Blue Ridge Parkway
For scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds through 469 miles of beautiful forest and mountain terrain between Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The scenery is outstanding and there are many recreational activities to do along the way; picnic area, hiking trails, camp grounds and visitor centers are just a few. There are also restaurants and lodging along Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is the nation's first and longest rural parkway. Construction started on the parkway in the 1930's as a depression-era public works project, and took over fifty years to complete. Connecting the Shenandoah National Park and The Smokies was a huge undertaking and many standards for engineering and design were pioneered during this feat.
The idea is to fit the Parkway into the mountains as if nature has put it there.Stanley Abbott, Chief Landscape Architect
For many of Blue Ridge Parkways visitors, the summer season is their favorite to enjoy the slow paced scenic drive. The summer blooms along the Parkway are beyond comparison. Meadows of black eyed susan, coreopsis, queen Anne's Lace and butterfly weed line the road. Being designed as a recreational roadway, the Blue Ridge Parkway not only has beautiful scenery, but the 469 miles, including campgrounds, picnic tables, and more, is an excellent to spend a summer day or longer! Certainly one of the best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains!
Cades Cove Loop
Most of the settler’s homes and home sites that can be viewed in Cades Cove will be outside of the road you as you travel the Cades Cove loop. To the center of the loop will be acre upon acre of grass and wildflower fields which were once cleared by frontiersmen for valuable land used for growing things such as wheat, corn and cattle. Nearly all the buildings built by the pioneers and preserved by the Great Smoky Mountain National Park are outside the Cades Cove Loop.
These remaining original structures, as well as abundant wildlife, are easy to spot as you travel the loop. History buffs should check out the list of historical structures maintained by the National Park, many that are accessible by Cades Cove Loop.
Directions to Cades Cove: From Pigeon Forge: Turn at Traffic light #3 onto Wears Valley Road and take 321 to Townsend. Turn Left onto highway 73 and go until you see a sign for Cades Cove where you will turn right onto Laurel Creek Rd. This road runs straight into Cades Cove. From Gatlinburg: Take 441 toward the National Park and Turn at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. From here you will take Little River Road to Laurel Creek Rd which runs straight into Cades Cove.
The Foothills Parkway has been under construction since 1944, but has been stalled numerous times by funding, making it the oldest unfinished highway project in Tennessee. When completed, the 71 mile parkway will hopefully connect U.S. Route 129 in the west with I-40 in the east. Currently, there are two unfinished ends to this parkway which are open to non-motorized traffic.
People can ride their bikes or their horses in from Wears Valley down a four mile stretch until it dead ends at the Missing Link of the parkway, or in from the Walland side and travel nine miles until it deads end as well. There is a rugged 1.25 miles in between the two roads and it is closed to bikes and horses, and not suggested for hikers.
The Foothills Parkway is the only road passable by school bus to the community known as the Top Of The World, Tennessee. The longest stretch of drivable road on the parkway is 16.5 mile leg that travels along the western side of Chilhowee Mountain in Blount County and connects US-129 with US Route 321 in Cosby. There are two other sections of drivable road on the parkway. The Gatlinburg Bypass that runs along the eastern side of Cove Mountain between Pigeon Forge and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one stretch of the drivable nature trail. Another is a 6-mile stretch over Green Mountain in Cocke County, connecting US-321 with I-40 in the Pigeon River Valley. All of these stretches of road provide excellent views of the Great Smoky Mountains and are enjoyable scenic drives.
The Tail Of The Dragon
A world-renowned scenic road connecting Tennessee to North Carolina is US Highway 129. The highway is commonly referred to as “The Tail of the Dragon.” Driving the 11-mile road is very curvy, difficult and challenging for most people. There are 318 curves in the 11 mile journey. Performance drivers rate this as the number one motorcycle and sports car road in the United States.
