Knoxville to Gatlinburg: Scenic Drive Through the Great Smoky Mountains
Whether you’re a local, visiting, or just passing through, taking a trip from Knoxville to Gatlinburg is a must for families looking to explore the breathtaking beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This guide will provide a full itinerary, driving directions, and plenty of fun things to do along the way. So, buckle up, and let’s hit the road!
A Drive to Remember: Knoxville to Gatlinburg Road Trip
The driving distance from Knoxville to Gatlinburg is approximately 40 miles (64 km), and it takes around 1 hour to reach your destination. The main route to Gatlinburg is the US-441 S, the Newfound Gap Road. This scenic drive offers interesting stopping places and some of the best things to see in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Must-See Attractions Along the Way
- Market Square – Start your trip in downtown Knoxville by exploring the historic Market Square, a lively hub filled with shops, restaurants, and entertainment. See our guide of things to do in a day in Knoxville.
- University of Tennessee – Take a quick detour to visit the beautiful campus of the University of Tennessee, one of the most visible remaining landmarks in the area.
- Sevier County – As you continue along the US-441 S, you’ll enter Sevier County, home to charming small towns and beautiful mountain views.
- Pigeon Forge – About a fourth of the way into your journey, you’ll pass through Pigeon Forge, a bustling town known for its numerous family-friendly attractions, including Dollywood, a popular theme park.
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail – Once you arrive in Gatlinburg, don’t miss the chance to take a scenic drive on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a 5.5-mile loop that showcases the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Upon reaching Gatlinburg, you’ll find many fun activities and sights to explore. Here are some top picks from our list of Top Things to do in Gatlinburg with Kids.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park – No trip to Gatlinburg would be complete without spending time in the most-visited national park in the United States. Enjoy hiking, wildlife viewing, and beautiful scenery.
- Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort – Even if you’re not visiting during the winter months, the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort offers a range of year-round activities, including an amusement park and wildlife encounters.
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies – One of the top aquariums in the country, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is home to thousands of exotic sea creatures. It offers interactive exhibits for the whole family.
- Anakeesta – This outdoor adventure park boasts ziplines, a mountain coaster, treetop walkways, and incredible views of the surrounding mountains.
- SkyLift Park – Ride the SkyLift to Crockett Mountain’s top and stroll across the famous SkyBridge, North America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge.
- Sugarlands Distilling Company – Sample some authentic Tennessee moonshine and learn about the history of the region’s distilling traditions.
- Gatlinburg Space Needle – Enjoy panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains from the observation deck of this iconic Gatlinburg landmark.
- Smoky Mountain Brewery – After a long day of sightseeing, relax with a refreshing craft beer and tasty pub fare at this popular local spot.
Exploring the Lesser-Known Gems: Hidden Treasures on Your Knoxville to Gatlinburg Journey
While the main attractions in the area are undeniably captivating, there are several lesser-known destinations worth visiting as you
Taking the Scenic Route: A Picturesque Detour Through Townsend
If you’re looking for a more scenic route from Knoxville to Gatlinburg, consider detouring through Townsend. This alternative route adds more time to your journey, but the stunning views and charming small-town atmosphere make up for the extra minutes spent on the road.
Start by heading south from Knoxville on US-129 S, then take TN-73 E (Lamar Alexander Parkway) towards Townsend. This drive takes you through the heart of Townsend, a quaint and peaceful town nestled at the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Stop for lunch in Townsend at the Apple Valley Cafe or the Abbey (For a great outdoor lunch on the river!). After you pass through Townsend, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the beautiful Wears Valley, a picturesque valley with rolling hills, lush forests, and meandering country roads. The area is known for its windy roads, which add a touch of excitement to the journey while offering incredible views of the surrounding landscape.
Another option is to continue your adventure before reaching Townsend by connecting to the Foothills Parkway, a breathtaking scenic drive that bypasses the town and takes you high into the mountains. The Foothills Parkway provides numerous overlooks with top-of-the-mountain views, making it an ideal spot for photo opportunities and picnics.
By opting for this scenic route through Townsend, you’ll experience a different side of the Smoky Mountains and discover some lesser-known gems. This picturesque detour adds a touch of charm and serenity to your Knoxville to Gatlinburg journey, creating lasting memories for you and your family to cherish.
- Ijams Nature Center – Just a stone’s throw away from downtown Knoxville, this 315-acre nature sanctuary is an underrated park featuring walking trails, a quarry-turned-lake, and various wildlife.
- Townsend – Known as the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” Townsend is a small town in Blount County, offering a quieter and more relaxed atmosphere than the bustling tourist areas. It’s a great place to stop for lunch or enjoy river tubing. Check out our guide to the top things to do in Townend.
