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The Best Scenic Drives Near Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg has some amazing scenery nearby, you don’t need a long hike to see it. We live here and driven all of them. Here’s our favorite drives that let you explore the Smoky Mountains. without leaving your car.

These drives are all close enough to do as a partial day trip from Gatlinburg, or Pigeon Forge.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but driving these four will give you the best of the Smoky Mountains without taking you too far from Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. We’ve excluded some that start too far away.

They will also let you see about everything: high altitudes, mountains, valleys, rivers, historic buildings, and wildlife.

If you don’t have time to do everything, try to see Roaring Fork and Cades Cove (or Newfound Gap). The drive to Cades Cove also allows you to drive Little River Rd along the way.

Scenic Drives NEar Gatlinburg

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Distance from Gatlinburg: 7 minutes.
Duration: 1 hour minimum, without traffic

roaring fork motor trail
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Just a couple minutes from Gatlinburg is some of the best scenery in the Great Smoky Mountains: the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

log cabin on roaring fork motor nature trail
Cabin on Roaring Fork. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

This scenic one-way, one-lane road is a 5.5-mile loop with great views of streams, forests, and historic buildings like cabins and a mill.

roaring fork overlook
Overlook from Roaring Fork. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Two overlooks offer great views, though both parking lots are small and it can be hard to find a spot.

It’s also a great place to spot some black bears, we usually see both bear and deer each time we visit.

narrow road along cliff on roaring fork trail
Narrow road along drop-off. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Roaring Fork is closed during winter, and it’s a narrow road, so no RVs or other trailers.

roaring fork river under a bridge
Stream Through Roaring Fork. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Just before starting the loop, stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin nature trail. It’s right by the road and a short walk from the parking lot.

noah bud ogle cabin in spring with flowers blooing
Ogle Cabin. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

The trailhead for Rainbow Falls, a 5.4-mile roundtrip hike to an 80-foot waterfall, is at the start of the Roaring Fork loop.

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Newfound Gap Road

Distance from Gatlinburg: Starts just outside Gatlinburg, 30 minutes to Newfound Gap overlook.
Duration: Several hours to all day, depending on how far you go.

Newfound Gap Road is a 33-mile stretch with some of the best mountain scenery in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

view of newfound gap road with trees and wet road
Newfound Gap road in Spring. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

It can be a several hour journey to Newfound Gap Overlook and back, or an all-day adventure that takes you to the highest peak in the Smoky Mountains, and if you keep going gives you a chance to see Elk at the south visitor center.

view of cloudy day on newfound gap road
Cloudy day on Newfound Gap Road. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Starting just outside Gatlinburg, the road winds up the mountain with great stops for viewing and overlooks along the way.

It’s worth the drive even with cloudy skies like in many of these pictures.

top of mountains covered with clouds, newfound gap road
Mountains covered by clouds on Newfound Gap Road. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

This route takes you to some of the highest elevations in the Smoky Mountains, where you’re more likely to find snow in the winter.

tunnel on newfound gap road
Newfound Gap Road tunnell. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

You’ll even cross paths with the Appalachian Trail.

Eventually, you’ll reach Ben Morton Overlook and Newfound Gap Overlook.

newfound gap
Newfound Gap Overlook. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

There’s a good amount of parking at Newfound Gap, though don’t be surprised to find it full on a busy day!

parking lot at newfound gap overlook
Newfound Gap Overlook parking. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

From Newfound Gap you can return to Gatlinburg, OR (highly recommended) keep going to Clingmans Dome.

You can also keep going towards Cherokee, NC for some Elk viewing.

sign on newfound gap road
Sign on Newfound Gap Road. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

From Newfound Gap continue to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee (and the Smoky Mountains!).

From the Clingmans Dome parking lots, it’s about a half-mile paved uphill walk to the observation tower.

path up to clingmans dome
Path up to Clingmans Dome. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

It’s not a hard hike, but it’s fairly steep and if you’re used to sea level elevation you may find yourself stopping for a break on the way up.

clingmans dome overlook on a cloudy day
Clingmans Dome Overlook on a cloudy day. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

The views at the top are great, even on a cloudy day you may luck out and be above some of the cloud layers

view from clingmans dome on a cloudy day
Clingmans Dome on a cloudy day. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Clingman’s Dome is closed during winter. For road status, especially regarding snow closures, check the National Park Service (NPS) website.

