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.
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 4×4.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!