best scenic drives in smoky mountains cades cove loop

12 Best Scenic Driving Trails in Smoky Mountains (2023)

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Looking for the best scenic driving trails in Smoky Mountains?

If you are planning on driving through the Smoky Mountains and exploring the best scenic driving trails, you’ve come to the right place!

The Great Smoky Mountains are a grand ridge of mountains and forests that span from Tennessee to North Carolina, with peaks as high as 6,600 feet. You may know this area as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States.

The Smoky Mountains, or the Smokies, are known for having diverse plant and animal life and also for being one of America’s oldest mountain ranges. Science tells us that these mountains formed 200-300 million years ago. We asked our friend Sarah from Explore More NC to cover this topic more in-depth. 

Below are my top recommendations for Smoky Mountains:

Top Excursions in Smoky Mountains:

Below are my top recommendations for places to stay in Smoky Mountains:

➡ If you need a rental car for Smoky Mountains drives, I recommend Discover Cars for the best rates!

12 Best Smoky Mountains Driving Trails

While many come to the Smoky Mountains to enjoy the hiking, climbing, and fantastic mountain views, there are also some spectacular scenic drives that are unlike anything else in the country.

Exploring these scenic driving trails is just another wonderful way to see the mountains and appreciate the land. 

Below, we have listed all the best driving trails around the Smokies and some more information that you might find handy. 

1. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Named after one of the largest and fastest streams in the Smoky Mountains, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a short but sweet road in the northern part of the Great Smoky Mountains.

This driving trail is a 5.5-mile, one-way loop road that generally takes visitors about 2 hours to complete (with stops to enjoy the sights.) 

best scenic drives in smoky mountains roaring fork motor trail
Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Smoky Mountains

The road is a narrow winding path that offers beautiful stream sightings, views of old historical buildings, and lots of old-growth forests. It is best visited after a good rain to get the full beauty of the creeks and rivers. This road is closed during winter due to ice and snow.   

2. Newfound Gap Road 

Newfound Gap Road is one of the most popular and the most beautiful drives through the Smoky Mountains, also known as US-441.

The road begins in Gatlinburg, TN, and ends in Cherokee, NC, and goes for about 33 miles. Most visitors spend an hour or so on the drive. This road is so popular because it gives a little bit of everything the park has to offer.

best scenic drives in smoky mountains newfound gap road
Newfound Gap Road in Smoky Mountains

Along this route, you will encounter Campbell Overlook, Mingus Mill, Clingmans Dome Trail, Newfound Gap & Rockefeller Memorial, and Chimney Tops Picnic Area. From this road, you can also access the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, Clingmans Dome. 

3. Cades Cove Loop Road

Over a century ago, during the 1800s, settlers flocked to the beautiful valley of Cades Cove. This valley is surrounded by the Smoky Mountains and can be explored by the 11-mile loop, Cades Cove Loop Road. It’s located about 31 miles from Pigeon Forge. 

As visitors drive along Cades Cove Loop, there are many places to stop and see the valley. There are many historic restored buildings, including log homes, churches, barns, and a working mill. You can also find lots of wildlife, plants, and flowers amidst the amazing mountain backdrop. 

best scenic drives in smoky mountains cades cove loop
Cades Cove loop in Smoky mountains

Cades Cove Loop Road is a single-lane road, so please use caution when stopping to get out. This drive may take 1-2 hours, depending on the traffic and how long you choose to explore.

It is a very popular place during the summer months due to its accessibility and fame. The road is open from sun up to sun down, weather permitting.

4. Clingmans Dome Road

Clingmans Dome Road is a seven-mile drive that can be found just south of Newfound Gap Road on the Tennessee side of the Smoky Mountains. Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park, reaching an elevation of 6,643 feet. 

best scenic drives in smoky mountains clingmans dome
Clingmans Dome in Smoky Mountains

This narrow, winding road is the best way to get to the peak of the mountain. It will lead you to the visitors center and trailhead that leads to the summit’s observation deck.

Along the actual road are many other pull-offs and scenic picnic areas that anyone is welcome to enjoy. This road is typically closed from December to March because of the winter weather. 

5. Forge Creek / Parson Branch Roads

Forge Creek is a 2-mile stretch that connects Cades Cove to Parson Branch Road. Parson Branch Road is 8 miles of gravel road leading out of Cades Cove to Highway 129 and has been used by travelers for over 180 years.

Parson Branch Road is often less busy than Cades Coves, so it provides a bit of relief from crowds on busy days. Open between March 3 through December 31, weather permitting.

