The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States! It has some of the best hiking, fishing and wildlife viewing you'll find in the U.S. We're sharing the inside scoop with you so you can plan your next trip to the Smokies.
5 of the Best Scenic Drives in the Smoky Mountains You Don’t Want to Miss
- June 14, 2018
When you visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you don’t even have to get out of your vehicle to explore all the stunning sights! There are a number of scenic drives that allow you to experience the beauty of the national park from the comfort of your car. Here are 5 of the best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains that you don’t want to miss:
1. Cades Cove Loop Road
The Cades Cove Loop Road is the most popular scenic drive in the Smoky Mountains. It is an 11-mile, one-way loop road that circles the cove. Along the tour, you will see wildlife, historical sites and scenic mountain views. Cades Cove is one of the best spots to see wildlife in the park. Keep your eyes peeled for white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes and more! The auto tour takes about 2 to 4 hours to complete. Keep in mind that only bicycle and foot traffic are allowed on the road until 10 a.m. every Saturday and Wednesday morning from early May until late September. Otherwise, the road is open to motor vehicles from sunrise to sunset daily, weather permitting.
2. Cataloochee Valley
The Cataloochee Valley auto tour is on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is considered to be North Carolina’s “Cades Cove.” Along your scenic drive, you’ll see historic buildings, including a school, church, barn and a few homes, as well as elk! The elk can best be seen in the early morning or late evening, and on cloudy summer days before and after storms. Viewing the elk from your car is the safest option because you don’t want to get too close! One of the best parts about Cataloochee Valley is that there are less crowds, so there won’t be as much traffic as there may be on other scenic drives.
3. Newfound Gap Road
With an elevation of 5,046 feet, Newfound Gap Road is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. People often compare the trip over Newfound Gap Road to a drive from Georgia to Maine because of the variety of forest ecosystems. You’ll pass through a cove hardwood forest, pine-oak forest, northern hardwood forest and even an evergreen-spruce fir forest. At 33 miles long, this curvy road usually takes about an hour to travel one way. As you reach Newfound Gap Overlook, you’ll notice the temperature drop almost 15 degrees! This is because you’ll be making a climb of about 3,000 feet, and temperatures are cooler in higher elevations.
4. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a favorite among visitors. It’s narrow and winding, so make sure to go slow! The trail is a 5.5-mile, one-way loop that includes views of rushing mountain streams, old-growth forests and more! There are a number of historic log cabins, homes and buildings that have been preserved, along with grist mills. The trail is narrow and winding, so make sure to go slow and and take your time exploring the sights. Right before you get to the motor nature trail, make some time for a quick stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guiding nature trail, which offers a walking tour of an authentic mountain farmstead and surrounding hardwood forest.
5. Upper Tremont Road
Upper Tremont Road is lesser known than the other scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains, but it has just as many gorgeous views. It’s a must-do for nature-lovers. Along this gravel road, you’ll see fun hiking trails, waterfalls, the Middle Prong of the Little River and other scenic views! There are even post markers on the road that point out areas of historical or cultural significance. This auto tour is especially beautiful during the fall when the leaves have changed colors, and it is not nearly as busy as the other roads, so you can move along at your own pace. There are even spots where you can pull off and enjoy an afternoon of fishing!
You’ll love exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the comfort of your car when you do these scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains! Find out the top things to know about the national park before you go, and start planning your visit.