The Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Drive- Ultimate Itinerary

November 11, 2020

This curated road trip itinerary will take you along the best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains. Explore the best driving roads, as well as the best things to do in the Smokies. Check out our curated travel guide around the Smokies.

This is what you can expect to find in our blog post.

Before You Leave

Photo by Airren Parsons

If you’re a fan of National Parks, check out this blog post to learn about the top 7 National Parks you need to visit as soon as possible!

Can you drive through the Smoky Mountains National Park?

Absolutely! The Smokies are one of the best parks in the United States to be explored by car. The must-see attractions are scattered around the large park, and the best way of getting around is by car, either your personal vehicle or a rental car.

Find your ideal rental car for this road trip via Rentalmoose.

How long does it take to drive through the Smoky Mountains?

Technically speaking, you could drive through the Smokies in just a day. However, seeing the Smoky Mountains in just a day means lots of driving, as well as having to miss out on some great attractions.

Rentalmoose recommends spending at least three days driving around the Smoky Mountains. Some of the attractions in the park can only be accessed by a long hike, it’s best to spend at least three days here if you want to see all of what the park has to offer.

Can you drive to the top of the Smoky Mountains?

Yes! Don’t miss Clingman’s Dome Road. This scenic road will take you right up to the summit of the tallest mountain within the park.

This road is seasonal and remains closed during winter.

What is the closest airport to the Smoky Mountains?

McGhee Tyson Airport- Knoxville, TN

Domestic travelers can fly into the McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, around an hour away from the Smokies. Keep in mind that this is a regional airport with a limited amount of facilities. International travelers might have a hard time trying to find flights here.

Hartsfield Jackson- Atlanta, GA

Wait a minute, isn’t Atlanta all the way in Georgia?

Yes, Atlanta is in another state. However, the drive from Atlanta to the Smokies will only take you around 3 and a half hours!

What’s more, Atlanta is home to the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. This is a major airport with lots of facilities for travelers, including a selection of rental cars. Click here to check out rental cars at this location.

Drive: The Best Scenic Drives in the Smokies

Photo by Airren Parsons

Driving down the best scenic drives is an essential part of any great road trip. You’ll be happy to know that the Smoky Mountains are home to tens, if not hundreds, of different scenic drives. Although nearly every road in the park is scenic, make sure you don’t miss the following 8 scenic drives when driving in the Smoky Mountains.

For the ultimate experience, it’s best to pair the following scenic drives with the best attractions in the Smokies (you’ll find them further below).

Newfound Gap Road

If you follow our road trip itinerary precisely, the Newfound Gap Road (US 441) will be the scenic road you’ll drive on in the Smokies. This 31-mile (50 kilometers) Great Smoky Mountains scenic drive will take you to the heart of the Smokies, passing many of the park’s best attractions along the way.

Pullouts and parking lots are plentiful, paired with panoramic overlooks that guarantee the best views of the Smokies. Some of the best attractions that you’ll find while driving down this road include the Newfound Gap, Alum Cave Bluffs, and Chimney Tops.

Rentalmoose insider tip: When driving down this scenic road, don’t miss the seasonal Clingman’s Dome road, too!

Newfound Gap Road can be accessed free of charge, just like the rest of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Little River Road

Little River Road is a great scenic drive that will take you from Gatlinburg to Townsend. This scenic drive spans 18 miles(29 kilometers) and ends at the Cades Cove Loop Road, another drive that’s a worthy addition to your road trip itinerary.

Along the way, you will see lots of trailheads and attractions, such as the Laurel Falls Trail. You can even spot a waterfall that’s directly next to the road! The Sinks waterfalls are hard to miss, as the scenic drive passes directly next to them.

Photo by Airren Parsons

Cades Cove Loop Road

The 11-mile (18 kilometers) long, one-way Cades Cove Loop Road is perhaps the most popular scenic drive in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a fantastic way to explore some of the park’s wonderful scenery, especially the Fall Foliage if you’re here during Autumn, all from the comfort of your car. There are plenty of pullouts where you can stop to take in the panoramic views.

If you wish to stretch your legs, stroll down one of the many hiking trails located off of Cades Cove Loop Road. Some of the best attractions along this scenic drive include Abrams Falls Trail and Cades Cove.

