|Basic Visit Info||Cades Cove Area||Clingmans Dome||Deep Creek|
|Fontana Dam||Foothills Parkway||Little River Road||Main Gravel Roads|
|Mingus Mill||Mountain Farm Museum||Newfound Gap Road||Roaring Fork Trail|
There are a number of things to do while enjoying Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These activities include but are not limited to birding, camping, hiking, photography, star gazing, trail rides and wildlife watching. For a detailed list of Great Smoky Mountains hiking possibilities, with locations and trails, see the Hiking Page.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over one-half million acres, making it the largest national park in the East. An auto tour of the park offers panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and uninterrupted forest stretching to the horizon.
There are many ways to enjoy the Great Smokies. One day is not enough to see the entire park. But catching some highlights are possible.
From Gatlinburg, Townsend, and Tennessee
An excellent plan is to head to Cades Cove early in the morning to see the wildlife. Then hike to Abrams Falls. After a picnic lunch at Metcalf Bottoms or the Chimneys picnic area, drive over Newfound Gap Road and take in the scenery. Also stop to enjoy a few quiet walkways. After Newfound Gap, take Clingmans Dome Road for its seven miles along the State-line ridge. One of the Park's most popular destinations is Clingmans Dome. The sunsets are spectacular.
From Cherokee, Bryson City, and North Carolina
Starting from the Deep Creek area, slightly north of Bryson City, take the short walk to Toms Branch and Indian Creek Falls. Then head over to the Blue Ridge Parway and follow it nine miles. At Balsam Mountain Road drive into the park and pass Mile High Overlook. The paved road ends at a developed area where a .1 mile walk leads to an overlook. After that, head down the well-maintained Heintooga-Roundbottom Road. This road ends in Cherokee. If there's still time drive up Newfound Gap Road and Clingmans Dome Road to Clingmans Dome.
There are over 270 miles of road in the Smokies. Most are paved, and even the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard two-wheel drive automobiles. Travel times on most roads will average 30 miles per hour or slower.
Driving in the mountains presents new challenges for many drivers. When going downhill, shift to a lower gear to conserve your brakes and avoid brake failure. If your vehicle has an automatic transmission, use L or 2. Keep extra distance between you and the vehicle in front of you and watch for sudden stops or slowdowns.
The following is a partial listing of some of the park's most interesting roads. To purchase a copy of the park's official road guide, Mountain Roads & Quiet Places, call: 865-436-0120 or stop by any park visitor center.
Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains. It stands at an elevation of 5,048 feet. Newfound Gap captures the essence of the Smokies: like the Park it lies half in Tennessee and half in North Carolina. Set atop this high ridge, it provides wonderful mountain views. Clothed in a mixture of spruce-fir and northern hardwood forests it supports a wide variety of plant and animal life. Millions of people drive through Newfound Gap every year. Also at Newfound Gap is the Rockefeller Memorial. A two-tiered stone structure, this monument is a thank you to the Rockefeller family's $5 million donation to complete the Park's land acquisition. Without this generous gift, the dream of a Great Smoky Mountains National Park would remain unfulfilled.
Newfound Gap's recognition as the lowest pass through the Smoky Mountains did not come until 1872. Arnold Henry Guyot, a Swiss geographer tenured at Princeton University, measured many Southern Appalachian elevations. Mt. Guyot, the second highest peak in the Smokies, takes his name. To get his data he used a simple barometer and air pressure changes. In most cases he was within 2-3% of current values. His work revealed Newfound Gap as the lowest pass through the mountains displacing nearby Indian Gap. A new road followed, and it became the forerunner of Newfound Gap Road.
The Appalachian Trail crosses Newfound Gap Road at Newfound Gap, and its old roadbed, abandoned in the early 1960's, provides additional walking opportunities.
Newfound Gap Road is US Route 441's name through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a 33 mile scenic highway connecting Cherokee, North Carolina with Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Average driving time is 55 minutes. Built to National Park Service standards, the road retains a grade of less than 5%, and is passable to all RV and bus traffic. Commercial vehicles are only allowed on park roads with permission.
Newfound Gap Road rises 3,600 feet from Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap. The winding road hugs the mountainside while revealing spectacular vistas of the Oconaluftee and West Prong of the Little Pigeon Valleys. At one point the road makes a loop over itself!
A tenth of a mile south of Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome Road leads west to Clingmans Dome. Other attractions along the route include: the Sugarlands Visitor Center, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Mountain Farm Museum, Mingus Mill, and the all-access Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail. Many other trailheads begin along Newfound Gap Road.
This road parallels the Little River from Sugarlands Visitor Center to near Townsend, Tennessee. Highlights include the river, waterfalls, and wildflowers. It is 18 miles of paved road.