Even though the Tail of the Dragon is a Federal Highway (US 129) which is free and open for the public to enjoy at any time, most motorcyclists and car enthusiasts from around the world say, "This is not a road for leisure drivers."
From the main Parkway Pigeon Forge, TN take Wears Valley Road (Hwy. 321) approx. 15 miles toward Walland, TN. Before arriving in Walland, TN get on Foothills Parkway and travel approx. 8 miles. Turn left onto Hwy 129 going toward Robbinsville, NC and you will find yourself on “The Tail of the Dragon.” You may continue on Hwy 129 for a few miles before entering the curvy “Tail of the Dragon” section. Drivers have opportunities to pull over at scenic areas alongside Chilhowee Lake before entering the most difficult section of Hwy 129. Folks who continue onward along this challenging scenic road which concludes Robbinsville, NC are often referred to as "dragon slayers."
Balsam Mountain Road
The Balsam Mountain area is well known for its beautiful views and abundance of summer wildflowers. To get to Balsam Mountain Road, take the Blue Ridge Parkway for eleven miles until the turn off for Balsam Mountain Campground. From here it is nine miles to the campground with spectacular overlooks along the way. One more mile down the road from the campground is Mile-High Heintooga Picnic Area and overlook. Buses, motorhomes, vans longer than 25 feet, and passenger vehicles towing trailers are prohibited on this road.
From Heintooga there is an opportunity to go back the way you came, or to return to Cherokee by way of Balsam Mountain Road. The first 18 miles of this road are unpaved and the entire is trip is one-way, but it is fine for passenger vehicles. It will take roughly an hour to get to Cherokee on this scenic road.
Newfound Gap Road
At 5,046 feet, Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With an elevation of 5,046 feet, it was measured by Arnold Henry Guyot in 1872. Guyot used a barometer to measure changes in air pressure to mark the height of gaps, passes, valleys and mountains in the Smoky Mountains. When the Pass was discovered, it replaced Indian Gap as the lowest drivable pass, hence the name "Newfound Gap." The road through the drivable pass is named Newfound Gap Road.
To the south of Newfound Gap is Clingmans Dome Road. A seven mile drive that will get you within 0.5 miles of Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies.
At nearly a mile high, Newfound Gap is significantly cooler than the surrounding lowlands and receives much more snow. It is said that a trip over the gap is like going from Georgia to Maine in terms of foliage and the variety of the forest ecosystems. When starting from either Gatlinburg, TN or Cherokee, NC, travelers will climb 3,000 feet, ascending through cove hardwood, pine-oak, and northern hardwood forest, to get to the evergreen spruce fir forest at Newfound Gap, that more closely resembles a forest found in New England or Canada.
Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Roaring Fork is a favorite scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains. It offers views of old-growth forests, historic cabins, and rushing mountain streams. The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is a narrow six mile stretch of twists and turns. Though it is paved, motorhomes, buses, and trailers are not permitted on the trail. The road runs beside beautiful views of forest, waterfalls, and mountain streams. To get to Roaring Fork, turn at traffic light #8 off the main parkway in Gatlinburg, TN and continue along the Historic Nature Trail to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park.
Once one of the largest communities in the Smoky Mountains, this mountain valley was home to some 1,200 people in 1910. While some families boarded tourists, agriculture was the primary source of income.Visitors will be able to view many historical buildings in Cataloochee, including two churches, a school, and many homes which have been preserved to give an idea of life in the valley 100 years ago.
Access to Cataloochee requires driving down a well-maintained gravel road for two miles. To get there just take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Highway 19. Follow 19 (toward Asheville) through Maggie Valley. Turn left onto Highway 276 N. Just before the entrance ramp to I-40 (but past the gas station), turn left and follow the signs 11 more miles to Cataloochee.
Turkey, elk, deer, and other wildlife also always seems to be on display in Catloochee for visitors to view, and your best chance to see this wildlife is, like other areas in the park, in the morning and evenings around open fields.