Gatlinburg Scenic Drives
With over 800 miles of hiking trails in
the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
alone, it can be a daunting task attempting
to see everything that the mountains have to
offer; when you have hiked until your legs
are jelly, jump into the car and enjoy a
relaxing drive along some of the most
beautiful roadways that the country has to
offer. This is also a perfect solution
for families with small children and those
travelling with the elderly. All trips
are denoted in one-way mileage.
Balsam Mountain Road (9 miles): Easily accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is quietly breathtaking road that winds gently through the mountains. Come during the summer to see bounties of wildflowers; the fall reveals leaves changing into a multitude of reds, oranges and yellows. There are plenty of overlooks where you can park your car and take photos of spectacular mountain vistas all around. Two-way, paved; 30 minutes.
Cades Cove Loop (11 miles): Starting in the Cades Cove District, this is one of the more popular destinations during the warmer seasons. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife romping by like bear, wild turkey, fox, and deer; historic buildings still stand and offer a glimpse of the life of early settlers. A complete RV campground can be found in the cove that caters to RVs and tent dwellers alike; call ahead for availability and other restrictions. One-way, paved; one hour.
Cataloochee (6 miles): Take I-40 at US 276 on a drive up the mountain to the historic Cataloochee Ski Area; not just for wintertime, visit the area during spring and fall for glimpses of wildflowers and changing leaves. Be careful to observe the posted speed limit, this area is rife with wildlife that occasionally finds itself wandering into the road. Two-way, dead end; thirty minutes.
Cherokee Orchard Road (3.5 miles): Reopening in the summer of 2010, this historic road is a popular path for park visitors and leads to six trailheads: Baskins Creek Trail, Bullhead Trail, Grapeyard Ridge Trail, Old Sugarland's Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, and Trillium Gap Trail. Drive slowly as this is a narrow road; various stops are available for picnics and admiring waterfalls. Two-way, paved; fifteen minutes.
Clingmans Dome (20 miles): Take your time driving on highway 441 South through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on your way to Clingmans Dome; you will also pass the Newfound Gap and State Line Ridge before you reach the parking lot for Clingmans Dome. Stop here or hike half a mile to the observation tower where, on a clear day, it is said that you can see seven states. Closed during the winter. Two-way, paved; 2-4 hours.
Foothills Parkway East (6 miles): Running between Cosby and Highway 321, this road is currently being resurfaced and will be closed sporadically until August 2010. Observe gorgeous views of the Cosby Valley and Newport from your car windows; stay in the Cosby Campground or drive through until you reach I-40 and Gatlinburg. Two-way, paved; fifteen minutes.
Foothill Parkway West (18 miles): Also under construction, the anticipated completion date is July 2010. You simply cannot imagine how beautiful Chilhowee Valley will look until you arrive in person; park the car and prepare to be amazed by the sheer volume of green expanse that lay before you. More ambitious travelers will take the fifteen minute hike up to the Look Rock Overlook and have their picture taken at one of the most beautiful spots in the Tennessee. RV campground available on this road, call ahead for availability. Two-way, paved; thirty minutes.
Heintooga Ridge (6 miles): Take a leisurely drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Heintooga Ridge Picnic Area where you can relax amidst the natural beauty of the mountains while enjoying a picnic lunch. Despite being one of the few roads where you will travel through the Blue Ridge Parkway National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is a relatively quiet drive with little traffic. Have a picnic at the Heintooga Overlook, perfect on a warm spring day. Two-way, paved; one hour.
Lakeview Drive (6 miles): Nicknamed the “Road to Nowhere,” this historic stretch of roadway was a gift from Swain County who gave it up to become part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1930s. Swarms of visitors come during the summer to take a ferry across Fontana Lake and sunbath on its shores or visit old graveyards that hold the former residents of Swain County. Two-way, dead end; twenty minutes.
Parson Branch (8 miles): Originally serving as a feeder road between the different coves and dams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it now offers travelers a lovely way to visit the park by car and foot. Not open to RVs and trailers. Teach your family about the history of this road, one that is filled with stories of brave mountain dwellers defending their homes against Confederate soldiers. One-way, unpaved; one hour.
Rich Mountain Road (7 miles): Start your engines at Cades Cove at Rich Mountain Gap and travel on down to Townsend, TN. Built in the 1820s this road is still used today to ferry people down the mountains for work and fun. Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive shagbark hickory trees that are a rarity in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Drive slowly to observe the cove and visit local photographer’s favorite, the Primitive Baptist Church. One-way, unpaved; one hour.
Roaring Fork Motor Trail (5 miles): A drive that offers a little bit of everything: historic buildings like grist mills and log cabins, old-growth forests, mountain streams and waterfalls are just a few of the natural and manmade wonders along the way. Due to being so narrow, you will need to slow down-all the better to observe everything around you! Closed during the winter. One-way, paved; one hour.