5 Incredible Fall Foliage Drives Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Laurel Falls
© Weidman Photography/Shutterstock.com

Written by Colby Maxwell

Published: October 24, 2022

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The Smoky Mountains are some of the most incredible natural features in the world, especially in the fall. The sweeping expanses of forest colored in shades of red, yellow, and orange are breathtaking no matter how many times you see them. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States and fall is the perfect time to see it. Today, we are going to find out the best scenic drives in the area to see fall foliage. Here are five incredible fall foliage drives near Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

The Most Scenic Drives to See Fall Foliage Near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The fall foliage season is well underway, especially in the mountains. This year (2022), the colors are set to peak in the Smokies sometime in late October. If you end up coming a bit later, around early November, for example, you can still witness some amazing colors, but things will have started to brown. The colder and higher elevation things are, the sooner the colors start to change.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway had to be on our list. It’s one of the most famous and scenic drives in the United States, let alone the Appalachian region. Technically, the Blue Ridge Parkway ends just outside of the park, but it’s close enough that you can easily hop on for a bit and catch some amazing views. The best place to enter the Parkway near the Smokies is near Newfound Gap Road South, right across the Oconaluftee River. The end (or beginning) of the Parkway Is just south of Ravensford and north of Cherokee. Within a few miles, you’ll hit the Sherrill Cove Tunnel and the 104 Mountains to Sea Trail. Even more, the Parkway is totally free and offers some of the best fall foliage views in the entire country.

Blue Ridge Parkway sign located near the town of Cherokee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Blue Ridge Parkway offers spectacular views during every season, but especially during fall foliage season.

©Ken Thomas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Newfound Gap Road

Bisecting the park itself is Highway 441, otherwise known as Newfound Gap Road. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because 441 is also the southern termination point for the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of the town of Cherokee. Newfound Gap Road starts at an elevation of 1,289 feet in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, climbs to 5,046 feet at Newfound Gap, and finishes in the southern time of Cherokee, North Carolina at 1,991 feet. This scenic view is one of the only “proper” roads that run through the Great Smokies National Park itself, and includes the Campbell Overlook, The Chimney Tops Overlook, Morton Overlook, and the Oconoluftee Overlook.

Image of deciduous trees canopy near Newfound Gap in the fall.

The deciduous trees near Newfound Gap explode in a riot of color in the fall.

©National Park Service (unsigned), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Clingmans Dome Road

Clingmans Dome is probably the most visited attraction within the park. It’s a massive dome at a high elevation that offers spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding area. If you visit the park, Clingmans Dome is easily one of the “must-sees”. Although the dome is itself pretty, the road that it takes to get there is just as marvelous! Called Clingmans Dome Road, this stretch of pavement starts off of Newfound Gap Road, right near the Tennessee-North Carolina border. The road is closed from December through March, but that shouldn’t affect anyone looking to take in fall foliage views before then.

View of trees adorned with fall colors from Clingmans Dome

View of trees adorned with fall colors from Clingmans Dome

©Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Gatlinburg, TN, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Little River Gorge Road

Another road that travels through the park is Little River Gorge Road. This road perfectly follows the Little River across the top of the park until it finally splits and heads into the Elkmont Campground and historic Appalachian Club. There are a couple of places to hop on this road, including an intersection at Little Greenbriar Road and another one at Townsend Entrance Road. The Townsend Entrance Road would make for the longest journey and has views that include the White Oak Flats Falls, the Little Gorge River, The Sinks, and a whole lot more. You could follow the Little River Gorge Road all the way to Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Parkway) on the far eastern side of the park.

 The clubhouse of the Appalachian Club at Elkmont, Tennessee, USA, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This clubhouse was designed by Albert Baumann, Jr., of the firm Baumann and Baumann, and built in 1934.

The Appalachian Club at Elkmont, Tennessee, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was built in 1934

©Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Cades Cove Scenic Loop

One of the best loops in the park is Cade’s Cove Scenic Loop. Cade’s can be a bit confusing because there are so many one-way roads, but once you enter things are pretty self-explanatory since you can only head in one direction. The best way to do it is by using your GPS and downloading the maps in case you lose connection. There are picnic areas, creeks, trailheads, riding stables, campgrounds, and a whole lot more. It can get a bit busy, but the views and attractions make it totally worth it.

Cades Cove in autumn

Cades Cove offers an unparalleled view of fall foliage.

©Dallas Epperson, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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