Little River Road Cliff

best Gatlinburg Scenic Drives

Gatlinburg has some amazing scenery nearby, and there’s no better way to explore the Smoky Mountains than by taking some of the most scenic drives with your family. So let’s look at some of the best!

Gatlinburg Overview
Downtown Gatlinburg
Anakeesta Tower

Gatlinburg Overview

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), which is 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!

Scenic Drives Around in Gatlinburg

Newfound Gap Road

Newfound Gap Road: Gatlinburg Scenic Drives
Newfound Gap Road

Newfound Gap Road is a 33-mile stretch that showcases the best of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This route is one of the best, climbing up to some of the highest elevations in the Smoky Mountains, where you’re more likely to find snow in the winter.

It’s just a short drive from Gatlinburg to reach North Carolina on this trip. You’ll even cross paths with the Appalachian Trail.

Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You can even go from Newfound Gap to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee (and the Smoky Mountains!), although Clingman’s Dome is closed during winter. For current road status, especially regarding snow closures, check the National Park Service (NPS) website.

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
Little River Road near Townsend

Little River Road, which winds alongside the Little River, offers a scenic journey filled with stunning mountain streams, waterfalls, and historic buildings.

This road takes you from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove, with plenty to see. There are some great stops to pull over and walk down to the river or take pictures along the road.

The Sinks
The Sinks in the Great Smoky Mountains

Waterfalls, like The Sinks are easily accessible from the road.

As mentioned in other articles, The Sinks is a beautiful area to take pictures, but there have been multiple drownings from people swimming in it. If you’re looking for somewhere to swim, continue towards Townend to the Townsend Wye.

Townsend Wye Swimming Area
Townsend Wye in Summer

In the summer, cool off at the Townsend Wye, a popular swimming spot where the Little River and Middle Prong of the Little River converge.

The Wye is located where the road splits off to turn towards either Cades Cove or Gatlinburg.

This area offers cold, clear water, perfect for cooling off on a hot day.

Parking at Townsend Wye be busy, especially on a hot weekend day. Arriving early in the day or visiting on a weekday can increase your chances of finding a parking spot. Watch children always while swimming, as the water flow can be fast.

Foothills Parkway: Panoramic Mountain Views and Picnic Perfection

Foothills Parkway
Foothills Parkway

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:

There are several parking areas at the different overlooks on the Parkway, usually with plenty of parking spaces. The overlooks offer some great views of the Townsend Valley below.

The road, being new, is also wider and less curvy than many other mountain roads around, some of which can be a wild ride.

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.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-way loop road through lush forests. There are waterfalls and historical sites like preserved log cabins along this road.

You may spot wildlife like black bears, wild turkeys, and white-tailed deer roaming the dense forests.

Roaring Fork Overlook
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail Overlook

There are also some scenic overlooks as the road climbs up the mountain.

Roaring Fork is also closed during the winter.

Cades Cove Loop

Cades Cove
Cades Cove Looking Over Field

Cades Cove Loop Road, an 11-mile journey, offers one of the best scenic drives that combines natural beauty, wildlife encounters, and historical landmarks.

Sunrise at Cades Cove

If you’re up early, Cades Cove is also a beautiful place to see at sunrise.

Cades Cove does get busy, but it’s still one of our favorite scenic loops. It’s a one-lane loop that usually moves pretty slowly, and takes several hours on a busy day to get around. There are some great places to stop and explore the older buildings.

Cades Cove
Cabin at Cades Cove

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.

Tail of the Dragon: A Thrilling Ride on US Highway 129

For those passionate about driving, the Tail of the Dragon is a must. This 11-mile stretch on US Highway 129 features 318 curves packed into those 11 miles.

This road is more about the drive and less about the scenery, but it’s a great drive if you’re looking for adventure!

Blue Ridge Parkway

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.

Tips for Enjoying Gatlinburg Scenic Drives

Gatlinburg Snowy Road. Gatlinburg In January
Fresh Snow South of Gatlinburg

In Conclusion: Hit the Road and Explore Gatlinburg’s Beauty

Gatlinburg scenic drives offer a fantastic way to experience the Great Smoky Mountains’ stunning landscapes, historic sites, and diverse wildlife.

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  1. I agree with all your comments. Doesn’t matter when you go, there is always something. We have been going probably 12 of the last 15 years, and as we tell everybody, we still haven’t done everything there is to do there. You can’t even touch it on a short weekend and even a week long vacation. Never get bored. Best place to go, but you can’t be in a rush, especially during the peak seasons, summer and fall color change. Go, you won’t regret it. We are going again in May!

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