Gatlinburg Scenic Drives: Discover Breathtaking Beauty with Your Family
There’s no better way to explore this region than by taking some of the most scenic drives with your family. So buckle up, and let’s hit the road!
Living near Gatlinburg, the Smoky Mountain area is one of our favorite places to go with our kids out of all the places we’ve traveled.
Top Thing To Do: Anakeesta
Where To Stay: Margaritaville Gatlinburg is our favorite resort in the area. While it’s not the cheapest, it’s a new resort with a nice pool and a great location.
Where To Eat: Ole Red (not because the food is amazing, but because of the live nightly entertainment)
How To Get There: The closest airport is Knoxville (TYS), about an hour away. A rental car is almost a requirement due to the distance between attractions. Click here for deals on Discover rental cars. Gatlinburg is also within a day’s drive of 2/3rds of the country’s population!
Must-See Scenic Drives in Gatlinburg and the Surrounding Areas
Newfound Gap Road: A Scenic Journey Through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Newfound Gap Road is a 33-mile stretch that showcases the best of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While driving along this scenic route, you’ll:
- Pass through diverse forests, ranging from lush valleys to high-elevation spruce-fir forests, allowing you to witness the variety of flora found in the park.
- Stop at picturesque overlooks to take breathtaking mountain vistas and snap unforgettable photos.
- Cross paths with the Appalachian Trail, where you can take a short hike or admire the iconic footpath.
Newfound Gap Road is the perfect way to experience the essence of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Little River Road: A Drive Alongside Nature’s Beauty
Little River Road, which winds alongside the Little River, offers a scenic journey filled with stunning mountain streams, waterfalls, and historic buildings. Highlights of this route include:
- The Townsend Wye, a popular swimming area with clear water, perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day. Keep in mind that parking can be limited during peak hours.
- Several mesmerizing waterfalls, such as Meigs Falls and The Sinks, are easily accessible from the road.
- A glimpse into the region’s history through the well-preserved historic buildings found along the route.
Swimming at the Townsend Wye
One of the highlights of passing through Townsend is the opportunity to take a break and cool off at the Townsend Wye, a popular swimming spot where the Little River and Middle Prong of the Little River converge. This picturesque area offers shallow, clear waters perfect for wading and swimming and smooth rocks for sunbathing and picnicking.
Remember that the parking at Townsend Wye can get quite busy, especially during the warmer months and weekends. Arriving early in the day or visiting on a weekday can increase your chances of finding a parking spot. Also, remember to practice water safety and watch children at all times while swimming, as the water flow can be fast.
Taking a refreshing dip at the Townsend Wye is a fantastic way to break up your scenic drive from Knoxville to Gatlinburg. The area’s natural beauty and soothing waters provide a welcome respite from the journey and create an enjoyable experience for the whole family.
Little River Road is an excellent choice for families and nature lovers seeking a relaxing and visually stunning drive.
Foothills Parkway: Panoramic Mountain Views and Picnic Perfection
Foothills Parkway provides awe-inspiring panoramic mountain views and lovely picnic areas. This newer road takes you high above the Townsend and Wears Valley area, offering:
- Uninterrupted vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains provide countless photo opportunities.
- Numerous picnic areas with picturesque backdrops are perfect for enjoying a meal with your family surrounded by nature.
- A serene driving experience allows you to appreciate the region’s beauty fully.
Foothills Parkway is the ideal choice for those looking to immerse themselves in the majesty of the Smoky Mountains.
Tip: Take the Foothills Parkway west towards Knoxville and Maryville, then on the way back, take the valley through Townsend and stop for lunch or some family-friendly river tubing.
Rich Mountain Road: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventure
Rich Mountain Road is a one-way gravel road that takes you off the beaten path, offering breathtaking views and historic structures as you journey. An off-the-beaten-path one-way gravel road showing breathtaking views and historic structures.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: A Journey Through Lush Forests and Waterfalls
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-way loop road that offers a diverse and immersive experience. As you meander through lush forests, you’ll encounter:
- Breathtaking waterfalls, including the majestic Rainbow Falls, require a moderate 5.4-mile round-trip hike to reach.
- Historical sites like preserved log cabins and grist mills glimpse the region’s rich history.
- Abundant wildlife roams the dense forests, including black bears, wild turkeys, and white-tailed deer.
This picturesque route is a must-visit for anyone seeking a serene and awe-inspiring adventure.
Cades Cove Loop Road: A Perfect Blend of Nature, Wildlife, and History
Cades Cove Loop Road, an 11-mile journey, offers an unforgettable experience that combines natural beauty, wildlife encounters, and historical landmarks. Highlights of this drive include:
- A chance to spot black bears, wild turkeys, and other native animals in their natural habitats.
- Historic buildings, such as preserved log cabins, churches, and barns, showcase the region’s heritage.
- Scenic vistas of rolling meadows, lush forests, and the surrounding mountains provide countless photo opportunities.
Cades Cove Loop Road is ideal for families seeking a well-rounded and memorable experience.
