At an elevation of 5,046 feet, Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A trip over the Newfound Gap Road has often been compared to a drive from Georgia to Maine in terms of the variety of forest ecosystems one experiences. Starting from either Cherokee, North Carolina or Gatlinburg, Tennessee, travelers climb approximately 3,000 feet, ascending through cove hardwood, pine-oak, and northern hardwood forest to attain the evergreen spruce-fir forest at Newfound Gap (5,046'). This fragrant evergreen woodland is similar to the boreal forests of New England and eastern Canada.
At nearly a mile high, Newfound Gap is significantly cooler than the surrounding lowlands and receives much more snow. Temperatures at the gap may be 10° F. or more cooler than in the lowlands and precipitation falling as rain in Gatlinburg or Cherokee may be snow at Newfound Gap. On average, 69 inches of snow falls at the gap.
Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokies. It offers some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the park. Large numbers of white-tailed deer are frequently seen, and sightings of black bear, coyote, ground hog, turkey, raccoon, skunk, and other animals are also possible.
Touring the Cove - An 11-mile, one-way loop road circles the cove, offering motorists the opportunity to sightsee at a leisurely pace. Allow at least two to four hours to tour Cades Cove, longer if you walk some of the area's trails. Traffic is heavy during the tourist season in summer and fall and on weekends year-round. While driving the loop road, please be courteous to other visitors and use pullouts when stopping to enjoy the scenery or view wildlife.
Only bicycle and foot traffic are allowed on the loop road until 10:00 a.m. every Saturday and Wednesday morning from early May until late September. Otherwise the road is open to motor vehicles from sunrise until sunset daily, weather permitting.
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. The observation tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360° views of the Smokies and beyond for visitors willing to climb the steep half-mile walk to the tower at the top.
It's seven miles to the end of Clingmans Dome Road and there are scenic pullouts with endless views of ridges and valleys along the way. The road ends in a large parking area from which a 0.5 mile trail leads to the summit. The trail is paved but steep, and leads to an observation tower on top.
Directions: Turn off Newfound Gap Road 0.1 mile south of Newfound Gap and follow the 7-mile-long Clingmans Dome Road to the large parking area at the end.
An exuberant mountain stream gave this area its unusual name. Roaring Fork is one of the larger and faster flowing mountain streams in the park. Drive this road after a hard rain and the inspiration behind the name will be apparent.
The narrow, winding, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail invites you to slow down and enjoy the forest and historic buildings of the area. The 5.5-mile-long, one-way, loop road is a favorite side trip for many people who frequently visit the Smokies. It offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forest, and a number of well-preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings. Please note that the road is closed in winter.
Before entering the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guiding nature trail offers a walking tour of an authentic mountain farmstead and surrounding hardwood forest. Highlights include a streamside tubmill and the Ogle’s handcrafted wooden flume plumbing system.
Directions- To access Roaring Fork, turn off the main parkway in Gatlinburg, TN at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail Road to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park. Just beyond the Rainbow Falls trailhead you have the option of taking the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (closed in winter). Please note that buses, trailers, and motor homes are not permitted on the motor nature trail.
Congress authorized the Foothills Parkway in 1944 as a scenic parkway that would provide magnificent views into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a road corridor that was outside the Park.
The Foothills Parkway now consists of two finished sections at either end of the 72-mile corridor. The western section extends 33 continuous miles from Chilhowee to Wears Valley, offering a new recreational experience for motorists and cyclists. The eastern section, completed in 1968, extends six miles from Cosby to Interstate 40 and presents breathtaking views of Mt. Cammerer.
Read our blog post about traveling this section of the Foothills Parkway.
One of the more secret scenic Smoky Mountain fall drives near Wears Valley, the Upper Tremont Road is great for families and guests looking to enjoy a peaceful and serene driving experience. Here, visitors will find several fun hiking trails, scenic views, waterfalls and the peaceful Middle Prong of the Little River that runs along the roadway. Fishing is allowed here, with proper permits of course.
The Tremont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was once a prominent logging community. However, when the national park was established, families and loggers who called the area home packed up and headed into town.
Directions to the Upper Tremont Road: From Wears Valley, drive towards Townsend, TN, Turn Left onto Lamar Alexander Parkway, Make a right at the Townsend “Y” (roughly one mile down the road), Arrive at Tremont Road on your left (roughly 2.8 miles)
A variety of historic buildings have been preserved in the valley, including two churches, a school, and several homes and outbuildings. This is the best place in the park to see historic frame buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Cataloochee Valley is nestled among some of the most rugged mountains in the southeastern United States. Surrounded by 6000-foot peaks, this isolated valley was one of the largest and most prosperous settlements in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Five historic buildings are located along the road in the valley. Other buildings can be reached if you're willing to walk a couple miles down the nearby Little Cataloochee Trail. The Self-guiding Auto Tour booklet provides brief histories of each structure. In addition, historical information and exhibits are available seasonally at the Palmer House.
The entrance road to Cataloochee Valley is a winding, gravel road that has some steep drop offs with no guard rails. The road is narrow, so drivers may be required to stop or back up their vehicles to allow oncoming motorists to pass. Horse trailer traffic may be encountered on the road. Please use caution when driving on this road.
The most direct route into the valley is to take Cove Creek Road. To get to the valley from interstate I-40, exit at North Carolina exit #20 and travel 0.2 miles on route 276. Turn right onto Cove Creek Road and follow the signs 11 miles into the Cataloochee Valley. To get there from Oconaluftee or Cherokee, 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 gas station), turn left and follow the signs 11 more miles to Cataloochee. Using the Cove Creek Road route, motorists will be traveling on a gravel road for approximately 15 minutes.
A more scenic route (not recommended for RVs) is to take a long winding road, highway Route 32, from Cosby, TN to the Tennessee-North Carolina state border, where the road becomes gravel. It twists and winds into Cataloochee. (This route is not recommended if your passengers are prone to car sickness.) Using this route, motorists will be traveling on a gravel road for approximately 45 minutes.