseback riding isn’t your thing what about horse drawn carriage rides? They have a beautiful old carriage to whisk visitors away for a 45-minute tour through the forest. Carriage rides are $15 for adults and $10 for children under 13.

No. 23

Cades Cove Picnic Area

As you enter the Cades Cove area turn left into a road leading toward the campground. Take an immediate second left into the Cades Cove Picnic Area. This nice, secluded picnic area has lots of tables and offers a great place to enjoy a packed lunch before or after your adventure on the Cades Cove Loop Road.

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Cades Cove Campground

The Cades Cove Campground is one of the largest and nicest in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The campground features 159 sites and can accommodate RVs up to 40’.

The campground is built around two loops and almost all the sites are back-in. There are six restrooms facilities located throughout the campground but no showers. There is a dump station as well.

The Cades Cove Campground is one of only two campgrounds in the park open year-round (the other is Smokemont in North Carolina).

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Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Cades Cove Loop Road?

Cades Cove Loop Road is in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend, Tennessee.

How long does it take to drive Cades Cove Loop Road?

It takes about an hour to drive Cades Cove Loop Road without making any stops.

How long is Cades Cove Loop Road?

Cades Cove Loop Road is 11 miles long.

Where do you start the Cades Cove Loop?

Cades Cove Loop Road begins near the Cades Cove Campground at the end of Laurel Creek Road.

Is the road to Cades Cove scary to drive?

No, the road to Cades Cove is not scary to drive. However, there are many curves.

Is Cades Cove Loop Road open all year?

Yes, the Cades Cove Loop Road is open all year except for inclement weather.

Are there restrooms on the Cades Cove Loop Road?

Yes, there are restrooms at the Cades Cove Campground Store and the Cades Cover Visitor Center at opposite ends of the loop road.

7 Responses

  1. I have been to Cades cove twice last year but was disappointed in the lack of disability friendly accessibility in the area including certain visitor attractions. I’m an amputee and use a prosthetic leg however I do struggle with walking and wish more areas and trails were paved and designed for those who are disabled.

    1. I completely agree with you. My mom, dad, and grandmother have all had knee replacement surgeries and still have limited mobility. I’m acutely aware of accessibility when I’m traveling. Unfortunately for the national parks, they usually just don’t have the budget to make improvements. I hope you can find better and more accessible places in your travels. Let me know if I can ever help!

    1. Although RVs of that size are not recommended on the loop road, they are not prohibited. I’ve seen several RVs and fifth wheels at the Cades Cove Visitor Center at the far end of the loop road. But please keep in mind Cades Cove Loop Road is a one-lane, one-way road and there will be very few places you will be able to stop with an RV of that size.

  2. Hello, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog site in Ie, it looks fine
    but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, very good blog!

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