One of the most beautiful drives you can take in the Blue Ridge Mountains is along Newfound Gap Road from Cherokee to Gatlinburg, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The drive takes you from Cherokee at 1,191 feet all the way up to Newfound Gap, the highest point along Newfound Gap Road (Highway 441), at 5,046 feet in elevation. The drive is like no other.
Our Fall Drive Video on Newfound Gap Road
Ride along with us, as we drive from Cherokee to Gatlinburg along Newfound Gap Road in the Fall!
Your drive begins just outside of Cherokee NC, at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the Cherokee entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You'll definitely want to stop here at the visitor center, and if you have time, explore the mountain farm museum. If you are coming through early in the morning, or late in the evening, you can often find Elk grazing in the fields next to the visitor center.
Once you're done head out and continue right down Newfound Gap Rd. Just a short distance up the road, you'll see signs on your right for Mingus Mill, another very historic and beautiful place to stop. If you visit in the summer, be sure to pick up some corn meal ground right there at the operating mill!
Exit the mill, and turn left onto Newfound Gap Road to continue your adventure. Riding along Newfound Gap Rd, you'll pass by a number of hiking trails, and pull-offs. In the first section, before your start ascending up the mountain, you'll be right next to the Oconaluftee River. Lots of great photo opportunities here.
Smokemont will be a few minutes down the road on the right, and includes both a horse camp and riding stables, and a large campground. Just off the road as you turn into Smokemont is Lufty Baptist Church. You'll definitely want to pull over, park, and visit this historic church. It even has a double seater outhouse in the back!
Climbing up to Newfound Gap
After passing Smokemont, you'll begin the ascent up to Newfound Gap. Once you break through the tree tops, there will be a number of overlooks providing some of the most beautiful long distance views you'll ever see in the Blue Ridge Mountains. During this portion of the drive, you'll gain 3,000 feet of elevation in only 18 miles!
Just before reaching Newfound Gap, you'll pass by Clingmans Dome Rd on your left. If you have time, this 7-mile road will take you out to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The views from the parking area are fantastic, but for even better views, walk up the very steep but short trail to the top of the Observation Deck. You can also explore the Appalachian Trail here a well.
Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at 5,041 feet in elevation. Folks, that's almost a mile high! Weather here is much harsher, and often gets snow, when surrounding lower level areas don't. You can expect temperatures at Newfound Gap to be 10-15 degrees cooler, and the winds much stronger, so bundle up!
A large stone memorial and observation deck, named Rockefeller Memorial, pays tribute to the $5 million donation from the Rockefeller Foundation that helped complete land acquisitions for the park. It was here, that Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on September 2, 1940, "for the permanent enjoyment of the people.".
The Appalachian Trail crosses Newfound Gap Road here, and continues into the park next to the memorial. While visiting, you can take a short walk, or even a longer hike, and say you've hiked the AT!
Newfound Gap is split by the state lines of Tennessee and North Carolina. You can literally stand on the state line, and be in both states at once.
Descending down to Gatlinburg
Returning to Newfound Gap Road, you'll go right to Gatlinburg. Along this stretch of the road, you'll begin the back and forth descent down to Gatlinburg. The first section will offer some incredible views and a few tunnels to go through. Further down, you'll be creekside to some gorgeous creeks, and a number of pull-offs for accessing them.
Alum Cave Trail
On the way down, you'll pass by a large parking area, that is the trailhead for the most popular trail in the Park, Alum Cave Trail (also called Alum Bluff Cave Trail). This is the quintessential Great Smoky Mountains hike, and can be taken all the way to the top of Mount LeConte at 6,594 feet. The hike up is one heck of a hike, but absolutely amazing.
Alum Bluff Trailhead area is VERY busy and often very congested, so please drive slowly.
Chimney Tops and Chimney Tops Picnic Area
Next you'll reach the also very popular Chimney Tops area, which has a really nice hiking trail, and a picnic area. You'll pass the hiking area first, followed by the picnic area.
The Chimney Tops trail used to go all the way up to the rocky faces of Chimney Tops, where the more daring could get incredible long distance views from the steep and tall rocky cliffs. However, this upper portion of the trail was closed due to damage from the tragic Gatlinburg fires in 2016. The lower portion is still open, and makes for a nice hike.
Sugarlands Visitor Center, Gatlinburg
After returning to 1,462 feet in elevation, you'll reach the very popular Sugarlands Visitor center. The Gatlinburg entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can stop here for restrooms, information, and a museum.
If you follow the road to the left before reaching the visitors center, it will take you Laurel Falls, Elkmont and Cades Cove.
This wraps up the beautiful drive along Newfound Gap Road.