Sometimes a peaceful drive is all you need to experience the beauty of fall in the Great Smoky Mountains, and with mountain roads twisting and turning throughout the Smokies, the opportunities to explore are endless.
“Whether you want to jump on a motorcycle, challenge yourself in your sports car or take the family on a relaxing drive, there are options for everyone that will showcase the Smoky Mountains’ heritage, views and countryside,” said Tami Vater, director of tourism for the Blount Partnership.
With fall foliage at its peak in October, Ms. Vater said there is no better time than now to visit the Smokies and explore the area.
“Even though the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed during the government shutdown, you can still hop in your car and take a drive on one of the scenic routes that will give you some of the best views of the Smokies,” said Vater. “It’s great just to get out and drive through the mountains and explore, and of course there are several suggested routes that take visitors through some of the region’s most beautiful areas.”
Old Walland Drive in Townsend is a two lane road that will take you through farmland and a valley where you’ll ride along the Little River, all paired with a backdrop of the Smokies. The road will take you through the Walland Community where you’ll pass country churches, horse farms, log cabins, and venture into Townsend.
From Old Walland Drive, you can continue through Townsend to 441 to Cherokee, North Carolina, one of the few roads through the National Park that has remained open during the government shutdown. Even though you cannot drive into the park, the drive from Cherokee to Townsend still has plenty to offer those who seek scenic views of the fall foliage and of the Smokies.
Wears Valley in Townsend lies in the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains and its picturesque drive will take you through the mountains to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. With panoramic views of the Smokies, Wears Valley is a popular spot for exploring the nature and beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.
For a more challenging drive, The Dragon in Blount County offers 318 curves in an 11-mile stretch that takes approximately three hours to drive. The Dragon is especially popular with motorcycle enthusiasts, who consider it as the number one road in America for motorcyclists. There are no intersecting roads or driveways and every “S” curve is different. You can take the Dragon back to Townsend or continue on to Robbinsville, North Carolina.
The Cherohala Skyway is a two-hour ride “above the clouds.” The 36-mile stretch climbs to 5,400 feet, and provides scenic views of the mountains between Robbinsville, North Carolina and Tellico Plains, Tenn. This route takes riders on a two-hour journey through both the Cherokee National Forest as well as the Nantahala National Forest.
For a drive to explore the back roads of East Tennessee, take a drive on the Rock Top Trail, where there’s more to do than just drive. With more than 100 stops, Rocky Top Trail ventures through Gatlinburg, Knoxville, Fort Loudon and circles back to Blount County. You can explore Rocky Top Trail in a day or extend it by staying a night along the way, all surrounded by the Smokies and its heritage.
East Tennessee Crossing (Hwy 25E) stretches 83 miles in Tennessee from the Cumberland Gap, southeast to the Cherokee National Forest. It has been used since prehistoric times by pioneer travelers, hunters and tourists alike, and is as well traveled as it is named. This route follows the original path of the Cherokee Warriors Path, the Wilderness Road across the Clinch Mountain and the Cumberland Gap, the Dixie Highway of the Civil War period and Thunder Road of moonshining lore.
Contact the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority at 800 525-6834 or 865 983-2241 for help planning a trip and recommendations of attractions, accommodations and sites outside the park. Visit online at www.SmokyMountains.org.
If you are in the area, you can stop by the Smoky Mountain Visitors Center at Townsend, at 7906 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, or the Smoky Mountain Visitors Center at Maryville, at 201 South Washington Street, for more information.