I cannot tell you the number of times I have had visitors to this area ask if there is ‘another‘ way to get to the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community without having to get on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. Well, there is an if you have a little bit of time and don’t mind getting off the beaten path, it is actually a very pretty drive.
First you want to get off the Parkway in Pigeon Forge. Head to traffic light 8 and turn, as if you are heading to Dollywood. Once you make the turn off of the Parkway you will be on Dollywood Lane. Follow Dollywood Lane to the first traffic light that you come to and turn right. Those of you that have been coming to this area for a long time will recognize this as the ‘old’ entrance to Dollywood. Follow Dollywood Lane past the employee entrance only to Dollwywood – Dollywood Lane now becomes Upper Middle Creek Road.
Follow Upper Middle Creek Road until it ends at Birds Creek road and take a right onto Birds Creek Road. You will turn beside a gas station called Dunn’s Market (a place that might have the best greasy-spoon hamburger in the county). Stay on Birds Creek Road for 4.5 miles. You are going to pass some beautiful areas along this twisty little mountain road. You will pass the Caton’s Chapel area and you will be very close to Pittman Center (both of these areas are certainly worth exploring at some point in your travels in the Smokies. At around 4.5 miles you are going to arrive at a traffic light. You have now reached the Arts and Crafts Community.
You will be at the juncture of three roads: Birds Creek, Glades Road and Buckhorn Road. If you go straight you will be on Buckhorn Rd which is the’other’ road in the Arts and Crafts Community and has a lot of galleries (you can see G Webb’s gallery in front of you from the intersection) and craft shops. If you take a right you will be on Glades Road which of course is home to the majority of the arts and crafts shops of the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community. Following this road you will pass small individual craft shops and craft malls that house more then a dozen artists under one roof. Stop into these shops along Glades Road or Buckhorn Road, do some window shopping, start your Christmas shopping and enjoy the fact that you have not had to deal with the traffic of the Parkway in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.
In addition, if you continue down either Buckhorn or Glades Road, you will end up on Hwy 321 which, if you take a right where either road ends you will end up in Gatlinburg at traffic light 3. This backroad will require more driving and if the traffic is light it is not as fast but if you are visiting during the height of the summer tourist season, this will be a much more enjoyable drive.
Obviously, if you are in the Smokies you are going to visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at some point. If you are looking to go straight to the National Park then the Bypass allows you to get there without the stop and go traffic of Gatlinburg.
Driving Tip – You and your family are sitting in your car headed to Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, or I-40. Like most, you decide to take the “Spur” past traffic light No. 10 in Pigeon Forge. As soon as you pass the Gatlinburg Welcome Center you come to a complete stop. Two lanes heading into Gatlinburg, full of cars and families anticipating the fun they are about to have. You can expect a wait just to get to the city limits. Little do you know that a half-mile from the Welcome Center is your escape route: The Gatlinburg Bypass. This Bypass allows you to go directly to the National Park or the other end of Gatlinburg, while providing some of the best views of Gatlinburg that you can find in the area.
Obviously, if you are in the Smokies you are going to visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at some point, or pass close by it at least. If you are looking to go straight to the National Park then the Bypass allows you to get there without having to deal with the stop and go traffic of Gatlinburg. The other end of the bypass drops you off a mere two miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center. At Sugarlands Visitor Center you can reserve campsites, get trail information, buy souvenirs and take in the exhibits – all giving you great Park information. Besides all that, it is also a good place to stop before you head into the mountains for a day hike or just a drive to places like Cherokee, NC. Either way, back to the car…
So you’re stopped in traffic waiting for the guy in front of you to move five inches so that you can move four. If you take the bypass and follow the signs to Gatlinburg, you will find yourself at traffic light No. 10, near the Park Grill and Ober Gatlinburg going against the traffic. You might now realize it, but you have saved yourself some time and your family can get to enjoying Gatlinburg much quicker. You’ll still have to find a place to park but you will be on the same side of the road as some of the larger parking lots up Historic Nature Trail Road. Also, if your destination in Gatlinburg is closer to traffic light No. 10 then you are almost there.
Another suggestion, if it’s dark when you’re leaving Gatlinburg, take the bypass. There is a scenic overlook that gives you an incredible view of the old town in all it’s glowing splendor. At night, with the lights on and the Space Needle shining like a beacon you get a glimpse of what brings people back to Gatlinburg year after year. So, the next time you are headed to Gatlinburg or when you are headed to the National Park remember the Gatlinburg Bypass and you will be the hero of your vacation.
So we’ve gone over all the ways to cut around traffic and make the trip in and around Gatlinburg an easier one. What about getting there? While we can’t possibly notify you of every highway that’s under construction, or every traffic pileup along the way, here’s a chart (below) with mileage and corresponding drive time from major cities to Gatlinburg. Plan your trip accordingly and be ready to enjoy Gatlinburg to its fullest when you arrive.
The stretch of road between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN (locally known as “the spur” or US 441) will go under construction starting September 15, 2008 and will continue through October 8. The good news is that construction will only take place during weekdays from early morning until noon. During this time there will be lane closures which will increase traffic congestion. Obviously, the big suggestion is to stay away from the spur during those times….unless you want to take a slooooow stroll through 4.5 miles on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Be sure to check out our guide on tips for avoiding traffic in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge as well!