Smoky Mountains Scenic Drive
Great Smoky Mountains

Best Scenic Drives Near Bryson City

Newfound Gap Road / Clingmans Dome (N 35.6108, W – 83.4278): The main road across the Great Smokies and the Clingmans Dome Road spur may be the most popular roads in the park but they can’t be missed. The key is choosing the right time to make the meander (early morning, mid-week, off-season). Newfound Gap Road crosses the park between TN and NC and passes the main visitor centers, Sugarlands and Oconaluftee. There are many attractions along the way, including a major campground at Smokemont, 3.2 miles north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The mountains tower around you all along the route. At Newfound Gap, the Clingmans Dome road runs 7 miles southwest to the park’s highest peak.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (N 35.7023, W – 83.5145): This nature trail for you and your car is one of the park’s best experiences if you don’t want to take to a trail. The road branches from the end loop of Cherokee Orchard Road and winds for almost 8 miles back to Gatlinburg (total mileage: 11 miles; cars and SUVs only; no trailers or RVs). Wildlife is often sighted along this road. There are many little sideslips to pull off into that permit wanders in the woods along the many streams. Don’t miss the “Place of a Thousand Drips,” a lush rocky wall where seeping water cascades down among hanging vegetation. Directions: Turn right from US 441 at traffic light #8 in Gatlinburg on Historic Nature Trail/Airport Rd. In 0.6 mile bear right on Cherokee Orchard Rd. This two-way road loops back on itself, but turn right from the end loop on the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail at about 3 miles.

Heintooga Spur Road to Big Cove Road (From Parkway MP 458 N 35.5100,W – 83.1791): This is one of the quietest scenic loops in the park, a best-kept secret. Take the Parkway from Cherokee and pass through five tunnels on the way to Milepost 458.2 and turn off northeast on the Heintooga Spur Road. You’ll pass the Balsam Mountain Campground and Heintooga Ridge Picnic Area in the 9 miles to the end of the paved, two-way spur from the Parkway. Continue on the unpaved, one way road (no trailers or large RVs permitted). The road makes a meandering 20-mile journey into the heart of the park, then joins the Big Cove Road in the Cherokee’s Quallah Boundary reservation to end within a few tenths of a mile of where you started.
Directions: The Parkway leaves Newfound Gap Rd. (US 441) just inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park and 0.5 miles north of Cherokee.

Townsend Loops (From Townsend N 35.6787, W – 83.7342): Here’s a big loop in a rarely visited side of the Smokies. From Townsend, TN make your way into Cades Cove using TN 73 S and the Laurel Creek Road. Make the Cades Cove loop, then using the lanes that cross the loop head back and leave Cades Cove either of two ways (both exits are closed in winter). The 8-mile Rich Mountain Road goes north across a ridge with great views of the Cove and back to Townsend. Longer loops of varying lengths exit by the Cable Mill and Visitor Center and follows Parson Branch Road to emerge on US 129/TN115 near Cullowhee Lake. Drive north to Chilhowee, TN, then take the 20-mile section of the uncompleted Foothills Parkway to US 321/ TN 73. Be sure to stop at the many scenic overlooks. At Look Rock, take a less than half mile trail to an awesome fire tower view. Turn right at US 321/ TN 73 S and go back to Townsend.
Directions: From Gatlinburg take US 441 N for 8.5 miles, and turn left on US 321/TN 73 W. Take this for 15 miles into Townsend, TN.

Blue Ridge Parkway (From MP 469 N 35.5052, W – 83.3010): The 469-mile scenic road, the most popular unit of the national park system, either begins or ends in Cherokee at the doorstep of the Great Smokies. Milepost 469 is in Cherokee, so that is technically the terminus, but a drive north on the Parkway is a great add-on to a Smokies adventure. Just the Parkway drive to Asheville, where there is easy Interstate access in all directions, yields a classic slice of the Parkway. In the 85 miles between Cherokee and Asheville the road crosses Richland Balsam (Milepost 431.4), the highest point on the motor road at 6,047 feet. It passes the Shining Rock Wilderness (Milepost 418) and permits a stay at Mount Pisgah (Milepost 408), with its campground and comfortable inn.

Directions: The Parkway leaves Newfound Gap Rd. (US 441) just inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park and 0.5 miles north of Cherokee.

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