Parson Branch Road has been closed since 2016 because of a massive storm that knocked over trees, in turn ruining large sections of the road. This past year, in 2022, officials have finally re-opened the road to the public.

On this freshly opened road, there are many trailheads and hiking opportunities. It takes most visitors about an hour and a half to complete the road. Take note that because of the choppy gravel, motorhomes, buses, and vans longer than 25 feet are not permitted down the road.

High-clearance vehicles are recommended for Parson Branch Road.  It’s open seasonally, generally between April and November.

6. Little River Road

Spanning 18 miles, Little River Road gets you from Gatlinburg to Cades Coves, starting at the Sugarlands Visitors Center. This road is most known for having the trailhead for Laurel Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains. 

Little River Road is open year-round and offers great access points for year-round fishing. Travelers also have access to campgrounds, scenic pull-offs, picnic areas, and many other trailheads.

Maloney Point is another very popular overlook you wouldn’t want to miss as you drive down Little River Road.

7. Cataloochee Valley Road

Cataloochee Valley is one of the most remote parts of the Great Smoky Mountains. This area is known for its rich history and abundant wildlife.

The only entrance to the valley can be reached by the Cataloochee Valley Road, a 13-mile gravel path that is long, winding, and has steep drop-offs with no guard rails. It takes most people around 45 minutes to get from the highway to the entrance of Cataloochee Valley. 

best scenic drives in smoky mountains cataloochee valley
Cataloochee Valley in Smoky mountains

It is important to use caution and drive slowly on this narrow road. Drivers with pull trailers and long beds should take caution as they drive through this mountain path. The Cataloochee Valley Road has pretty mountain sights, and it is all worth it to see Cataloochee Valley. 

8. Rich Mountain Road

Rich Mountain Road is another way out of Cades Cove. Similar to Parson Branch Road, Rich Mountain Road is a one-way gravel road. The road is seven miles and lands you in the town of Townsend.

Rich Mountain Road is one of the more secluded drives in the park, so it is the perfect route for a quiet relaxing drive through the forest. 

Rich Mountain Road offers beautiful forest sights and access to a few trailheads. If you are visiting in the early fall, this is one of the best drives to take for beautiful fall foliage. This road does close from mid-November through the end of March/early April. 

9. Wears Valley Road

Wears Valley Road is a 15-mile path from Pigeon Forge, TN, to Townsend, TN. Not only does Wears Valley Road offer beautiful natural sights, but there are also many attractions and things to do off of the road.

These attractions include places like Elvira’s Cafe, Goats on the Roof, Zipline Adventures, Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster, and PawPaw’s Catfish Kitchen. There are also many lodging opportunities on the road as well. 

You can get the best of both worlds from Wears Valley Road, such as experiencing mountain town life while also having lots of outdoor adventure opportunities nearby. 

best scenic drives in smoky mountains pigeon forge
Pigeon Forge in Smoky Mountains

10. The Tail of the Dragon 

For all you motorcycle enthusiasts, this one’s for you! The Tail of the Dragon has 318 curves in 11 miles and has been titled America’s number one motorcycle and sports car road. The road begins in North Carolina on US 129 and ends in Tabcat Creek, TN. 

Many pull-offs offer great mountain views along the Tail of the Dragon. These pull-offs are also great places to stop and watch the riders if you are in a regular car. Most motorcyclists take about 30 minutes to complete the Tail of the Dragon. 

11. Upper Tremont Road

Upper Tremont Road is near the Wears Valley area and goes for just about three miles. The road is partially paved but mostly gravel and has a dead-end stop at the Middle Prong Trail trailhead. It is the park’s best-kept secret and one of the most peaceful areas around the mountains. 

Upper Tremont Road is the perfect place to drive down, and then you are welcome to park at the trailhead and explore the area. There is waterfall access, picnic areas, lots of little trails, and a stream that can be enjoyed right off the road. 

12. Foothills Parkway

The Foothills Parkway is the only remaining parkway yet to be completed and has been in the works for over 75 years.

This parkway traverses the foothills of the northern Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee and goes for 72 miles. However, only three sections totaling 22.5 miles are open to the public. 

best scenic drives in smoky mountains foothills parkway
Foothills parkway in Smoky Mountains

The most recent section to be opened to the public tilted, “The Missing Link,” is a 16-mile stretch of road that has some of the best views of the Smokies with many overlooks and pull-offs. Since so few areas are open to the public, it only takes about 30 minutes to drive through. 

