If you’ve ever been to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, chances are that you’ve spent some time on Newfound Gap Road and didn’t even know it. This 31-mile long road is filled with incredible mountainscapes that showcase how beautiful the Great Smoky Mountains are – no matter the time of year!
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PRO TIP: Be prepared for cooler temperatures, even in summer. Due to elevation, temperatures are cooler inside the park. Before you head out, call 865-436-1200 to get an update about weather and road conditions.
About Newfound Gap Road
Newfound Gap Road (also known as US 441) is the lowest drivable pass in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stretching from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina this fully paved scenic road is the only road that travels through the National Park’s center!
I highly recommend rolling down the windows and enjoying the fresh mountain air with fragrant scents of evergreen Spruce and Pine.
Newfound Gap Road provides access to park visitor centers, hiking trails, quiet nature walkways. And because Newfound Gap Road was built following the design of landscape architects that wanted to complement the mountains, there are a number of lookouts that give you some of the best views of the United State’s most visited national park.
PRO TIP: There are no gas stations or commercial services on Newfound Gap Road, so plan accordingly.
Points of Interest Along The Way
Mile markers make it easy to locate sights along the route. They start right outside of Gatlinburg and end 31 miles later near Cherokee. We’re covering the trip how we always did it – from Gatlinburg. But you can plan a trip in the opposite direction or do a smaller section depending on your interests. Here are a few things to know before you start your trip.
Self-guiding Natural Trails: Most of the self-guided nature trails in the park are short and easy walks that are less than a mile. Often times they have brochures at the trailhead you can purchase (or pick one up at a visitor center) that are keyed for points of interest or landmarks.
Quiet Walkways: Unlike self-guiding nature trails, quiet walkways in the park don’t have brochures. Most are just long enough to get away from the main road, allowing you to enjoy nature without having to hike too far. The paths are not paved and often times have rough footing so make sure you are wearing appropriate shoes. Most quiet walkways are not loops, they are parts of longer trails and old roadways so at some point you will need to turn around and return the way you came.
Mile 1.7: Sugarlands Visitor Center
Sugarlands Visitor Center, located right outside of Gatlinburg, is a great starting point to your trip along Newfound Gap Road. It is also a great place to spend some time if you aren’t able to do the whole 31-mile route. The visitor center has bathrooms for anyone needing a pitstop.
Inside the visitor center, you will also find a short movie about the area that makes up the national park, exhibits, and park volunteers as well as rangers who can answer any questions you might have. If you are looking to make any backcountry reservations, they can help you with that at the visitor center too! There is also a gift shop where you can purchase a Newfound Gap Road driving tour booklet that includes history and in-depth details of all of the points of interest along the road (this blog post covers that too so save a tree and bookmark this instead.)
At Sugarlands Visitor Center, you can also spend some time on the Fighting Creek Self-guided Nature Trail. The trail leads from behind the restrooms to a lovely creek and a traditional Appalachian mountain cabin. If you want to see Cataract Falls, less than half a mile from the visitor center, you can do so from Fight Creek Nature Trail!
To get continue on Newfound Gap Road from Sugarlands Visitor Center follow the signs toward Newfound Gap and Cherokee. As you drive, you’ll notice some great views with Sugarland Mountain on the west (right) and Bull Head and Mount Le Conte on the east (left). There are pull-outs on both sides of the road giving you ample opportunity to enjoy the scenery.
Mile 2.1: Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail
The Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is a paved, half-mile loop that is fully accessible to wheelchairs. The trail is flat, making it an easy walk for anyone who wants to see old building sites! At first chimney you encounter, the trail runs through the middle of what was once a Civilian Conservation Corps building. The CCC was instrumental in building what we know as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! The taller chimney a little ways away was part of a two-story house.
In the 1920s, Sugarlands Valley looked very different than it does now. This area was mainly farmland before it became part of the national park. It was home to about 100 families, had 3 schools, 2 churches, a hotel, a post office, and a grist mill.
What was once neatly plowed rows of cornfields and pasture is now seeing a young forest grow, returning the land to its natural environment. Along the trail, keep an eye out for sugar maple trees which the farmers often used to tap for syrup and gave the area its name.
Mile 2.8: Quiet Walkway
This quiet walkway leads you down from the road and across a log bridge over a creek. Past a small ridge, you’ll see a double chimney that is probably from the old Sky-u-ka Hotel that offered accommodations to the areas budding tourism industry. Keep an eye out for trees with flaky bark as there are a few sycamores nearby.
Mile 3.2: Huskey Gap Trailhead and Quiet Walkway
You’ll find the trailhead for Huskey Gap Trail across the road from the parking area. This trail is popular for springtime wildflowers. It climbs 2.2 miles along the backbone of Sugarland Mountain. If the hike is too much, you can opt for a smaller walk instead along the quiet walkway.
The quiet walkway starts from the parking area. Look for the signs near a boulder marking the start of the pathway. On the right as you travel the trail, you’ll see a homesite and small cemetery from before the establishing of the national park.