Cades Cove Loop Road can be accessed free of charge, like the entire national park.

Rich Mountain Road

Rich Mountain Road is one of the best-kept secrets of the Smoky Mountains. This one-way, gravel scenic drive stretches for 8 miles (13 kilometers). Drive down the road all the way, and you will end up in Tuckaleechee right by Townsend.

If you want to stretch your legs, hike the Rich Mountain trailhead right off the gravel road. Note that there isn’t any car park by the trail, make sure you won’t block the road if you choose to leave your car along Rich Mountain Road.

Rich Mountain Road is closed during winter.

Foothills Parkway

The Foothills Parkway is another absolute must-drive on your Great Smoky Mountains itinerary. This elevated scenic road begins in Wears Valley, and can take you all the way to the Tail of The Dragon. It’s a great way to take in the spectacular views around the Smokies.

Foothills Parkway is open all year long.

Photo by Airren Parsons

Wears Valley Road

This 15-mile (24 kilometers) scenic drive will take you from Townsend down to Pigeon Forge. As Wears Valley Road is away from the center of the park, you can expect less traffic and a calmer experience overall. This scenic drive is the best scenic route to Pigeon Forge, TN.

Getting hungry? Drop by the charming Friendly Falls for a quick snack accompanied by the glorious waterfalls.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a beautiful scenic drive. The 5.5 miles (8.9 kilometers) long one-way loop begins in Gatlinburg. Along this scenic drive, you will be able to see the spectacular scenery of the Smokies, as well as well-preserved historic cabins and grist mills.

There are various overlooks where you can stop and take in the scenery. There are some more great hiking trails that begin at the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, such as the Noah Bud Ogle Place Nature Trail.

The Tail of The Dragon

The Tail of The Dragon is a scenic route that’s an absolute treat for any petrolhead visiting the Smoky Mountain roads. This 11-mile (18 kilometers) driving road features over 300 curves! This drive is a real treat for any car enthusiast or biker who is on a Smoky Mountain road trip.

See: What are the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains?

Photo by Airren Parsons

As much as we all love driving down the best scenic drives on any proper road trip, it’s crucial to get out of the car and experience the natural wonderland of the Smokies up close. Below, you’ll find a list of the absolute must-see attractions and the best things to do when visiting the Smoky Mountains.

Clingman’s Dome

Pass the village of Cherokee and enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The scenic driving will begin as soon as you enter the park! Follow the Newfound Gap Road and turn left into Clingman’s Dome Road. This seasonal road (closed during winter) will take you up to the summit of Clingman’s Dome, the tallest mountain in the entire park.

Once you’re at the end of Clingman’s Dome Road, find an empty parking spot and enjoy the panoramic views at nearly 6500 feet (2000 meters) above sea level! Take the short hike up to the observation deck for the most breathtaking view.

Drop by the visitor center to pick up a handy map of the park.

You can see up to six states from the summit of Clingman’s Dome on a clear day.

Photo by Airren Parsons

Andrews Bald

Andrews Bald is a picturesque field, the highest in all of Smoky Mountains, that can only be accessed on foot. The 3.5-mile hike is worth it to admire the panoramic views. Visiting Andrews Bald is a great way to escape the crowds that you might run into at the peak of Clingman’s Dome!

To get to Andrews Bald, you have to make your way to the summit of Clingman’s Dome. The trailhead is 3.5 miles (5.6 km) round-trip.

Newfound Gap

After you return back down from Climgan’s Dome, don’t miss the Newfound Gap. Turn left from Clingman’s Dome Road and enter the nearest car park on your right, along the Newfound Gap Road. Drop your car off at the spacious Newfound Gap Car Park and admire the views.

The view from Newfound Gap is arguably less exciting than the view from the summit of Clingman’s Dome, though it is a great alternative if the Clingman’s Dome Road is inaccessible.

Alum Cave Trail

As you make your way along the chicane-filled main road, enter the small Alum Cave Bluffs Parking Area. From here, you can follow the Alum Cave Trail up to the summit of Mt. LeConte, the third-tallest mountain in this national park. Along the way, you will pass by the 100-feet high Alum Cave Bluffs and the Arch Rock.

