Heintooga Round Bottom Road

Heintooga Round Bottom Road

Heintooga Round Bottom Road is rugged and remote 28 mile and mostly one way gravel road that weaves its way down to into Cherokee North Carolina.  The road offers views of pristine forest, wildflowers, wildlife, and creeks.  You'll drive through and along side often untraveled areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Heintooga Round Bottom Road - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

For those of you who feel adventurous, or those just looking for that "off the beaten path" scenic drive through the mountains, Heintooga Round Bottom Road might be just what you're looking for.  The road is rough, remote, incredible scenic, and long.

With that being said, rough might not do it justice.  Heintooga Round Bottom Road is a real rough and rustic mountain road, and one not intended for the casual driver or casual vehicle.   While probably drivable in a normal car in optimal weather conditions, we would definitely recommend driving this road in at least a 2-wheel drive SUV with some ground clearance, or preferably a 4x4.  

We've driven this road a few times, and always in our Jeep Wrangler.   We've never had to use 4-wheel drive, but the extra ground clearance and stiffer suspension was really helpful.

We don't say all of this to discourage you, but we just want you to fully understand what this road really is.  The road and surrounding mountains are beautiful and fascinating.  We'll take this road over any of the normal and highly traveled roads.

Directions to Heintooga Round Bottom Road

Heintooga Round Bottom Road is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Maggie Valley NC.   Coming down the Parkway, towards Cherokee, turn right on Heintooga/Balsam Mountain Rd at Milepost 458.2.  The entrance will be obvious, just look for the 3 separate entry ways going into the entrance.

Follow this 9 mile long paved road all the way to end where you will reach a large cul-du-sac and a picnic area.  You'll see the narrow gravel, and clearly marked Heintooga Round Bottom Road straight ahead of you (shown in the photo above).

Heintooga/Balsam Mountain Road are usually open from late May through October.  They can close during at anytime  though due to fallen trees or severe weather.    You can check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway pages for closure information.

Heintooga Round Bottom Road - What you'll see

As you begin your drive, you'll notice almost immediately how the forest begins to close in around you.   Through the whole drive, you see nothing but untouched, pristine and raw forest.  The forest and wildflowers extend right up next to your vehicle as you slowly weave your way down from 5,535 feet to below 2,000 feet in Cherokee.

Heintooga Round Bottom Road

The road is narrow, but one way, so you don't have to worry about oncoming traffic until far later in the drive.   There are plenty of pull overs as well, so you can stop and take photos.  When the road turns to two-way traffic, there are signs clearly indicating this.

There are no major scenic attractions as you wind down Heintooga Round Bottom Road.  Instead, pay attention to the small things, like the little waterfalls along the trails, created as water cascades down the small rock faces.  Pay attention to the variety of wildflowers, and look out for wildlife, including Black Bears, Elk, and Deer that are in this area.

The last third of the drive is our personal favorite, and you'll travel along side a small creek that grows as you descend down the mountain, eventually crossing a large bridge.  You'll run across a number of trailheads as well, to trails into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including a trial into Cataloochee Valley.

Heintooga Ridge Road Bridge

If you stop and park before crossing the bridge, on your left and up in the woods just a little bit are two small waterfalls.  You can hear them from the road.   They aren't very photogenic, but worth a small walk to see them.

You can access the creek and the area under the bridge from this side as well.  You can also drive across the bridge, and access the creek from there as well.   Before the bridge was built, you use to drive through the water to cross the creek.  It's too bad you can't do that anymore!

Heintooge Ridge Road - Below the Bridge

Below the bridge

From this bridge out to Big Cove Rd, is the most photographic area of the drive.   You'll travel along side the creek, which is full of small waterfalls and cascades.   The photographic spots are endless, and the creek and surrounding woods are just gorgeous.

Heintooga Ridge Road

One of the many small cascades along the creek

You'll also pass by a small horse camp, and often see horses in this area, along with other families and people camping on the in the surrounding primitive campsites in the area.

Heintooga Ridge Road Along the Creek

You'll exit the area onto Big Cove Rd, in Cherokee and pass the Cherokee Trout Farm.  Turn left to head to downtown Cherokee.  Be sure and stop by Mingo Falls on your way by.

Wrapping Up

The drive down Heintooga Round Bottom Road is wonderful, and provides a peaceful getaway from the hustle and bustle often found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  If you aren't worried about being away from people, and have the right vehicle, this is the perfect scenic and remote drive.

We look forward to heading back in the Fall, as we expect the colors and photo opportunities to be amazing!

Heintooga Round Bottom Road Photo Gallery


Leave a Comment:

Jamie Brown says July 26, 2017

Appx how long does it take to complete this drive? I certainly know 28 miles on this is considerable longer than 28 miles on the highway! I am just trying to see how much time I should allot while I am in the area if my husband and I take this drive! We are also thinking about the Deep Creek Trail/Falls/Tubing as well!