Mile 4: Campbell Overlook
You’ll see two large parking areas on the left-hand side of the road where you can pull off to enjoy views of Sugarlands Valley and Mount Le Conte. The second pullout is named for the author of Birth of a National Park, Carlos Campbell. The book tells the story of how The Great Smoky Mountains National Park came to be and covers the contributions of many citizens from both Tennessee and North Carolina.
From the look at you can see what is known as a heath bald. The soil in these areas is too thin to support large trees. Instead, you can find mountain laurel, blueberries, myrtle, and rhododendron – all of which grow to the same height making the patch look smooth, resembling a bald head from afar. And if you look to the highest point, you’ll see a preview of higher elevations landscape where spur-fir forests look more like what you would find in Canada or Maine.
Mile 4.2: Quiet Walkway
This walkway has two options. The first is a rough trail down to the river. The other trail on the left side leads you back to Campbell Overlook.
Pro Tip: Bear, deer, and other wildlife can often be seen along the wooded areas along Newfound Gap Road. This means that traffic can sometimes get backed up. If you see wildlife, pull off the road to look at but make sure you don’t approach it or harass it! If you get stuck in a “bear jam” turn off your car to reduce emissions.
Mile 5.1: Quiet Walkway
This walkway branches. One branch drops down to the river while the other turns right which has some pretty cool things along the way. Along this branch of the pathway, you can see one of the best stone walls in the entire park! At the gap in the wall that was most likely a gate, you can enter what was once a homesite where a family once lived and kept livestock.
Mile 6.2: Chimneys Picnic Area and Cove Hardwood Nature Trail
The chimneys picnic area is one of my favorite areas in the entire park to stop and have lunch. With bathrooms and grills, it is a perfect place to take a quick stop and stretch your legs by the rushing river and giant boulders. Tim and I always brought our hammocks to lay in and listen to the
If you want to enjoy the Cove Hardwood Self-Guiding Nature Trail, look for the trailhead to right at the first picnic area. This trail crosses a few creeks and climbs into a sheltered cove where you can see huge silver bell and buckeye trees. If its a foggy or rainy day, don’t let that deter you as you are likely to see salamanders and giant brown millipedes out and about. In March and April, the trail is known to be one best wildflower trails in the whole park.
Mile 7.1: Views of Chimney Tops
Less than a mile from the picnic area, there are 5 pull-outs with a stellar view of the Chimney Tops jutting high above the trees at an impressive 4,700-foot elevation. While you’re enjoying the view, you might notice some patches of dead or dying hemlocks. Unfortunately, most of the park’s hemlocks have been infested by the hemlock woolly adelgid. These aphid-like insects were accidentally introduced to the park and park biologist are working hard to save some of the hemlocks.
You’ll also notice steep drop-offs and cliffs on the other side of the road and in front of the overlooks. The road was made by CCC workers who blasted out the rock as there was barely enough room to build here.
Mile 7.8: Spring Flower Walk
This area on the left side of the road is great if you want to see some of the many wild flowers that bloom in the park. From this large parking area you can walk between the boulders where you can often find violets, phlox, Jack-in-the-pulpit, stonecrop, and other wildflowers blooming.
Mile 8: Nature Exhibit
The exhibit here is all about cove hardwood forest, one of the most botanically diverse forest types found in the park. These forests have between 40 and 60 tree and shrub species that grow in sheltered valleys filled with deep rich soil. Look for Carolina silverbell, basswood, dogwood, and magnolia.
Mile 8.6: Chimney Tops Trailhead
One of the busier trails in the park, Chimney Tops Trail, is also one of the steepest! The strenuous trail leads you two miles to the open, rocky bumps of the Chimney Tops, which get their name from the chimney-like hole found in one of the peaks. Getting to the top means you’ll have to conquer a very steep stretch so make sure you are prepared for the uphill trek.
Mile 9: The Loop
Heading to Newfound Gap after leaving Gatlinburg, the road follows the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Near the Chimney Tops trailhead though the valley is too narrow so the solution was a loop where part of the road literally goes over itself making it look like a knot.
Mile 10.4: Alum Cave Trailhead
The Alum Cave Trail is one of the most-hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains. It is also the shortest trail to Mt. LeConte. The parking lot is often crowded with cars because the trail is a favorite with some spectacular views. Bird watchers, keep an eye out for Peregrine Falcons! The endangered falcons have been seen nesting on a ridge that is visible from Inspiration Point – about 2 and a half miles up the trail. Alum Cave isn’t really a cave and doesn’t contain any Alum. But, nonetheless, the Bluffs has a history going back all the way to the 1800s when Epsom salts were mined for medical uses.
Mile 10 thru 11: River Views
During this piece of Newfound Gap Road, you will be right beside the river. There are a number of places to pull over for a closer look of the water. Keep an eye out for yellow birch (the ones with yellow bark that looks like its curling and peeling) and red spruce. In July, the rosebay rhododendron’s white flowers are truly beautiful here!
