With over 270 miles of paved roads and approximately 500,000 acres of beautiful mountain scenery, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best places in the country for a scenic drive.
Cades Cove Loop:
The historical Cades Cove Loop Road is an eleven-mile, one-way drive through some of the prettiest scenery in the Smoky Mountains. Following a winding river dotted with waterfalls and picnic areas, the road to Cades Cove is sure to provide a relaxing and scenic driving experience.
The beautiful valley, which is protected by the surrounding mountains, will provide you with a taste of everything that the Park is famous for. In addition to the post-card like views of the valley and towering mountains, expect to see local plant life, wildlife, historic churches, pioneer cabins, villages, and an operating mill. Even though Cades Cove is a driving tour, you will want to allow time to get out of your vehicle, stretch your legs and enjoy everything the Loop has to offer!
Although the road is normally open from sunrise to sunset, Cades Cove Loop is closed until 10 AM on Wednesdays and Saturdays in order to accommodate bikers and hikers. Depending on the volume of visitors, the 11 mile loop will take between 90 minutes and three hours.
Insider Tip: If you are hoping to encounter wildlife, the most likely time to see deer, wild turkey, black bears, wolves, bobcats, and other animals is within an hour of sunrise or sunset.
Newfound Gap Road:
The curvy 14 mile drive from Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap is full of stunning mountain views, waterfalls, picnic areas, and short hikes. During the short drive, your elevation will steadily increase from approximately 1,400 feet at the park entrance to 5,046 feet at Newfound Gap. As a result of the elevation change, you will encounter many different types of trees and plant life during the drive. Newfound Gap, which is the lowest drivable pass through the Smoky Mountains, has picturesque views in all directions, a short walking trail, and is the perfect spot for a picnic lunch.
Insider Tip: During peak seasons, this road can become VERY congested. If visiting during holidays or the fall, either start early or make the trip on a weekday.
Directly to the South of Newfound Gap is the turnoff for Clingmans Dome Road. During the seven mile drive to the summit, you will have amazing views of mountain ridges, a damp spruce-fir forest, and two states (Tennessee and North Carolina). Once you reach the end of the road, you will find ample parking, restrooms, and a gift shop. In addition to the other amenities, there is a half-mile paved hike that will take you to the highest point in the Smokies. The views from the 6,643’ summit can stretch for over 100 miles on a clear day!
Insider Tip: Due to dangerous road conditions, Clingmans Dome Road is closed between December 1st and March 31st each year and following any severe weather.
Whether you plan to enjoy the scenery by yourself in an Audi A4, with a companion on a Harley, or with your entire family in an SUV, the three drives above are sure to please!
Author Bio: The guest author, a native Tennessean who owns a Smoky Mountain cabin rental company, enjoys writing about the scenic hikes and drives of the Smoky Mountains National Park.