Every year, thousands of visitors trek to Western North Carolina to enjoy cool summers, take in stunning mountain views, and explore numerous outdoor adventures. One way to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Smokies is by taking a scenic drive along the Smoky Mountain Scenic Byway in Swain County.
Also known as Newfound Gap Road, the 16.5-mile 35-minute route begins where U.S. 441 intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Qualla Boundary of the eastern band of the Cherokee Reservation. It meanders north through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park all the way to the Tennessee border. Overall, the Byway ascends about 3,000 feet up into the Great Smoky Mountains!
Traveling through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
When you take a trip on the Smoky Mountain Scenic Byway, you can experience nature, wildlife, and culture that you may have never seen before! No matter what season you visit, you’re sure to pass an abundance of incredible views, recreational opportunities, and even historical and cultural features!
Things to Do and See Along the Route
Starting out on the Byway, you’ll want to make your first stop at the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, where a park ranger on duty can provide you with information about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The visitors center also includes a bookstore and an exhibit dedicated to the Park; next door, the Mountain Farm Museum preserves pioneer buildings built throughout the Park and moved to this site.
Mingus Mill is a turbine mill built in 1886 that ground corn into cornmeal wheat for over 50 years! It is located only half a mile from the beginning of the Byway. The mill’s water wheel freezes during winter, becoming a unique ice sculpture!
Named for former North Carolina Senator Charles A. Webb, one of the most prominent voices in establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Webb Overlook provides a sweeping, beautiful view of the mountains and skies. While you can take in the views from your car, you can also park and walk a short, quiet walkway to stretch your legs. From Webb Overlook, you have a great view of Clingman’s Dome, the rounded mountain that towers above the surrounding landscape. Clingman’s Dome is named for Civil War General Thomas L. Clingman, who was also one of the scientists who measured the mountains in the area to calculate the elevation.
At the highest point on the Smoky Mountain Scenic Byway, Newfound Gap is a forest that straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border. It is also the site where President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially dedicated Smoky Mountain National Park in 1940. The Rockefeller Memorial now sits in Newfound Gap, memorializing the Rockefeller family, who donated $5 million to support the Park’s establishment.
Visiting The Great Smoky Mountains
North Carolina Byways are proper scenic routes, meant to be driven through slowly and enjoyed. They generally are not the shortest way from point A to point B. However, you won’t regret a second of your trip down the Smoky Mountain Scenic Byway. The best time to drive the Byway is, of course, during daylight hours when you can enjoy the scenery. If you plan it right, you might even catch an incredible sunset from one of the overlooks.
Always be sure to pay close attention to the road, as both motorcyclists and cyclists also enjoy the Byway. There is likely to be more plentiful wildlife along the route to watch out for, too.