- Cades Cove – As you venture into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, take a detour to Cades Cove, a picturesque valley home to an array of historic buildings, including log cabins, churches, and a working grist mill.
- Mt. LeConte – For the more adventurous families, consider hiking to the summit of Mt. LeConte. The mountain offers stunning views of the surrounding area, and the hike is a rewarding experience. Keep in mind that this hike may be more challenging for younger children.
- Greenbrier Cove – Another hidden gem in the national park, Greenbrier Cove is a serene area with beautiful picnic spots, hiking trails, and fishing and wildlife-watching opportunities.
The Art of Relaxation: A Different Kind of Adventure
While the Knoxville to Gatlinburg journey is filled with thrilling experiences, it’s essential to take some time to unwind and appreciate the simpler things in life. Here are a few suggestions for a relaxing detour:
- Glades Arts & Crafts Community – Located just outside Gatlinburg, this community of local artisans showcases their work in various galleries, studios, and shops. Stroll through the area, meet the artists, and perhaps find a unique souvenir to take home.
- Blue Ridge Parkway – If you have extra time, consider taking a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This breathtaking route stretches from Virginia to North Carolina and offers countless overlooks, picnic spots, and hiking trails.
- Dollywood’s Splash Country – On a hot summer day, take a break from the journey and cool off at Dollywood’s Splash Country, a family-friendly water park adjacent to the main theme park.
- Townsend Wye
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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Continued
Q: What is the shortest distance between Knoxville and Gatlinburg if I wanted to take a more direct route?
A: As the crow flies, the shortest distance between Knoxville and Gatlinburg is approximately 27 miles (43 km). However, there isn’t a direct route for vehicles that follows this straight line, and you’ll still need to use the US-441 S (Newfound Gap Road) as the primary route.
Q: What is the total
A: The total
Q: What are the notable landmarks between Knoxville and Gatlinburg that I can use as meeting places?
A: Several landmarks and popular attractions can be meeting places between Knoxville and Gatlinburg. Some options include the University of Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance, Pigeon Forge, and the visitor centers within the national park.
Q: Can you provide some tips for making an informed decision about the most relevant transport operators in the area?
A: To make an informed decision about the most relevant transport operators, consider the following factors:
- Read online reviews from previous customers to gauge the quality of service.
- Compare prices among different operators to find the most cost-effective option.
- Research the availability of various transportation options (e.g., taxi, town car, shuttle, etc.).
- Consider the flexibility and convenience of each option based on your
travelplans and itinerary.
Q: What is the fastest possible straight line from Knoxville to Gatlinburg, considering the curvature of the Earth?
A: When considering the curvature of the Earth, the fastest possible straight line between Knoxville and Gatlinburg would still be approximately 27 miles (43 km), as the crow flies. However, remember that this straight line is not a viable option for vehicular
Q: What is the estimated cost of gas for the trip from Knoxville to Gatlinburg?
A: The cost of gas for this relatively short journey can vary depending on your vehicle’s fuel efficiency and current gas prices. To get a rough estimate, use an online fuel cost calculator.
Q: What’s the best time of the year to visit Gatlinburg?
A: Gatlinburg offers a different experience depending on the season. Spring and fall are ideal for hiking and enjoying the park’s natural beauty. Summer is perfect for family activities and theme parks, while winter offers skiing and cozy evenings by the fire. Ultimately, the best time for your tour depends on your preferences and the activities you’d like to experience.
Q: Are taxi services or town car options available from the Knoxville airport to Gatlinburg?
A: Yes, there are various taxi services, town car options, and rideshare apps available for transportation from Knoxville airport to Gatlinburg. However, these options can be more expensive than renting a car, and having a car provides more flexibility for exploring the area.
Q: What is the flight distance between Knoxville and Gatlinburg?
A: The flight distance between Knoxville and Gatlinburg, or as the crow flies, is approximately 27 miles (43 km).
Q: Can I rent a private plane from Knoxville to Gatlinburg?
A: While renting a private plane for this short distance is possible, it may not be the most cost-effective or practical option. Part of the reason is that the Gatlinburg airport is not located in Gatlinburg but near Sevierville. Also, the journey by car is relatively quick and offers the opportunity to visit several attractions along the way.
Q: Do you have any hotel recommendations in Gatlinburg?
A: Gatlinburg offers various accommodations, from budget-friendly options to luxury hotels. Besides the options mentioned above, some other popular choices include the Park Vista – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, and Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa. Be sure to book in advance, especially during peak
A road trip from Knoxville to Gatlinburg offers a fantastic opportunity to explore the picturesque landscapes, vibrant small towns, and exciting attractions of the Great Smoky Mountains. With so many fun things to see and do, this journey will surely create lasting memories for the whole family. Happy travels!