Traveling the Tennessee Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains National Park covers about half of a million acres through North Carolina and Tennessee. The history and beauty of the area attracts over 10 million people annually. These people visit the park for multiple purposes including hiking and camping. However, with 270 miles of roadways, planning a road trip and sightseeing by car is also a wonderful experience. The highway infrastructure is the gateway to amazing mountain views, historic buildings, and endless forests. These roads are well kept and paved, and any standard two-wheel drive vehicle is enough to travel the area. Drivers should note that mountain-style routes require shifting into lower gears to avoid brake failure and that cars should be well kept before attempting the drive. Once ready, head toward Tennessee and begin the amazing journey!
The best place to start is in Gatlinburg as several trails and car routes are accessible through the beautiful town. While enjoying the downtown area, ride on the SkyLift, which is an open-chair lift ride that overlooks the Smoky Mountains. Once you’ve immersed yourself in the beauty, hop in the car and head toward the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This is a route that takes visitors deep into the forest. The section is about six miles. Among the favorite driving paths accessible via the town is Newfound Gap Road which covers 33 miles. This stretch of highway is a high-traffic area that connects to Cherokee, NC and includes a multitude of designated stops perfect for taking pictures. Along the way, stop at the Rockefeller Monument which pays tribute to the family and the contributions that made the park possible.
A must-see scenic route is the Little River Road which is about 18 miles long. From the Sugarlands Visitor Center to Townsend, TN, the road parallels the Little River, providing spectacular views of waterfalls, river, and wildlife. This is one of the two roadways that run through the park. Therefore, access to campgrounds and trails are mostly through this road. While on the path, head toward Cades Cove. The one-lane road is a loop that is 27 miles from Gatlinburg and includes historic sites that have been preserved. The road does have some restrictions and is closed from dusk till dawn and certain days in the morning as the road is also used as a bike path. For those who enjoy hiking, Cade Coves offers a point of entry to Abrams Falls, which is a popular day-hike. This route is also a point of entry to the 8-mile one-way stretch called Rich Mountain Road that offers views of Cade Coves and leads back to Townsend.
The Foothills Parkway is another route that is perfect for sightseeing. This project is not fully completed because of environmental impact studies that are being conducted and budget limitations, thus creating the longest incomplete highway project in the state’s history. However, a large part will be operated by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and will connect Crosby with Townsend. The part of the stretch that is open extends from Chilhowie to Walhalla. The middle section of the parkway connects Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The idea behind the project is to connect all these areas, providing easier access to the western portion of the Smoky Mountains.
Keep in mind that communications may be limited in some areas and by some carriers. Be sure to visit any of the many AT&T stores in Tennessee to get the best available coverage throughout the Smoky Mountains. Also, while visiting the park and planning a drive, keep in mind the possible weather conditions. Some of the roads and trials may be closed; therefore, plan ahead to ensure that you will have access to your anticipated trip hotspots.