Where To Stay near Smoky Mountains National Park

Below are some great accommodation options for a trip to explore the Scenic Drives in Smoky Mountains:

Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg

If you are looking to stay where all the action is, Gatlinburg is a great option. Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg is inspired by the laid-back, tropical vibe of Jimmy Buffett’s famous Margaritaville brand.

The resort features stylish and modern accommodations, ranging from standard rooms to luxurious suites with private balconies, as well as an array of amenities to enhance guests’ stay, including an indoor and outdoor pool, a full-service spa, and multiple dining options.

The resort also offers a convenient location just steps away from the attractions and entertainment of downtown Gatlinburg, such as the Gatlinburg SkyBridge and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

➡ Check rates and availability for your stay in Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg

Greystone Lodge on the River

Greystone Lodge on the River is a hotel located in Gatlinburg, TN, situated on the banks of the Cliff Branch River.

The lodge offers comfortable accommodations with a rustic and cozy feel, and many of the rooms feature balconies overlooking the river. Some of the amenities available to guests include free Wi-Fi, an outdoor pool, and a hot tub.

The lodge is also conveniently located near popular attractions in Gatlinburg, such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Gatlinburg Space Needle.

➡ Check rates and availability for your stay in Greystone Lodge on the River

A Majestic View III

Located in Townsend, TN, this private vacation home, you will enjoy a wonderful retreat with stunning mountain views.  The home has 3 bedrooms, sleeps 12, a full kitchen, hot tub, and 4 bathrooms. 

They also have a pool table and air hockey for some indoor fun!  Located about 8 miles from the Smoky Mountains National Park.  Pets are not allowed.

➡ Check rates and availability for your stay in A Majestic View III private vacation home

best scenic drives in smoky mountain townsend
Townsend, TN

Scenic drives in Smoky Mountains: FAQs

Below are some frequently asked questions about Smoky Mountains Scenic drives and views:

What is the most scenic drive through the Smoky Mountains?

While everyone has their favorite drive in the Smoky Mountains, Newfound Gap Road or Clingmans Dome Road are arguably the most iconic and scenic drives in the Smokies. 

Where is the prettiest part of the Smoky Mountains?

Beauty can be found in every nook and cranny of the Smoky Mountains, and this is what makes the Great Smoky Mountains so spectacular. However, many are drawn to the beauty of the natural waterfalls and views from Clingmans Dome.

Can you just drive through Smoky Mountain National Park?

Yes. It is very easy to drive through the Smoky Mountains since there are almost 400 miles of drivable roads in the national park. The National Parks website is a great resource to find out what roads are open seasonally on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park site.

Is the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Smoky Mountains?

The Blue Ridge Parkway borders the Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains are technically part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but not all the Blue Ridge Mountains are Great Smoky Mountains. 

Where is the best view in the Smoky Mountains?

Newfound Gap has the most popular scenic overlook that provides the best views of the Smoky Mountains. Clingmans Dome is another favorite viewpoint for many visitors.

What are the best waterfalls to see in the Smoky Mountains?

There are over 100 waterfalls and cascades throughout the Smoky Mountains. A few must-see waterfalls include Laurel Falls, Rainbow Falls, Grotto Falls, and Mingo Falls. 

Waterfalls in Smoky Mountains
Waterfalls in Smoky Mountains

What is the best month to visit the Smoky Mountains?

Most visitors come to the Smoky Mountains in the summer months of June, July, and August because the weather is warm and perfect for hiking, camping, and swimming. However, October is also a great month to visit the Smokies to get that beautiful fall foliage.

How far is Asheville, NC, from the Smoky Mountains?

Asheville NC is one hour and 50 minutes, or about 86 miles from the Smoky Mountains. 

Final Takeaways: Best Smoky Mountains Scenic Drives

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a place everyone should try to visit at least once. The land is vast, and the sights are spectacular, not to mention the beautiful scenic driving trails that are unlike any other in the United States.

Summary of 12 best driving trails in Smoky Mountains:

  1. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
  2. Newfound Gap Road
  3. Cades Cove Loop Road
  4. Clingmans Dome Road
  5. Forge Creek / Parson Branch Roads
  6. Little River Road
  7. Cataloochee Valley Road
  8. Rich Mountain Road
  9. Wears Valley Road
  10. The Tail of the Dragon
  11. Upper Tremont Road
  12. Foothills Parkway

These quaint little mountain roads and breathtaking highways through the Smokies will truly blow anyone away and will leave lasting memories. 

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