Hit the Road, Grinners: Gatlinburg Scenic Drives and Overlooks





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Howdy, fellow road warriors! Grinning Gary here, your trusty guide to the most breathtaking Gatlinburg scenic drives that’ll have you grinning from ear to ear. If you’re anything like me, there’s nothing quite like the call of the open road, especially when that road winds through the stunning landscapes of Gatlinburg. From the lush, verdant valleys to the awe-inspiring peaks of the Smokies, Gatlinburg scenic drives offer a feast for the eyes and a balm for the soul.

So, buckle up, my friends, as we embark on a journey through winding roads and picturesque panoramas that define the essence of Gatlinburg’s natural beauty. Whether you’re a seasoned leaf-peeper or a mountain vista rookie, I’ve got the insider scoop on the must-see routes that promise unforgettable adventures and, of course, plenty of grins along the way!

Gatlinburg scenic drives

The Roaring Start – Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Folks, if there’s one Gatlinburg scenic drive that’ll get your adventure motor runnin’, it’s the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Nestled just a stone’s throw from downtown Gatlinburg, this winding, one-way loop offers an intimate glimpse into the Smoky Mountains’ natural splendor, all from the comfort of your trusty vehicle.

As you meander through this lush, forested trail, keep your eyes peeled for the enchanting sights and sounds of Roaring Fork Creek. It’s like nature’s own symphony, with each babbling brook and rustling leaf adding to the melody. And let me tell you, the greenery here? It’s like Mother Nature herself took up painting and decided that every shade of green imaginable was her palette of choice.

Now, no Roaring Fork excursion is complete without a stop at some of the historic cabins dotted along the route. These aren’t just any old shacks, my friends. They’re windows into the past, telling tales of the hardy souls who called these mountains home long before Gatlinburg became the getaway gem it is today. The Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin, with its self-guiding nature trail, is a must-visit. It’s not every day you get to walk through a piece of living history!

But here’s a Gary guarantee: the highlight of this drive has got to be the majestic Rainbow Falls. A bit of a trek on foot from the main road, sure, but the sight of that water cascading down 80 feet will make you forget all about those huffin’ and puffin’ moments on the trail. It’s the kind of spot that’ll have you whipping out your camera faster than a squirrel snagging a snack.

And speaking of squirrels, the wildlife along Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is something else. I once found myself in a good ol’ Gatlinburg traffic jam, but it wasn’t cars holding up the line; it was a family of black bears! Don’t worry, they’re more interested in foraging than in folks, but it sure makes for a great story to tell back home.

In all, this scenic drive is a microcosm of what makes Gatlinburg so special. It’s where the tranquility of nature, the whispers of history, and the thrill of discovery meet, creating an experience that’s as enriching as it is entertaining. So, when you’re in Gatlinburg, make sure the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is on your itinerary. It’s not just a drive; it’s an adventure that embodies the very essence of Gatlinburg’s scenic drives.

Newfound Gap Road – A Path to the Clouds

If there’s a crown jewel among Gatlinburg scenic drives, it’s got to be Newfound Gap Road. This stunning stretch of pavement carves through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, linking Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to Cherokee, North Carolina. And let me tell you, the views from this road are so breathtaking, you might just forget to breathe!

Newfound Gap Road is more than just a way to get from point A to point B; it’s a journey through some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes the Smokies have to offer. As you ascend higher and higher, the changing scenery is like a live-action nature documentary, with each turn revealing a new, stunning vista. The dense forests give way to rugged mountain views, and if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive “smoke” that gives these mountains their name.

One of the must-stop spots along Newfound Gap Road is, well, Newfound Gap itself. Sitting pretty at an elevation of over 5,000 feet, this gap isn’t just a gap—it’s a panoramic wonderland. The views here stretch for miles, and on a clear day, you’ll feel like you can see forever. It’s also home to the Rockefeller Memorial, a tribute to the generous donation that helped establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Standing there, surrounded by such natural beauty, you’ll be tipping your hat to ol’ Rockefeller, that’s for sure.

But here’s a Gary tip: don’t rush this drive. Pull over at some of the overlooks, breathe in that fresh mountain air, and soak in the vistas. Each overlook offers a unique perspective of the Smokies, from the towering peaks to the deep valleys below. And if you’re into photography, well, you might just run out of memory cards with all the picture-perfect scenes around you.

Now, a word to the wise: the higher elevations can be a bit nippy, even in the warmer months. I once stopped for a picnic at one of the higher overlooks, and let’s just say my sandwich wasn’t the only thing that was chilled! It’s all part of the adventure, though, and a little mountain chill is a small price to pay for such incredible views.

Newfound Gap Road isn’t just one of the best Gatlinburg scenic drives; it’s a gateway to the heart of the Smokies. It’s where nature puts on a show that’s always changing, always mesmerizing, and always free of charge. So, whether you’re cruising through on a sunny afternoon or winding your way under a canopy of stars, this road promises an unforgettable journey through the natural splendor that makes Gatlinburg and the Smokies so special.

