Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over one-half million acres, making it the largest national park in the East. An auto tour of the park offers panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and uninterrupted forest stretching to the horizon.
There are over 270 miles of road in the Smoky Mountains. Most are paved, and even the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard two-wheel drive automobiles. Travel times on most roads will average 30 miles per hour or slower.
Driving in the mountains presents new challenges for many drivers. When going downhill, shift to a lower gear to conserve your brakes and avoid brake failure. If your vehicle has an automatic transmission, use L or 2. Keep extra distance between you and the vehicle in front of you and watch for sudden stops or slowdowns.
The following is a partial listing of some of the park's most interesting roads. To purchase a copy of the park's official road guide, Mountain Roads & Quiet Places, call (865) 436-0120 or stop by any park visitor center.
Newfound Gap Road (33 miles, paved.)
This heavily used U.S. highway crosses Newfound Gap (5,048') to connect Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, TN. Highlights include numerous pullouts with mountain views and a variety of forest types as you ascend approximately 3,000 feet up the spine of the Great Smoky Mountains. Newfound Gap itself features a large parking area, scenic views, restrooms, wayside exhibits, and access to the Appalachian Trail.
Clingmans Dome Road (7 miles, paved.)
This spur road follows a high ridge to a paved trail that leads 0.5 mile to the park's highest peak. Highlights are mountain views and the cool damp spruce-fir forest similar to the boreal forest of Canada.
Little River Road (18 miles , paved.)
This road parallels the Little River from Sugarlands Visitor Center to near Townsend, Tennessee. Highlights include the river, waterfalls, and wildflowers.
One of the most popular ways to visit the Cove is by driving the eleven-mile, one-way loop road. A driving tour booklet providing more information about the story of the Cove can be purchased at the start of the loop for a minimal fee. The road is generally open from sunrise to sunset. The opening is postponed until 10 a.m. on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from approximately May through September to allow walkers and bikers to travel the road without motorized traffic. The speed limit is 20 miles per hour. The one-lane road has parking lots and pull-offs which slower drivers are encouraged to use to allow other traffic to continue moving. Traffic can be heavy, particularly during the height of summer or during the height of autumn colors. Driving time may be as long as three hours during peak seasons. Two parallel, two-way, gravel roads cross through the cove: Sparks Lane on the eastern end of the Cove and Hyatt Lane towards the western end. In addition to the paved loop road, two, one-way gravel roads leave the Cove. Rich Mountain Road leads to Townsend, Tennessee and Parson's Branch Road empties onto 129 on the southwest end of the park.