Exploring the Smoky Mountains can be done in so many different ways! From hiking, camping, llama treks, drives, and other outdoor recreational activities, it’s no wonder that the Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited National Park in the United States! With so many options it can be hard to narrow it down to what you should do. Something great about this area are the roads designed specifically for you to enjoy the unique sights of the Smokies. So, roll down the windows and breathe in the mountain air while you cruise along our top 5 favorite drives through the Smoky Mountains.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: Take a drive into the heart of the Smokies as you navigate along a single lane, one-way road, through the forests. This path may be congested, but with a variety of pull-offs it can feel like you’re the only one in the mountains. Enjoy the sights and sounds of waterfalls and rivers as they drown out the noise of passing cars. Simply drive the loop or stop and hike the many trails throughout, ranging anywhere from 1-8 miles, depending on what you feel, or explore some of the historical buildings. But, be sure to stop at the one peek-a-boo lookout, it is here that you’ll glimpse the majesty of the Smokies through the trees. And don’t worry about bathrooms, there are ones at the beginning and end of the loop with a little gift shop to complete the drive.
Cades Cove Loop Road: This single lane roadway is usually very busy, but is worth a visit for the many historical buildings you can explore. Grab a map in the beginning and decide which hikes or buildings you want to see, with so many options it’s good to have a plan, or even come back and explore the other areas you missed the first time through. There are also bathrooms and a shopping stop where you can grab some snacks or enjoy your own picnic in the fields. But, whatever you do, keep your eyes open for the wildlife you’ll see wandering the trails with you!
Clingmans Dome Road (Be sure to stop at Newfound Gap Viewpoint along the route to the top): Ascend into the clouds as you make your way to the highest man-made point in Tennessee (the highest natural point is Mount LeConte). The drive to Clingmans Dome will take you winding through the mountains, with a variety of pull-off viewpoints for the Smokies that will leave you in awe. Depending on what time of year you go, the stops can be windy and cold but are still worth stopping. Give yourself the time to take it all in and I promise you won’t regret it. The walk to Clingmans Dome is a little over half a mile, with a slight incline. There are benches along the way, if you need to take a break, and then you can climb the spiral ramp to the highest point for an epic 360 view of the Smoky Mountains. You’ll also find bathrooms and a shop here. Insider’s tip: Stay at the top to watch the sunset, you won’t regret it.
Foothills Parkway Drive: Our zipline guides personal favorite, as it’s close to where many of them live (so you may just see your guides up here watching the sunset after a day of ziplining). This drive is the least busy and probably the newest scenic roadway, near Gatlinburg. It is a double lane so you have to be cautious of other drivers, but you will have plenty of pull-offs where you can not only enjoy views of the Smoky Mountains but also the glittering lights of some of the surrounding towns.
Max Patch: Right on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina is this gem of a spot. It is a bit of a journey to reach this location but is so worth it! You will have to drive about 7-10 miles off-road and then take a small hike to the top. Once you reach the top you’ll be so glad you made the journey! The views here, especially at sunset are out of this world! You will often find many people getting family, engagement or wedding pictures here because this spot is just so beautiful! If you want, you can even extend your stay at Max Patch and watch the sunrise the next day by bringing your camping gear and staying the night. Just be mindful of the times you’re allowed to build a fire and when you cannot.
There are always more drives to explore, each one offering something unique, but the above are our personal favorites! If you have the time and want a few more suggestions, we also love Rich Mountain Road, Upper Tremont Road, and The Tail of the Dragon. Enjoy your drives through the Smokies!