On this visit near the end of April in 2024, we found a few minutes of some pretty heavy snow with a temperature of 39 degrees.

snow falling on the trail at clingmans dome in april
Snow at Clingmans Dome in April. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

The temperature back in Gatlinburg was almost 60.

From Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap, you can also continue towards Cherokee and stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

park near Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Road new Smokemount Campground near Cherokee, NC. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

The scenery starts to look different as you get closer to Cherokee, ending with some wide open fields near Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center field with elk
Elk in the field next to Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is one of the best places to see Elk, especially in the morning, evening or on cloudy & rainy days.

In the picture above, there were 4 or 5 Elk standing just a few feet away from the main road when we drove by.

Little River Gorge Road

Distance from Gatlinburg: 20 minutes.
Duration: 1-2hrs, ends near Cades Cove.

screenshot of map of little river rd
Map of Little River Rd
little river during spring
Little River. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Little River Gorge Road, which winds alongside the Little River, is a quiet, slow-paced drive with plenty of places to pull over and take pictures, or even get into the river.

On the drive from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove, this will be one of the routes offered by Google Maps (the one with all the sharp turns).

rocky overlook along little river d
Rocky overlook that looks like a face along Little River Road. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

The road follows the river, with some a rock wall on the other side of the road.

the sinks waterfall
The Sinks waterfall. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

This waterfall (The Sinks) is easily accessible from the road.

little river, water flowing past rocks
Little River. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Little River Road ends at the Townsend Wye (where two river branches join).

There you can either keep going straight to straight to Cades Cove, or turn right and enjoy one of our favorite towns: Townsend.

Townsend Wye river splitting into two
Townsend Wye where the river splits. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Cades Cove

Distance from Gatlinburg: 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Duration: 2 hours or more once you get there, depending on how many stops you make. “Bear jams” often occur, where traffic comes to a standstill when bears make an appearance.

cades cove view of gravel road
Cades Cove. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Cades Cove is an 11-mile loop and offers one of the best scenic drives that combines natural beauty, wildlife encounters, and historical landmarks.

It’s one of the most well known, and popular things to see in the national park.

cades cove
Cades Cove. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Cades Cove does get busy, but it’s still one of our favorite scenic loops. It’s a one-lane loop that usually moves pretty slowly and takes several hours to get around on a busy day.

There are some great places to stop and explore the older buildings.

cades cove church
Church at Cades Cove. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

If you’re up early, Cades Cove is also a beautiful place to see at sunrise.

It’s a great place to spot black bears, turkeys, and deer. We’ve seen deer every time we’ve been, and bears are likely to be found in late afternoon and evening.

cades cove deer
Deer at Cades Cove. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

In the picture above, we had pulled over to take pictures when this deer crossed the road and walked about 5 feet in front of us.

Foothills Parkway

Distance from Gatlinburg: 30 minutes.
Duration: One hour and up. Foothills Parkway doesn’t require as many stops as the other routes, as there’s not much to stop at.

Note: If you’ve already driven the scenic drives above, don’t feel bad if you miss this one.

Foothills Parkway has some nice panoramic mountain views. You’ll often find people stopped for picnics or just to watch the views.

foothills parkway bridge in the distance
Foothills Parkway bridge. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

This is a newer road takes that takes you high above Townsend and Wears Valley.

As you can see on the map, it continues pretty far away from Gatlinburg. These pictures are just from the section between Wears Valley and Walland.

screenshot map of foothills parkway
Map of Foothills Parkway

A good round trip from Gatlinburg is to take the Foothills Parkway west from Wears Valley until the first exit (Walland), then on the way back, take the valley through Townsend.

foothills parkway
View from the road on Foothills Parkway. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

There are parking areas at the different overlooks on the Parkway, usually with plenty of parking spaces.

The road, being new, is also wider and less curvy than many other mountain roads around, some of which can be a wild ride.

foothills parkway overlook on a rainy day
View from the overlook on Foothills Parkway on a rainy day. Photo by Ashley @ TheSmokyMountains.com

Conclusion

We hope this guide was helpful. Let us know in the comments or on our new forums.

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