Scenic Drives in the North Carolina Smokies

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.


waterfall byway in the nc smoky mountains

Waterfall Byway

Strangely powerful or eerily tranquil, waterfalls do have a way of casting a spell. If you happen to be a fan, this is your byway. Winding 98 miles and featuring more than 200 distinct waterfalls, it begins at U.S. 64’s intersection with N.C. 215. Where it ends is likely somewhere far deeper within you.

98 miles • 3.5 hours

Cherokee, Clay, Jackson, Macon and Transylvania counties

Learn more about the Waterfall Byway

nantahala byway in the nc smoky mountains

Nantahala Byway

The Cherokee used “Nantahala” to mean “Land of the Noonday Sun.” Why noonday? Well, likely for the steep walls that frame the Nantahala Gorge, an impressive site you’ll tour as part of this swirling byway. Nearby, the Nantahala River has become legendary for its whitewater. Just depart from Marble, head east and don’t stop until you pass Wesser.

43 miles • 1.5 hours

Cherokee, Graham, Jackson and Swain counties

cherohala skyway in the nc smoky mountains

Cherohala Skyway

Esquire magazine said “It’s like driving through a car commercial.” Connecting the Cherokee National Forest to the Nantahala National Forest, this clean, smooth highway encourages you to open up your sports car or pause your RV for a sandwich and the beautiful sights. And the skyway vs. byway bit? Once you drive it, you’ll understand.

20 miles • 45 minutes • Graham County

scenic drives include beautiful lakes in the nc smoky mountains

Indian Lakes Scenic Byway

Where N.C. 28 meets U.S. 129 near the Tennessee border, fans of crystalline lakes (especially those featuring Indian names) will find their calling. Just leave what’s known as “The Dragon” and discover the first landmark, Fontana Dam. From there, you’ll have a hard time watching the road as you pass the likes of Fontana Village and Stecoah on the way to the byway’s meandering end.

57 miles • 1.5 hours

Swain, Graham and Cherokee counties

Learn more about the Indian Lakes Scenic Byway.

upper whitewater falls in the nc smoky mountains

Whitewater Way

Quick: You have three guesses as to what you’ll encounter on this scenic byway. The aptly named Whitewater Way is named for Whitewater Falls, which is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. Take N.C. 281 and hike the many trails leading to spectacular rushing water. Bathroom breaks are a must.

9 miles • 20 minutes

Transylvania and Jackson counties

forest heritage scenic byway in the nc smoky mountains

Forest Heritage Scenic Byway

Take off on U.S. 276 North from Brevard on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway to see The Cradle of Forestry, the Pink Beds and Shining Rock Wilderness.

65 miles • 2 hours

Haywood, Transylvania and Jackson counties

smoky mountain scenic byway

Smoky Mountain Scenic Byway

Travel through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, renowned for its diverse plant and animal life. A trip along this road puts you in close proximity to some of North Carolina’s most captivating wildlife, and gives a glimpse of the Southern Appalachian pioneer culture that once dominated the region. Just hop off the Blue Ridge Parkway on to U.S. 441 near the Qualla Boundary of the Cherokee Indian Reservation and head north into Tennessee.

16.5 miles • 35 minutes

Swain County