Mile 13: Anakeesta Rock Slides
From this point on, there are pullouts along Newfound Gap Road provide views of Anakeesta Ridge rock slides as well as the deep valley you’ve passed. Anakeesta means “place of the balsams” in Cherokee. The rock slides you see are formed when water gets between the layers of shale and breaking off sections when it freezes.
Mile 13.6: Second Tunnel
Make sure you look at the stonework here. The older stones will be darker than the newer stones. The newer stones were added when the road was lowered in an attempt to enlarge the tunnel without damaging any of the original stonework.
Mile 14: Morton Overlook
From here, you can see Chimney Tops, Mount Mingus, and Sugarland Mountain. With stunning views, this overlook is popular with photographers.
Mile 14.7: Newfound Gap
Newfound Gap is located on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. Here you can stand where President Franklin D. Roosevelt stood to dedicate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There is a plaque to commemorate the Rockefeller Memorial which is also the same place where Dolly Parton rededicated the park for its 75th Anniversary. From Newfound Gap you can also hike part of the Appalachian Trail!
Mile 14.8: Clingmans Dome Road
At 6,643 ft. Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An uphill, paved trail takes you to the observation tower where, on a clear day, you can take in amazing views of the national park, and see hundreds of miles across the treetops. The walk to the Dome is very steep but there are plenty of benches along the way where you can stop and rest.
If you are looking to hike while at Clingmans Dome, you can access the AT as well as several trailheads and self-guided nature trails.
Mile 14.9: Anakeesta Rock
Just past the turnoff for Clingmans Dome, you can get a close up view of the Anakeesta Rock from mile 13.
Mile 15.4: Oconaluftee Valley Overlook
From this lookout, located on the right side of the road, you can see down into the Oconaluftee Valle. Named for the Cherokee word Ekwanulti meaning “along the river’ you can see the Newfound Gap Road follow the river valley below all the way to Cherokee, North Carolina.
Mile 16.1: High Elevation Quiet Walkway
This trail descends fairly steeply but will showcase rhododendron, red maple, mountain maple, Fraser magnolia, and running ground cedar.
Mile 16 thru 17: Views of Deep Valley Creek
The overlooks and fenced railways you will find along this stretch of Newfound Gap Road provide really stunning views of Deep Valley Creek.
Mile 21.8: Quiet Walkway
This trail was once an old road that hasn’t been used since 1964. You’ll be able to see wildflowers, ferns, and small trees taking over the crumbling road.
Mile 23.2: Quiet Walkway
This quiet walkway is one of the prettiest in the park. It starts with stone steps and features a bridge crossing a creek. The trail splits with the right branch going directly to Oconaluftee and the left going through a fern field and rhododendron tunnel filled with wildflowers in the spring.
Mile 23.5: Kephart Prong Trailhead
The Kephart Prong Trailhead leads you 2 miles into the woods where you end up at a backcountry shelter. From there, two trails lead you to the Appalachian Trail, part of which is a former logging road. Along the trail, you can also explore some CCC structures left behind from their projects when establishing the national park.
Mile 25.4 Collins Creek Picnic Area
This picnic area has plenty of space and table options for anyone looking to stop for a spell. The area is also wonderful in the spring when you can find bloodroot, rhododendrum, foam flower, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and violets.
Mile 27.2: Smokemount Campground and Trails
Smokemount is one of the best campsites in the park. It is rarely crowded and has a large number of tent sites. Over the years the area has been where Cherokee villages, mountain farms, sawmills, and CCC camps once stood. To the right of the entrance, by the bridge, you can visit the historic Lufty Baptist Church.
Mile 29.9: Mingus Mill
Mingus Mill was built in 1886 where it was used for milling corn and wheat for the local communities. After the logging boom, years of neglect were evident and it was restored by the CCC in 1937. The Park Service did some additional restoration in 1968. All of these efforts can be seen when you visit. The mill is operational from March through the Thanksgiving holiday during which time you can also purchase freshly-ground cornmeal and flour.
Mile 30.3: Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum
The final stop along Newfound Gap Road before you reach the Blue Ridge Parkway is Mountain Farm Museum & Oconaluftee Visitor Center, located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee. The visitor center has historic farm buildings that make up the open-air museum. During summer months, the museum will have demonstrations and special events that showcase Appalachian Mountain Culture.
In the area near the visitor center, you can also view the elk herd that is being reintroduced to the park.
If you are looking to enjoy a hike, the 2-mile Oconaluftee River Trail runs from near the visitor center to Cherokee, NC. The trail is easy and features exhibits on Cherokee Culture, wildlife, and plantlife.
Newfound Gap Road is a great way to spend a day or two exploring a great part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some of our best weekend memories from living in the Smokies are those where we drove along the Newfound Gap, stopped for a picnic by the river, and enjoyed the scenery.