SCENIC DRIVES IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS
If you are looking to take a break from hiking, don’t worry, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has nearly 400 miles of paved or well-maintained gravel roadway for you to enjoy many of the most scenic places in the Smoky Mountains from your car. Here are the 7 of the best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains to explore.
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Best Scenic Drives in the Smoky Mountains
Note that only Newfound Gap Road, Cades Cove, and Little River remain open year round, so be sure to check the National Park page for Seasonal Road Closures.
Cades Cove Loop Road
This 11 mile loop drive circles around a cove filled with wildlife and historical buildings. It isn’t uncommon to see turkey, raccoons, groundhogs, deer, and yes, even black bear while driving through Cades Cove. There are numerous pullover sites where you can picnic, take a short hike, and explore some historical artifacts and buildings. Cades Cove was hunted by the Cherokee for thousands of years, but the first Europeans settled in the area between 1818 and 1821 and the population grew rapidly. Along the drive you can view three historic churches, a working grist mill, and many restored buildings from this fascinating era of our nation’s history. Cades Cove is no secret, however, and the drive can be rather slow especially if wildlife is spotted. There are very few ways to “go around” the cars in front of you, so we recommend arriving early and plan on spending a minimum of two to four hours. Take a picnic lunch and take it all in at the slower southern pace of its mountain ancestry.
If you are looking for a real treat and want to avoid the insane crowds of Cades Cove, you should definitely check out Cataloochee Valley. This area has become a favorite for those looking to get away from the crowds though we aren’t sure how long that will last as the word gets out. A wonderful time to drive to Cataloochee Valley is from mid-September to late October when you can enjoy hearing the bugling Elk which are in rut (mating season). Accessing this area does require driving on a winding 11-mile mountainous road, but it is well maintained and accessible to passenger cars.
Related Reading: 7 Kid-Friendly Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains
Newfound Gap Road is quintessential Smoky Mountains! Also known as hwy 441, this 33 mile stretch of paved road leads from the north entrance of the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg southward toward Cherokee, NC. The major points of interest along Newfound Gap Road include the Newfound Gap overlook, Clingman’s Dome, and the Rockefeller Memorial site where former President Franklin D. Roosevelt formally dedicated the park on September 2, 1940. Be sure to leave time for exploring a bit of Cherokee, NC and perhaps take in their outdoor theatre to learn more about the history of the Cherokee Tribe that once roamed this area.
As I previously mentioned, there are two great hiking trails located along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, but if you aren’t up for hike, this autotrail is a favorite drive for the Springtime. Roaring Fork is a fast flowing mountain stream that runs along the trail and is apt to be “roaring” during or after a hard rain. I love visiting this trail in the spring because the lush green colors and cool shade of the trees has an enchanting effect. Just before you enter this natural fairyland, take time to explore the Noah “Bud” Ogle nature trail and farmstead. We really enjoy rolling down the windows to take in the scenery and nature’s air conditioning.
Little River Road is another great auto touring option for the spring. This 18-mile-long road runs parallel to the Little River Road from the Sugarlands visitor Center to Townsend, Tennessee. You will be able to enjoy several glimpses of the river as well as waterfalls and wildflowers in the Spring. Townsend is a great place to visit as well and makes for a great lunch stop.
The Foothills Parkway is a 72-mile stretch of highway with a western section extending 33 continuous miles from Chilhowie Lake to Wears Valley and an eastern section extending from Cosby to Interstate 40. The completion of the highway was celebrated in November 2018, when the so-called “missing link” of the Foothills Parkway was completed. We were able to visit the weekend it was opened and enjoyed the vast views of Wears Valley and other parts of the Smoky Mountains. This is sure to become a go-to destination for fall foliage that rivals the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway.
This primitive and easily accessible road is an alternative exit from Cades Cove. It is a 7-mile one way gravel road that will lead you along a winding path north toward the quieter sides of the Smoky Mountains into the town of Townsend. There is a scenic overlook where you can get a picture of the Primitive Baptist Church below in Cades Cove. The road is seasonal only open from Mid-April to November so summer is a great time to check it out.
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