Scenic Drives in the Smoky Mountains

The United States is home to some of the most beautiful natural terrains including mountain ranges, deserts, beaches, and forests, but nothing compares to the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. Whether you want to take a road trip on your motorcycle or in your hybrid, convertible, jeep, pickup, or SUV you will have a wide variety of Smoky Mountain scenic drives to choose from. Known for winding roads, gorgeous views, river access, camping areas, and hiking trails, Smoky Mountain scenic drives include byways, skyways, national park roads, and the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Smoky Mountain scenic drives are sure to be one of the most memorable highlights of visiting Western North Carolina.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Your trip through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park begins in Cherokee, just 20 minutes east of Bryson City. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) takes you past the Mountain Farm Museum at the Park’s Oconaluftee Visitors Center and Mingus Mill, a large water-powered mill for grinding corn. The road winds through the mountains, with a side trip to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies. At the halfway point across you enter Tennessee. (North Carolina and Tennessee gave equal amounts of land for the Park.) At the Park’s Sugarlands Visitors Center take a westerly drive over to Cades Cove. You may return the way you came, or in summer take the “back way” home by way of Parson’s Branch, a one-way road south that brings you to Highway 28 west of Fontana Dam.

Nantahala Gorge - Highway 19/74 west out of Bryson City takes you through the Nantahala Gorge, home to premier whitewater rafting and kayaking. This is a beautiful drive right next to the water with plenty of pull-offs and picnic spots. Eight miles (as the river flows) up the river, turn at the raft launch site and continue up the Wayah Road for a few miles following swift-flowing water past waterfalls and great trout fishing spots. You may continue on to Wayah Bald’s observation tower and on to Franklin NC.

Fontana Dam - You pick up US Highway 28 North just west of Bryson City. Not one mile down 28 is an expansive scenic overlook looking northeast towards Clingmans Dome. You wind through the small hamlet of Stecoah and then through a canopy of green woods to Fontana Dam. Continue on to Deal's Gap (see below) for some beautiful views of Cheoah Lake and on to the curvy roads of The Dragon. More info

Blue Ridge Parkway - The Parkway begins in Swain County in Cherokee, at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A nice short segment to drive would be the 26 miles from Cherokee to the Balsam Mountain exit at milepost 443, just west of Waynesville on US 74. Along the way, you'll pass Water Rock Knob where there is a visitor information center, comfort station and a spectacular view. Take the one-mile hike to the summit for an even better view, especially at sunset.

The Road to Nowhere - With so much to see and do in the Bryson City area, it is hard to imagine a day when you might have nowhere to go. But should that happen, there is always the "Road to Nowhere", a scenic mountain highway that takes you eight miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends at the mouth of a tunnel. On the map, it is called Lakeview Drive, but to the citizens of Swain County it is The Road to Nowhere - A Broken Promise. (For the rest of this story, click here.)

Cherohala Skyway - The spectacular 51-mile skyway connects Hwy. 143 in Robbinsville, NC to Hwy.165 in Tellico Plains, TN, traveling through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. Enjoy the view from 15 scenic overlooks or picnic areas. The highest point is the Santeetlah Overlook at 5,390 feet, which rivals the Blue Ridge Parkway elevations. A popular hiking area is Hooper Bald; and a beautiful waterfall may be found close to the end in Tennessee – Bald River Falls – just a short drive off the main road. More info Photo credit Monroe County, TN Travel & Tourism.

Cherohala Side Trip - The Joyce Kilmer National Forest in NC. Turn off Hwy 143 just before the start of the Skyway Road. Home to large stands of virgin poplar trees; easy walks. More info

NC Highway 28 South - 21-mile ride between US 19/74 just west of Bryson City and Franklin NC. Twisty on the top end near Bryson.

NC Highway 28 North - Hwy 28 through Stecoah to Deal's Gap. The 22-mile stretch known as the "Hellbender" - from Johnson Gap (Hwy 143) to Deal's Gap - is a favorite of motorcyclists.

Deal’s Gap (The Dragon) - U.S. Highway 129, connecting Western North Carolina with East Tennessee, is world-famous among motorcyclists and sports car drivers, for its eleven-mile section with 318 continuous curves. Riding The Dragon at Deals Gap you closely follow an old Indian trail from Graham County NC to Fort Loudon TN. Take a spin through “Gravity Cavity”, “Pig Pens Bend”, and “Rebels Revenge” with beautiful views of the river along the way to Chilhowee Lake.

Cheoah Dam - Hwy 129 between Deal's Gap and Robbinsville. If you saw the 1993 movie "The Fugitive" you'll recognize Cheoah Dam where a key scene in the movie was filmed. The Dam was build between 1916 and 1919 by ALCOA. You'll be riding right along the Cheoah River, and if you're lucky you'll see some whitewater rafters. It's nine miles of exciting paddling for experienced paddlers.


Smoky Mountain Blueways

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This issue of the Smoky Mountains Digital Magazine includes:

  • Must Do
  • Getaway to the Mountains
  • Insider Tips
  • Turn Off Your Stress at Oconaluftee Village
  • and More

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