Some days are just meant for driving, especially in the Smokies. If you’re having one of those days let us suggest a couple of great drives through the national park that will keep you on the paved trails, instead of the rocky, and sometimes muddy ones. Lets get started.
Now, if you really want to see the vast plant and wildlife ecosystem that makes up the Smokies, this first drive is as close as one could possibly get to witnessing all these different species.
Newfound Gap Road
Want to see the Smokies? Start at Newfound Gap Road. It’s said that you’d have to travel from Georgia to Maine in order to pass through the variety of forest ecosystems you’ll experience traveling Newfound Gap Road. Starting in Gatlinburg, you’ll find yourself in Cherokee, NC 30 miles later. Besides the vast, wonderous forest ecosystem, motorists will also find other attractions along the way including Sugarlands Visitor Center located just outside Gatlinburg, Clingman’s Dome Road, Ocanaluftee Valley, and Mingus Mill. If those spots don’t tickle your fancy, there are plenty of pulloffs, picnic places, and breathtaking views along the way.
Cades Cove Scenic Drive
This drive will take you right into the heart of the settling of the Smokies. This 11-mile loop traverses the entire cove, which was settled between 1818 and 1821, and you can stop and see old churches, a working gristmill, barns and restored homesteads right off the Loop Road.
There are 159 camping sites, and a trail that takes you up to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top. Take an afternoon and check out the numerous white-tailed deer, maybe even spot a black bear, and you’ll more than likely come upon some wild turkeys if you stay for awhile. Cades Cove is perfect for a drive, a hike, or just about anything.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
This auto way takes its name from the rushing water you’ll hear if you crack your window. This six-mile, one-way loop road starts just a mile outside Gatlinburg. The first stop along the Roaring Fork Nature Trail is Noah “Bud” Ogle’s farmstead where you can get out and take a walking tour then hike to Rainbow Falls. Grotto Falls is also located along this drive.
Directions – To reach the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, turn off the main parkway in Gatlinburg at traffic light No. 8 and follow Historic Nature Trail Road to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park. Just beyond the Rainbow Falls trailhead you have the option of taking the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (closed in winter). Buses, trailers, and motor homes are not permitted on the Roaring Fork motor nature trail.
Explore the Greenbrier
Wildflower watchers will love this 6 mile road that welcomes auto tours. Places like Porter’s Creek are particularly vibrant in March and April in the Greenbrier area of the park. Once you get there, you might just want to get out of the car and experience the Greenbrier for yourself. If that’s the case, let us suggest taking a four mile hike to Ramsey Cascades – the tallest falls in the Smoky Mountains.