    Larry says July 28, 2017

    Hey Jamie – It takes about 60 – 90 minutes if you don’t stop much, longer if you do. Deep Creek is a wonderful area, while you’re there, but sure and drive to the Road to Nowhere. We have guides for both here on our website.

Dee says October 16, 2017

Hi. Is this road open? Thinking about gong in next few days.

    Larry says January 24, 2018

    My apologies for not responding – The road is open until the end of October, then closes until in the spring.

Debbie says November 6, 2017

Hmm. Wonder if I could do this road in my 2017 2WD Silverado….

    Susan Clark Smith says November 21, 2017

    I did the Heintooga Round Bottom Road in my dad’s old 2000 Ford Ranger, at the end of October 2017, and had no problems. Take it slow and easy and you’ll be fine! (This is a gorgeous drive and I’d recommend 2-2.5 hours if you plan to take photos.)

    *Even though this is a drive, not a hike, take provisions such as blankets, snacks and water, in the event of emergency. [Although there are restrooms at the top of Balsam Mountain, they are closed for Fall/Winter and are boarded up.]

    Larry says January 24, 2018

    Yes, no problem – I would just avoid it right after rain, as it can get a little muddy in spots.

Byron Leathermon says January 23, 2018

Are side by side allowed?

    Larry says January 24, 2018

    Not sure I understand, but the road isn’t wide enough for side by side vehicles unless you were on an offroad motorcycle.

Kathleen says June 15, 2018

OH my! We just drove this lovely road this week, June 13, 2018. It was spectacular! There are so many wildflowers! We had to drive slow enough to not miss some of the blooming dainties…so for us the drive took at least 2-3 hours. Loved it!

Kathy says July 26, 2018

Think it could be done in a hyundai tucson

Steve (Stephen) Platt says July 28, 2018

I’ll be there in the next 2 weeks this sounds awesome and something I’d love to do. I have a Chevy Impala not a truck or SUV, do y’all think it would make the trip?

Brigitte says February 11, 2019

Intend to visit GSMNP mid-April 2019. Where to start from Bryson City, Cherokee to get on the last part of this Heintooga drive. Just want to do this drive up to the big bridge you described above (walking if one-way to bridge).

David Orbaugh says January 28, 2020

Thanks sooo much for the great preview of the drive. We are much obliged!

    Larry says January 30, 2020

    You are very welcome, glad you found it helpful! We’re hoping to do a video of the drive this year, once it opens back up.

Matt Zavadil says June 5, 2020

They also call the rugged road “Balsam Mountain Road” I notice.

Steven Doornbos says August 14, 2020

Can I take my front wheel drive Chevy Cruz on heintooga round bottom road?

Larry Siver says September 7, 2020

Looks beautiful would love to drive it

Patty Love says September 7, 2020

Went on Sunday in my Jeep Cherokee, which is a 4×4
Enjoyed the drive
Will definitely try to go back in the fall before the road closes

Drake Leroy says September 16, 2020

Heintoogah Ridge road off BRPW. Where heintooga bottom road? I like to know where I am going and exactly where I exiting. Using the google map on my phone, it looks like somewhere along the way, the road becomes Balsam mt road, then maybe it was straight fork road., which runs into cove road.The parkway mini map I have isnt much help. My wife likes adventure. Some of my adventures almost took me over a cliff to my doom

    Larry says September 16, 2020

    There are complete directions in the article above. If you turn onto Heintooga Rd/Balsam Mountain Rd off the parkway, and follow it all the way down, it will literally run right into the gravel Heintooga Round Bottom Rd.

Lee Mallard says September 16, 2020

We made the trip today. F150 crewcab had no problem. We drove slowly to enjoy the scenery. I was glad my skinny tires did not slide off the rims on a very tight switchback coming down the mountain.

Kathy Wilson says October 18, 2020

A beautiful unbothered piece of beautiful woods, creeks in the GSMNP and we drove it with a 2 wheel drive Nissan and no probems. The road was dry and few wet spots. We didn’t start into it until after 5 pm and even then it was well worth the drive. It was truly worth the drive.

Pamela says October 21, 2020

Does this close promptly at the end of October? Have a trip the 6th of November and trying to figure out if by chance it will still be accessible.

David Klosterman says December 8, 2020

Would a dual sport “Adventure” motorcycle work on this road? I’ve got a BMW 650 GS I’d like to try out.

    Larry says December 9, 2020

    Yea, it would be fine, and we’ve seen a few there. The road is closed now though, and won’t open again until the Spring.

Gail says January 5, 2021

Just wonder if it will be open in Sept 2021

    Larry says January 27, 2021

    It should be.

Karen Dowson says February 22, 2021

Can I make it in a Dodge Caravan if I drive slowly?.

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