Things to Do
Self-guided Driving Tours
The park boasts more than 270 miles (435 kilometers) of road weaving through an uninterrupted blanket of trees—one of the largest stands of deciduous old-growth forest remaining in North America—and mountainous terrain, with elevations ranging from a hilly 876 feet (267 meters) to a soaring 6,643 feet (2,025 meters). To experience some of the area's best views from the comfort of your car, follow these routes:
Cades Cove Loop Road
If you do nothing else when you visit the Smokies, be sure to cruise the one-way Cades Cove Loop. This 11-mile (18 kilometers) paved route is the most heavily visited site at the park. Cades Cove dates back to 1819, when newcomers made a treaty with the Cherokee to settle the land. What remains today is the largest collection of its kind in the United States: 30 structures—from churches to log cabins—that constitute an open-air museum exhibiting early pioneer architecture. During peak periods, nearly 4,000 vehicles can pass through daily. Bicycles are also allowed. For bike rental information, call 865-448-9034.
Newfound Gap Road
This scenic, 33-mile (53 kilometers) route crosses over Newfound Gap, at an elevation of 5,048 feet (1,539 meters) the lowest drivable pass through the Smokies. The sudden changes in altitude make this trip feel more like a journey from Georgia to Canada. Highlights include breathtaking mountain panoramas, access to the Appalachian Trail (known to hardcore hikers as the "A.T."), and the Rockefeller Memorial, a two-tier stone structure built in honor of a $5 million donation from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Clingmans Dome Road
Take this seven-mile (11 kilometers) mountain road to reach Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet (2,025 meters) the highest peak in the park and in all of Tennessee. The road also crosses the highest point along the Appalachian Trail's journey from Georgia to Maine. Park your car and hike up a steep half-mile (one kilometer) trail through the forest to reach the lookout tower at the summit, where sweeping views await.
If you prefer to stray off the beaten path, check out the two main gravel roads: Heintooga-Roundbottom Road, accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Rich Mountain Road, which offers a good last-minute view of Cades Cove before you exit the park.