The Mountain Farm Museum is a piece of living Smoky Mountain history. It is based on a typical Southern Appalachian farm in the 1880s. The Park assembled buildings from throughout the Great Smoky Mountains to create this farmstead. The farm has a house, barn, apple house, springhouse, and blacksmith shop. Animals and crops keep the farm active, and the Mountain Farm Museum is open year-round. In season Park staff and volunteers give demonstrations. Admission is free. The museum is adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
A half-mile north of the Mountain Farm Museum is Mingus Mill. A working mill, this piece of living history processes corn into meal using restored 19th century equipment. Hours vary, but generally the mill is open daily in the summer and on spring and fall weekends.
Cades Cove, a 6,800-acre valley near Townsend, Tennessee provides a representative sample of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's natural and cultural history as well as its recreational opportunities. There are many things to see and do here, and approximately 2 million people who come to see and do them each year
The story of Cades Cove begins with its very shape and rocks, its geomorphology and geology. It is known as a window, meaning that mountains of older rocks surround the valley floor of younger rocks. Evidence suggests that the Appalachian orogeny (or mountain building event) occurred approximately 240 million years ago and that the mountains have been weathering and eroding ever since. Here, following a series of faulting and uplift periods, the older Precambrian rocks have eroded to expose the younger Ordovician limestone. By looking into the window of Cades Cove, we can see more of the natural and cultural story of the Smokies and can discover different ways to enjoy them.
This fertile valley, drained by Abrams Creek and its two main branches, supports a wide diversity of plants and animals. The valley floor has approximately 2,400 acres of largely open fields surrounded by forests. Currently, native grass and wetland restoration is being undertaken in the fields. Bison, elk, mountain lions, and wolves are among the animals that have been extirpated from the Smokies. Whitetail deer are seen on most early morning or evening visits to Cades Cove. Black bear and wild turkey are less frequently sighted. River otters and barn owls have been reintroduced into the Cove; however, these secretive animals are rarely seen.
Cades Cove nestles in a beautiful valley. Open fields lap against 5,500-foot mountain peaks. With more than 2.5 million visitors annually, it is the Park's most popular destination. Most people come to these 5,000 open acres to observe the wildlife. In addition to the wide variety of wildlife, several historic buildings date to the nineteenth century, including a working grist mill, barns, three churches, pioneer log cabins, and frame houses.
Cades Cove Road is an 11 mile loop road that accesses the cove. The one-way, paved road is open from sunrise to sunset year-round. On Wednesdays and Saturdays from early May to late September the road is closed to motor vehicles until 10:00 am This allows a safe, quiet experience for bicyclists and pedestrians. On December's Saturdays, the loop road closes to cars until noon. Hayrides, available most of the year, serve as public transportation. Bicyclists and walkers can also use the road.
Many Park roads have only a gravel surface. Two wheel drive vehicles can drive these roads. Some provide access to less visited park areas while other are scenic drives in their own right. Below are description of the three main gravel roads. All of them are one way.
Heintooga-Roundbottom Road is a 15 mile road leading from Balsam Mountain Road to Big Cove Road. It takes one hour to drive. The only access to the area is along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Starting from a mile high, this road descends through the Raven Fork drainage basin. A few small vistas open along exposed ledges. The road travels through lush second growth forest and along cascading streams. Heintooga-Roundbottom Road is an opportunity to experience the Great Smokies solitude and wilderness. Following Raven Fork's playful waters, the road leads into Cherokee, NC along Big Cove Road.
Rich Mountain Road
Rich Mountain Road heads north from Cades Cove over Rich Mountain to Tuckalechee Cove and Townsend, TN. The 8-mile road provides beautiful views of Cades Cove. Many prize-winning photographs come from here. Situated on a dry ridge, an oak dominated forest lines the roadside. Once outside the Park, the road becomes steep and winding.
Parsons Branch Road
Parsons Branch Road leads from Cades Cove southwest to US Route 129 near Deals Gap. Virgin oak forest lines this historic route. At present the road is open only to hikers and equestrians. Floods washed away stream crossings in spring 1994. Recent funding will allow the necessary repairs to begin, and the Parks plans to open the road in early 1998.
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a nature trail for your car. It forms an 11-mile loop along with Cherokee Orchard Road. The one-way road runs for 8 miles. It is not suitable for bicycles, RVs, trailers, or buses. Cherokee Orchard Road is a two way road without these restrictions and leads to the Rainbow Falls parking area. Airport Road in Gatlinburg turns into the Park's Cherokee Orchard Road.
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is an intimate journey though the Smoky Mountain's lush mountain wilderness. In places it reveals some of nature's secrets, while in others it weaves the story of the people who once lived here. Water is a constant companion on this journey. Cascades, rapids, and falls adorn the roadside. The sound of rushing water is never far away. The air feels damp and tropical throughout the summer months, yet the icy water rarely reaches 60� F.
