We recently took our second family trip to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Did you know this is the most visited National Park in the world? The views in the Smokies will just never get old. I’d love to see it in every season!
For more great family-friendly national parks, see our Ultimate Guide to National Parks for Families.
We fit a lot into our little 3-day winter glamping trip. We shopped the main strip in Gatlinburg. We rode an alpine coaster. We saw Dollywood all dressed up for Christmas. We hiked. And we took some beautiful scenic drives near Gatlinburg.
There are so many scenic drives through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of them.
Here are the 3 scenic routes we took on this trip that I would highly recommend!
1. Cades Cove Loop
One of the most popular (and high-traffic) scenic drives near Gatlinburg is Cades Cove. We didn’t do this drive on our first trip, so it was number one on my list this time.
Aside from the beautiful mountain views, this is a popular spot for wildlife viewing, and I was really hoping to see a bear!
The Cades Cove Loop Road is an 11-mile one-way drive. It takes anywhere from 2-4 hours to tour- more if you do any of the hiking trails.
To get to Cades Cove from Gatlinburg, you will take the Parkway toward the National Park. After the Sugarlands Visitor Center, take a right on Little River Road. Stay on Little River Road, where it will dead end into Cades Cove.
Along the road, you can get out to take a look around the historic churches and homes. Also plan to stop at a pull-off for mountain view photo ops!
The traffic was pretty high on our drive, but we didn’t even mind the slow pace, because you just spend the time taking in the beautiful views!
We considered doing the Abrams Falls trail, which is rated moderate and is a 5-mile round-trip hike. However, it was past lunchtime, we hadn’t eaten yet, and the expected time to complete the hike was 4 hours.
Instead, from the same trailhead, we went to the right, to Elijah Oliver Place, which is a much shorter 1-mile out-and-back hike.
We saw several deer along this trail, and Mason (our 9-year-old), really enjoyed looking through the cabin and other structures.
Unfortunately, we never did see a bear, but it was still definitely a worthwhile scenic drive! However, there were 2 snakes along our way, even though it was November. So make sure to keep an eye out on where you step if you’re doing one of the hikes!
2. Little River Road
Little River Road is a 22-mile-long scenic road, winding from Gatlinburg to Townsend. It’s the road that leads you to Cades Cove.
To get to Little River Road from Gatlinburg, take the Parkway towards the National Park. After the Sugarlands Visitor Center, take a right on Little River Road.
There are pull-offs along this scenic, curving road, where you can stop and explore along the banks of the river.
There are “Quiet Walkways” along the road, that are great for getting out of the car and taking a walk that isn’t a full-on hike.
The Sinks, a popular swimming spot, has a waterfall you can see right off the roadway.
The trailhead to Laurel Falls is also off Little River Road. We didn’t hike to the falls on this trip, but we did a few years ago. It’s a pretty easy 2.6-mile paved (although broken and uneven) path to an 80-foot-high waterfall, with an upper and lower section.
On that hike, I did have a black bear come out about 15 feet behind me on the trail! So be bear aware (that goes for all hikes in the Smokies!)
3. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
This completely beautiful scenic drive near Gatlinburg includes forest scenery, wildlife, streams, and historic buildings.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (that’s a lot to say!) is a 5.5-mile one-way narrow road. It takes around 3 hours to complete. We didn’t end up getting to the end point of this drive.
To get to this scenic drive from Gatlinburg, take the Parkway to traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail Road to the National Park entrance. It’s just past the Rainbow Falls trailhead.
The trailheads for Rainbow Falls (one of the park’s most popular falls) and Grotto Falls are along this road. We would have loved to do one of these, but we were already losing light when we got to the trailhead.
Important to note: This road is closed in the winter. Also, buses, RVs, and trailers are not allowed.
I hope you feel inspired to take a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains and experience some of these beautiful scenic drives near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
If you have a scenic drive recommendation, leave it in the comments for us, because we will be back!
Other relevant posts:
- Visit the Most Beautiful Lake in Tennessee: Norris Lake
- Magical Christmas in Dollywood
- Essential Road Trip Tips for Families to Stay Entertained and Sane
- Camp in the Smoky Mountains in Style: Glamping Domes in Tennessee
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