Cades Cove Loop – A Journey Back in Time

Buckle up, history buffs and nature enthusiasts, because Cades Cove Loop is a Gatlinburg scenic drive that’s like taking a rolling stroll through a living history museum, all set against a backdrop of the Smokies’ stunning natural beauty. This 11-mile, one-way loop road offers a unique blend of Gatlinburg’s rich historical heritage and breathtaking landscapes, making it a must-visit for anyone cruising through the area.

Cades Cove is a verdant valley surrounded by mountains, and driving through it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. The loop is dotted with well-preserved homesteads, barns, and churches that tell the tale of the early settlers of the Smokies. Each stop is a chance to hop out of the car, stretch your legs, and explore a piece of history. The John Oliver Cabin, one of the first homesteads in the cove, offers a glimpse into the rugged life of the early pioneers. It’s so well preserved, you half expect to see the Olivers come walking out the door!

But it’s not just the history that’ll grab you; it’s the sheer, unadulterated beauty of the place. The loop meanders through lush meadows, dense forests, and alongside sparkling streams that reflect the towering mountains overhead. In the spring, the valley is ablaze with wildflowers, while autumn cloaks the landscape in fiery hues. And the wildlife—oh, the wildlife! From majestic deer grazing in the fields to black bears ambling through the woods, Cades Cove is a live-action nature show you won’t want to miss.

One of the loop’s highlights is the Cable Mill area, home to a working grist mill, blacksmith shop, and other historic buildings. Watching the miller grind corn just like they did in the 1800s is not only educational but downright mesmerizing. And if you’re lucky, you might catch a blacksmithing demonstration, which is always a hit with the kids (and the kid-at-heart adults).

Now, here’s a little Gary wisdom: take your time on this drive. The loop can get busy, especially during peak season, but that’s just more reason to slow down and savor the experience. Pull off at the numerous stops, picnic in the meadows, and let the serene beauty of Cades Cove work its magic on you.

In the grand tapestry of Gatlinburg scenic drives, Cades Cove Loop is a standout thread, woven with the vibrant colors of history, nature, and untouched beauty. It’s a place where the past and present merge, where every turn reveals a new wonder, and where the spirit of the Smokies is as palpable as the morning mist. So, when you’re in Gatlinburg, make sure to carve out a few hours for Cades Cove—it’s a journey you’ll remember long after you’ve left the loop behind.

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Foothills Parkway – The Undiscovered Gem

Now, if you’re hankering for a Gatlinburg scenic drive that’s a bit off the beaten path, let me steer you towards the Foothills Parkway. Often referred to as “the most scenic drive in America,” this roadway is a bit of a hidden gem, offering some of the most jaw-dropping views of the Smokies you can find from the comfort of your car.

The Foothills Parkway skirts the park’s northern and western edges, serving up a feast for the eyes with every mile. The drive is a smooth, easy ride, making it perfect for those leisurely drives where you want to soak in every vista without a care in the world. And vistas you shall have! The Parkway offers sweeping views of the mountain ranges, deep valleys, and the lush landscapes that define the Smoky Mountains.

One of the highlights of this drive is the recently completed section known as “the Missing Link.” This stretch of road bridges a gap that had been unfinished for years, and let me tell you, it was worth the wait. The Missing Link offers some of the most spectacular, uninterrupted views of the mountains, complete with pull-offs where you can park and let the beauty of the Smokies wash over you.

As you cruise along the Foothills Parkway, you’ll find plenty of overlooks to pull over and snap that perfect photo or just sit and marvel at nature’s grandeur. Each overlook has its own unique perspective of the mountains, and I’d wager you can’t find a bad view in the bunch. From the vibrant greens of spring and summer to the riot of colors in the fall, the Parkway is a year-round showcase of the Smokies’ ever-changing beauty.

Now, a word from your ol’ pal Gary: don’t rush this drive. The Foothills Parkway is a place to meander, to breathe deep, and to let the stress of the world melt away with each mile. It’s a reminder of the simple pleasures in life, like a stunning view and the open road ahead.

In the grand tapestry of Gatlinburg scenic drives, the Foothills Parkway is a thread of tranquility, beauty, and awe-inspiring views. It’s a road less traveled, but for those who take the journey, it offers rewards in spades. So, next time you’re in Gatlinburg and the call of the mountains beckons, remember the Foothills Parkway. It’s a journey through the heart of the Smokies that you won’t soon forget.

Cherohala Skyway – A Drive Above The Clouds

Venturing a bit beyond the immediate vicinity of Gatlinburg, but well within the realm of breathtaking Gatlinburg scenic drives, the Cherohala Skyway offers a journey that quite literally takes you above the clouds. This high-altitude road stretches from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina, and is a marvel of engineering and natural beauty, offering vistas that are simply unmatched.

As you embark on this elevated expedition, the Cherohala Skyway ascends into the realms of the Cherokee and Nantahala national forests—hence its name, a blend of “Cherokee” and “Nantahala.” This route is less traveled compared to the more famous Blue Ridge Parkway, but it offers tranquility and panoramic views that can rival any scenic drive in the country.

