Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over one-half million acres, making it the largest national park in the East. A scenic drive auto tour of the park offers panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and uninterrupted forest stretching to the horizon.
There are over 270 miles of road in the Smokies. Most are paved, and even the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard two-wheel drive automobiles. Travel times on most roads will average 30 miles per hour or slower.
Driving in the mountains presents new challenges for many drivers. When going downhill, shift to a lower gear to conserve your brakes and avoid brake failure. If your vehicle has an automatic transmission, use L or 2. Keep extra distance between you and the vehicle in front of you and watch for sudden stops or slowdowns.
The following is a partial listing of some of the Great Smoky Mountains scenic drives. To purchase a copy of the park's official road guide, Mountain Roads & Quiet Places, call (865) 436-0120 or stop by any park visitor center.
Balsam Mountain Scenic Drive
Take a thrilling ride on a one-way gravel road with overlooks with sweeping mountain vistas (don't attempt in the winter months). The Balsam Mountain / Heintooga Ridge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Milepost 458 (watch for Balsam Mountain Campground sign). Follow Heintooga Ridge Road for nine miles to a picturesque picnic area, one mile beyond the campground. Continue on the winding one-way gravel road for about an hour to arrive in Cherokee.
This idyllic mountain valley is a great off-the-beaten-path destination. Some 1,200 folks lived here in 1910. A variety of historic buildings have been preserved in the valley. You will also find elk grazing. Access requires driving a two-lane narrow gravel road. See our Cataloochee Guide.
Newfound Gap Road Scenic Drive
This heavily used U.S. Highway 441 takes you from Cherokee through the center of the park, crossing Newfound Gap (5,048'), and concludes in Gatlinburg, TN (33 miles, 66 miles roundtrip). Highlights include numerous pullouts with mountain views and a variety of forest types as you ascend approximately 3,000 feet up the spine of the Great Smoky Mountains. Newfound Gap itself features a large parking area, scenic views, restrooms, wayside exhibits, and access to the Appalachian Trail.
Clingmans Dome Road
This 7-mile spur road begins near Newfound Gap and follows a high ridge to a paved trail that leads 0.5 mile to the park's highest peak, Clingmans Dome (6,643'). Highlights are mountain views and the cool damp spruce-fir forest similar to the boreal forest of Canada.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Go "car hiking!" Just a few blocks from the heart of bustling Gatlinburg is a beautiful six mile, one-way paved road that offers gushing streams, glimpses of old growth forest, and several historic buildings including log cabins and grist mills. The speed limit is 15 mph and there are frequent turnouts and parking spaces to stop along the way. To reach Roaring Fork, turn off the Parkway in Gatlinburg at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park. Just beyond the Rainbow Falls trailhead, the Roaring Fork Motor Trail begins. Rainbow Falls is a 5 mile roundtrip hike. Farther down Roaring Fork is Trillium Gap Trail which takes you to Grotto Falls (3 miles roundtrip). At the end of the loop, you will be back in downtown Gatlinburg.
Little River Road
This 18-mile road parallels the Little River from Sugarlands Visitor Center (near Gatlinburg, Tennessee) to Cades Cove. Highlights include the river, waterfalls, and wildflowers.
See our Cades Cove Guide about this 11-mile loop road.