Auto Touring the Smokies

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is over 800 square miles and is one of the most pristine natural areas in the East. It is also the most visited National Park in the country! Two thirds of the country can make it to the Great Smoky Mountains within a day’s drive…so…what are you waiting for? Pack a bag, put on the comfy clothes and jump in the car! The Smoky Mountains are waiting for you!

There are so many activities to do once you reach the Smokies. To be honest, if you have never visited before, it can become a bit overwhelming when you are trying to plan out your days. You obviously want to do everything, but that is just not possible. There are many that visit the Smokies and they often tell us that they just are not able to get out and explore like they once could. So, we thought it would be a good idea to share with you all the most popular places you can go without having to hike miles. We are referring to Auto Touring! That’s right, you can still witness all the beauty our beloved national park has to offer-straight from your vehicle!

Rich Mountain Road

This eight mile, one way, road offers up some of the most spectacular views of Cades Cove! Heading north from Cades Cove over Rich Mountain to Tuckaleechee Cove and Townsend, you will capture some beautiful photography shots of this beautiful area. This is, by far, one of the less traveled roads in the Smokies, but we assure you-you will not be disappointed by taking the time to travel this road while on vacation.


This valley was one of the most prosperous settlements in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was also one of the largest and isolated with its surrounding 6000 foot peaks. Around twelve hundred people lived in the valley around 1910. They mostly made their living by growing apples, boarding fisherman and farming. This is the best place in the Smokies to see historic frame buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many buildings were preserved including two churches, a school and several homes. Not only is Cataloochee a great place to see historic buildings, it is also the most popular place to view elk. Elk were released in the Cataloochee Valley in 2001 as part of an effort to reintroduce them back into the park. They are regularly seen in the fields especially in the early morning or later in the evening. In addition to the elk, you have a great chance of seeing deer, turkey and other wildlife. As you enter the valley, there is a self guiding tour booklet available in a roadside box. We suggest you purchase the very inexpensive booklet as it goes into great detail about the history of the area.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

I like to think of this as a smaller version of Cades Cove. I always like to suggest this auto tour to folks that just do not have enough time to venture too far into the Smokies and are mainly going to be in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg during their time to this area. You can reach Roaring Fork from traffic light eight in Gatlinburg-just follow the signs.

Roaring Fork got its name from one of the larger streams in the park. This is a beautiful drive, no matter the time, but if you travel down this 5.5 mile long road after a hard rain, you will simply be amazed at the beauty we have surrounding us in this area. Along the road, you will see many rushing mountain streams, old growth forest, grist mills, log cabins and other historic buildings. One of my most loved aspects of auto tour is the Place of a Thousand Drips. It is located alongside the road, towards the end and is an absolutely gorgeous waterfall to see! I swear it never gets old and it is especially beautiful after a hard rain. If you do need to get out of the car and stretch your legs, you have many opportunities. The historic buildings can be toured and there are also some of the Smokies most beloved trails that you can take along this auto tour. Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls are two of the most popular trail-heads. Rainbow Falls is a 5.4 miles round trip and is considered moderately strenuous, but the reward is worth the hike! Grotto Falls is quite popular because it is the only waterfall in the National Park that you can walk behind! It is a great way to cool off in the summer heat! As this is a narrow, mountain road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed during the winter months.

Newfound Gap

Take a ride along the Great Smoky Mountains lowest drivable pass. Newfound Gap climbs about 3000 feet while traveling from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina or vice versa. Newfound Gap Road offers some of the most beautiful views of the Smokies and with its many pull-over areas, it is one of the most popular places to take photos. Another highlight is the Rockefeller Memorial. This is where President Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on September 2nd, 1940. It is a memorial to thank the Rockefeller family for their assistance in establishing the National Park.
Oh, we could easily go on about all the great places to tour and see while vacationing in the Smoky Mountain area. Most travelers to the area are familiar with Cades Cove, but we feel it is important to share other great places to enjoy when visiting. If you do not have a trip planned for the future, then give us a call at 800.429.4361 and one of our reservationists will be happy to assist you in getting your Smoky Mountain Vacation in the books! Hope to see you soon!

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