The skyway climbs to over 5,000 feet, weaving through a landscape that changes from lush forest to rugged mountain balds. Each turn and rise reveals sweeping views of unspoiled wilderness, with overlooks that invite you to stop, gaze, and wonder. The vistas here are so vast, you’ll find yourself gazing into the distance, where layers of blue mountains fade into the horizon, and it’s easy to imagine you’re looking at the very edge of the world.

One of the highlights of the Cherohala Skyway is the Spirit Ridge Overlook. At an elevation of nearly 4,500 feet, this spot offers panoramic views that are nothing short of majestic. On clear days, the sky and mountains meet in a spectacle of color and light, and when the conditions are right, you might find yourself standing above a sea of clouds—a truly ethereal experience.

But the Cherohala Skyway isn’t just about the views. The drive itself is an adventure, with curves and elevations that make for an exhilarating ride. Whether you’re on four wheels or two, the road’s smooth surface and gentle turns make it a favorite for drivers and motorcyclists alike. And for those who like to mix a bit of hiking with their scenic drives, the skyway offers access to a number of trails, including the popular Hooper Bald and Huckleberry Knob, where short hikes lead to breathtaking vistas and wildflower meadows.

As you journey along the Cherohala Skyway, it’s worth remembering that this drive, like many of Gatlinburg’s scenic routes, is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. The skyway invites you to take your time, to stop often and explore, and to soak in the beauty of the Appalachian wilderness in a way that few roads can offer.

In conclusion, while the Cherohala Skyway may take you a bit further afield from Gatlinburg, it embodies the spirit of exploration and natural wonder that characterizes all of Gatlinburg’s scenic drives. It’s a route that offers a different perspective, a chance to rise above the everyday and experience the Smokies and their surroundings from a vantage point that’s truly above the clouds. So, if your heart yearns for mountain vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see, set your sights on the Cherohala Skyway—a drive that’s sure to elevate your Smoky Mountain adventure to new heights.

Wrapping Up Gatlinburg Scenic Drives: A Grinner’s Guide

Well, my fellow road ramblers, we’ve journeyed together through the twists and turns of Gatlinburg’s scenic drives, each offering its unique blend of natural splendor, historical charm, and those oh-so-wonderful “pull over and let’s gawk” moments. Gatlinburg scenic drives, from the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail’s intimate forest pathways to the breathtaking expanses of Newfound Gap Road, Cades Cove Loop’s step back in time, and the tranquil beauty of the Foothills Parkway, form a mosaic of experiences that showcase the very heart and soul of the Smoky Mountains.

These drives are more than just routes from one point to another; they are pathways to adventure, discovery, and a deeper appreciation for the natural world that envelops Gatlinburg. Each curve in the road, each elevation climb, and each historic stop tells a story, paints a picture, and leaves an imprint on your heart. It’s the kind of journey that makes you grateful for the journey itself, not just the destination.

As we’ve seen, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail offers an up-close-and-personal look at the Smokies’ lush landscapes and pioneering spirit. Newfound Gap Road elevates the experience, quite literally, with its sky-high vistas and the solemn beauty of the Rockefeller Memorial. Cades Cove Loop wraps you in the arms of history, surrounded by the untouched beauty of the valley, while the Foothills Parkway serves as a serene escape, with views that stretch the imagination and soothe the soul.

But my dear grinning friends, the true beauty of these Gatlinburg scenic drives lies not just in the views, the history, or the wildlife. It’s in the shared moments, the laughs, the awe-struck silences, and the collective joy of discovering the wonders of the Smokies with those we hold dear. These drives are a reminder of the simple joys of exploring, of finding beauty in the world around us, and of the endless surprises that await when we simply decide to take the scenic route.

So, I encourage you, whether you’re a seasoned Smoky Mountain explorer or a first-time visitor to our beloved Gatlinburg, to take the time to experience these scenic drives. Pack a picnic, load up your favorite tunes, and set out on a journey that promises not just beautiful sights but beautiful memories. And who knows? You might just find me, Grinning Gary, pulled over at an overlook, taking in the view, and ready with a story or two to share.

In closing, let Gatlinburg’s scenic drives be a call to adventure, a beacon for those yearning to connect with nature, history, and the joy of the journey. And remember, in the Smokies, every turn reveals a new wonder, every mile tells a new story, and every drive is an opportunity to grin from ear to ear at the sheer beauty of it all. So hit the road, grinner, and let Gatlinburg’s scenic drives show you the way.


  • Grinning Gary McLaughlin

    Grinning Gary McLaughlin is Gatlinburg’s own treasure trove of tales, a local historian with a knack for weaving humor into the fabric of everyday life in the Smoky Mountains. With roots running deep in the heart of Tennessee, Gary’s passion for his hometown shines through in his engaging and light-hearted narratives. Whether he’s sharing insider tips on hidden gems or recounting hilarious anecdotes from around town, Gary’s writing makes every reader feel like a welcomed friend, ready to explore the wonders of Gatlinburg with a smile.

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