Tail of the Dragon: A Thrilling Ride on US Highway 129
For those with a passion for driving and a taste for adventure, the Tail of the Dragon is a must. This exhilarating 11-mile stretch on US Highway 129 features:
- A whopping 318 curves challenge even the most skilled drivers.
- Stunning views of the surrounding forests and mountains make every twist and turn a visual delight.
- There are opportunities to spot wildlife along the roadside, such as white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.
While not for the faint of heart, the Tail of the Dragon is an unforgettable experience that offers thrills and breathtaking scenery for adventure-seekers.
Blue Ridge Parkway: A Scenic Connection Between National Parks
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a famous route that connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. This remarkable drive offers:
- Endless beauty, with stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and lush valleys.
- You can enjoy numerous overlooks, hiking trails, and picnic areas.
- An opportunity to experience the diverse landscapes and ecosystems that span these two national parks.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is an unforgettable drive that showcases the breathtaking beauty of the eastern United States.
Cherohala Skyway: A Journey Through Mesmerizing Fall Foliage
From Tennessee to North Carolina, the 43-mile Cherohala Skyway is renowned for its dazzling fall foliage. As you drive along this scenic route, you’ll:
- Witness a kaleidoscope of colors as the leaves transform into vibrant red, orange, and yellow shades.
- Enjoy panoramic views of the mountains and valleys from various overlooks.
- Have the opportunity to stop at numerous trailheads and explore the surrounding wilderness.
The Cherohala Skyway is a must-visit for those who appreciate the beauty of nature’s seasonal changes.
Clingmans Dome Road: Ascend to the Highest Point in the Park
Clingmans Dome Road is a 7-mile journey that leads to the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the summit, an observation tower provides:
- On clear days, spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and even neighboring states.
- Access to the Appalachian Trail, where you can hike a short section or admire the iconic path.
- A unique perspective of the park’s diverse ecosystems, ranging from low-elevation deciduous forests to high-elevation spruce-fir forests.
When is the best time to enjoy fall colors in Gatlinburg? Peak fall foliage typically occurs in late October and early November.
Where can I find the best Smoky Mountain scenic drives near Pigeon Forge? Foothills Parkway, Wears Valley Road, and Gatlinburg Bypass are all great options close to Pigeon Forge.
Can I access the scenic drives in a large vehicle or RV? Some roads, like Newfound Gap Road and Foothills Parkway, are accessible to larger vehicles. However, narrow, winding routes like Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Rich Mountain Road are not recommended for large vehicles.
Where can I spot wildlife on Gatlinburg scenic drives? Cades Cove Loop Road and Cataloochechee Valley Road are known for their abundant wildlife, including black bears, white-tailed deer, and wild turkeys.
Are there any scenic drives with paved trails suitable for strollers or wheelchairs? Yes! Clingmans Dome Road offers a paved trail to the observation tower, making it accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.
What are some family-friendly picnic spots along the scenic drives? Meigs Falls, Grotto Falls, and several picnic areas along the Foothills Parkway are perfect for a family picnic.
Tips for Enjoying Gatlinburg Scenic Drives
- Check the National Park Service website for road closures and alerts before setting off.
- Plan your travel times and round-trip distances to avoid rushing and ensure you can fully enjoy the beautiful views.
- If you’re staying in downtown Gatlinburg, consider taking the Gatlinburg Bypass for a short drive with lovely mountain vistas.
- Don’t forget your camera to capture the breathtaking scenery and unforgettable moments with your family!
In Conclusion: Hit the Road and Explore Gatlinburg’s Beauty
Gatlinburg scenic drives offer a fantastic way to experience the stunning landscapes, historic sites, and diverse wildlife of the Great Smoky Mountains with your loved ones. There’s a perfect route for everyone from the popular Newfound Gap Road to the lesser-known Rich Mountain Road. So, pack a picnic, grab your camera, and set off on an unforgettable adventure through the picturesque Smoky Mountain area!
Outdoor Adventures: Fishing, Snow Tubing, and Fun for the Whole Family
The Great Smoky Mountains offer countless opportunities for outdoor fun for visitors of all ages:
- Fishing: Spend a relaxing day fishing in the park’s abundant streams, or plan a fishing trip in Gatlinburg.
- Snow Tubing: Check out snow tubing near Gatlinburg for a thrilling winter activity and create unforgettable memories with your family.
- Fun Things to Do: Discover the top fun things to do in Gatlinburg and the surrounding area, catering to kids and adults alike.
- Start your day with a delicious breakfast at one of the Best Breakfast Restaurants in Gatlinburg.
Also, don’t miss the exciting, fun things to do in Pigeon Forge with kids for even more family-friendly attractions.
The Perfect Smoky Mountain Vacation: Cozy Cabins and Charming Small Towns
One of the best ways to experience the Great Smoky Mountains is by staying in a cozy cabin in the woods. Check out Cabins in Tennessee: Find Your Perfect Vacation Spot for inspiration.
Winter Wonderland: Exploring the Smokies in the Snow
Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains during winter offers a unique perspective on the park’s beauty. While some areas and facilities may be closed, the snow-covered landscapes and fewer crowds make for a serene and magical experience.