The Mount LeConte Lodge is located near the summit, it’s the only lodge within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The total round-trip distance of this trailhead is 11 miles.

Photo by Airren Parsons

Chimney Tops

The Chimney Tops Trail is infamous for its steep final section.

There are two ways to access the Chimney Tops: you can approach it from the northern end of the trailhead located right off the main road, or take the longer route that begins at the Newfound gap.

The hike, starting at the northern end, is 3.3 miles (5.3 km) round-trip. It is a moderate hike, not recommended for novice hikers.

If you want to enjoy similar views without the difficult hike, consider going to the Chimney Tops Overlook further down the road.

Laurel Falls

As you continue further into the Smokies, don’t miss the left turn into Fighting Creek Gap Road. Drive down the scenic road until you reach the Laurel Falls parking area. Drop off your car and follow the Laurel Falls trail.

This intermediate 2.6-mile (4.2 km) round-trip trailhead will take you up to the stunning Laurel Falls. It is very accessible, the entire hike is paved. Keep in mind that due to its proximity to Gatlinburg, the trailhead tends to be crowded.

Elkmont

After hiking to Laurel Falls, continue driving along the Fighting Creek Gap Road and turn left into Elkmont Road. This part of the park is a must-see for history fans, it was first established in 1840 and became a ghost town overtime. Today, some of the historic buildings are preserved and can be visited by the general public.

Elkmont is also home to some more hiking trails, including the Elkmont Nature Trailhead, as well as a campground where you can spend the night. Get more details on the campsite here.

The Sinks

Drive back down Elkmont Road and turn left into Little River Gorge Road. Follow the hairpins and chicanes until you see The Sinks Parking Lot on your left.

The Sinks are the most accessible waterfalls in the Smokies, they’re practically right next to the road! If you have limited time, or don’t want to hike up to Laurel Falls, The Sinks are your best bet.

From here, you can also hike the Meigs Creek Trail. This moderate trailhead will take you along the calm Meigs Creek. The total length is 7 miles (11 kilometers) round-trip.

Abrams Falls

Abrams Falls is a spectacular site off of Cades Cove Loop Road, a scenic drive here is already an attraction in itself. As you drive down the loop road, turn right into Abrams Falls Road. You can leave your car at the large car park right by the end of the road and follow the Abrams Falls Trail on foot.

The Abrams Falls Trail is around 5 miles (8 km) long round-trip.

You can also pop by Cades Cove down the one-way road, where you will find well-preserved historic homesteads.

Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls is located off the scenic Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a picturesque driving road which is a major attraction in its own right.

You can leave your rental car at the Grotto Falls Parking and continue along the 3-mile (5 kilometers)Trillium Gap Trail to reach Grotto Falls. This easy hike is perfect for families.

Ramsey Cascades

The northern part of the park is home to the Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains. The Ramsey Cascades Trail begins at the end of Ramsey Prong Road, you can access it by driving down on Greenbrier Road from East Parkway.

The trail is 8 miles (13 kilometers) long round-trip, and it is one of the most difficult hikes in the park. The total elevation gain is 2190 feet (670 meters), and the trailhead features some really steep sections! It is only recommended to reach Ramsey Cascades for experienced hikers in good shape. Otherwise, this may not be the best spot for you.

Photo by Airren Parsons

Stay: Where can you stay in the Great Smoky Mountains?

The smoky Mountains and the surrounding area provide lots of great accommodation options. Find anything from camping under the stars up to a luxurious lodge.

Under Canvas

If you want to try out glamping (a luxurious form of camping), give Under Canvas a shot. The award-winning resort, situated between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, welcomes guests between May and November. The luxurious property features lavish tents, as well as an array of complimentary camping activities during your stay.

The Appy Lodge

The Appy Lodge is a luxurious lodge located in Gatlinburg. The lodge, beautifully situated right by the heart of the Smokies, features spacious and well-equipped rooms, as well as amenities such as an outdoor pool.

Don’t have a car you can take on a road trip? No problem!

Don’t forget to book your rental car via Rentalmoose for your next adventure. On our platform, you can find the top rental companies at the best price, along with tens of curated travel guides around the globe. Get your car from Rentalmoose!

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