Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over half a 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. Watch for wildlife!
The following is a partial listing of some of the Great Smoky Mountains scenic drives on the North Carolina side nearest Asheville:
Balsam Mountain Heintooga Ridge Road
Take a thrilling ride on a one-way gravel road with overlooks with sweeping mountain vistas (closed in 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.
Cataloochee Valley & Elk
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
This heavily used U.S. Highway 441 takes you from Cherokee through the center of the park, crossing Newfound Gap (5,048 ft.), and concludes in Gatlinburg, TN (33 miles, 66 miles round-trip). Highlights include numerous pullouts with mountain views and a variety of forest types as you ascend approximately 3,000 ft. 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 a half-mile to the park's highest peak, Clingmans Dome (6,643 ft.). Highlights are mountain views and the cool damp spruce-fir forest similar to the boreal forest of Canada.
See our Cades Cove Guide about this 11-mile loop road.