Along the route are many hiking trails including the hike to Grotto Falls. This same trail continues to Brushy Mountain and Mt. LeConte.
Healthy second growth forests escort the road on its journey. A few better drained ridges support a pine-oak forest, but cove hardwoods and hemlocks dominate the landscape. Rhododendron's thick, sprawling foliage green the understory year-round. In early July their pink blooms highlight the shadowy forest.
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is open to vehicle traffic from early spring until 01 Dec each year.
The Foothills Parkway skirts the Great Smoky Mountain National Park's northern side. Only three sections are currently open to vehicle traffic. Due to funding and legislative difficulties, the ultimate status of the parkway remains uncertain. Despite political disappointments, the Foothills Parkway's open sections provide beautiful views of the Park and surrounding country. Completed sections of the Foothills Parkway are open year-round, weather permitting. Uncompleted sections are open to pedestrians, bicyclists, and equestrians.
Running southwest from Walland to Chilhowee, this 20-mile section is the Foothills Parkway's longest segment. It provides beautiful vistas of the northwestern Smokies, including Thunderhead Mountain, highest peak in the Park's western half. Many of its south facing overlooks peer over Happy Valley, into the Smokies, and beyond. Its north facing views oversee Maryville, Knoxville, and the Great Valley.
Halfway along the segment, a trail leads to the Look Rock Tower. It is a third of a mile from the road. The trail makes a moderate climb. The tower provides a 360-degree panorama, and a platform for scientific research such as air quality. Sunsets from the tower are often spectacular.
Foothills Parkway East is a six mile road leading from Cosby, TN to Interstate 40. Its eastern terminus is TN exit 443. Built on Green Mountain, the road provides wonderful views of Cosby Valley to the south and the Newport area to the north.
Technically part of the Foothills Parkway, The Spur is the only direct route from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge. A scenic four-lane highway, it follows the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's highest point. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the second highest point east of the Mississippi. Only North Carolina's Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) rises higher.
Clingmans Dome is a popular Park destination. Located along the state-line ridge, it is half in North Carolina and half in Tennessee. The peak is accessible after driving Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap, and then walking a steep half-mile trail. A paved trail leads to a 54-foot observation tower. The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along its 2,144 mile journey.
Vistas from Clingmans Dome are spectacular. On clear, pollution-free days, views expand over 100 miles and into seven states. However, air pollution limits average viewing distances to 22 miles. Despite this handicap, breathtaking scenes delight those ascending the tower. It is a great place for sunrises and sunsets.
Cloudy days, precipitation, and cold temperatures reveal the hostile environment atop Clingmans Dome. Proper preparation is essential for a good visit. Weather conditions atop Clingmans Dome change quickly. Snow can fall from anytime between September and May. Get a current weather forecast before heading to the tower.
The cool, wet conditions on Clingmans Dome's summit make it a coniferous rainforest. Unfortunately, pests, disease, and environmental degradation threaten the unique and fragile spruce-fir forest. Dead trunks litter the area, and dying trees struggle to survive another year. Berries thrive in the open areas, and a young forest will replace the dying trees.
Although Clingmans Dome is open year-round, the road leading to it is closed from December 1 through April 1, and whenever weather conditions require. People can hike and cross-country ski on the road during the winter.
At 480 ft., Fontana Dam is the tallest concrete dam east of the Rocky Mountains. The dam impounds the Little Tennessee River forming Fontana Lake and produces hydroelectric power. Reservoir size is approximately 11,700 acres. There is a shoreline of about 240 miles. You will enjoy beautiful scenery in the area. Fontana Dam is located near Fontana Village, North Carolina.
Directions: Follow U.S. 74 west from Bryson City. Turn right at the State Highway 28 turnoff. Follow State Highway 28 until the turnoff to the right for Fontana Dam. From Maryville, follow U.S. 129 south. Turn left at State Highway 28. Go approximately 10 miles to turnoff on left for Fontana Dam.
Deep Creek is north of Bryson City, North Carolina. Enjoy a casual stroll along one of several trails leading from the campground and picnic area. Take a short hike to one of three waterfalls in the Deep Creek area.
Camping: Each campsite is $14.00 per night in Deep Creek campground. Deep Creek campground is open from March through November. Group camping is also available.
Hiking: There are several designated backcountry campsites (by permit only) along Deep Creek Trail.
Fishing: Pick up fishing regulations from any park visitor center. A valid North Carolina or Tennessee fishing license is required to fish within park boundaries. A fishing license may be purchased in Bryson City or other communities near the park.
Picnicking: There is a sizable picnic area with restrooms and changing rooms available.The pavilion may be reserved by calling 1-800-365-2267. The cost is $20.00.
Horse riding stables: Call Deep Creek Riding Stables at 828-488-8504 for availability.
Waterfalls: Indian Creek Falls, Juneywhank Falls, and Tom's Branch Falls.
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