Millions of annual visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains and the neighboring, popular tourist destinations of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville know one thing for sure: The Smoky Mountains offer some of the best scenic drives in the U.S.
Cades Cove Scenic Loop
At the top of our list of best scenic drives in the Smokies is Cades Cove. Featuring a one-way, 11-mile loop around a spectacular, picturesque valley full of natural and wildlife, Cades Cove is chock full of things to see and experience unlike anywhere else on the planet. Surrounded by mountains, Cades Cove offers rare wildlife viewing opportunities, including white-tail deer, black bear, coyotes, ground hogs, turkeys, raccoon, and more.
Along the drive through Cades Cove, sightseers will also come across some of the historical structures – log homes, churches, barns – that were left by the area’s early settlers after the National Park was formed and their homeland purchased. Many of these structures are open to the public.
In addition to exploring the historical buildings, there are many places to pull off the side of the road or park to take in the great outdoors. Many visitors take picnic baskets while others make a day of it and go for a hike on one of the park’s trails. Abrams Falls is one of the best.
Traffic during the peak months of the year, including summer and fall, can make driving the loop a little slow and leisurely, so it’s best to allow at least 2-3 hours to tour the entire 11-mile loop. There are a couple shortcut roads to shorten the trip, though, for those who want to limit their time a little.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Named after a beautiful mountain stream, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a short, easy-to-get-to drive for anyone vacationing in the Smokies. Just a short drive from downtown Gatlinburg, this 5.5-mile one-way loop road is a favorite by many visiting the area. Along the scenic drive, visitors enjoy coming across rushing mountain streams, old log cabins from original settlers, like the Ogles, and, of course, native wildlife.
Another reason people choose to drive Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail it to access the trailhead for Rainbow Falls, which is one of the most popular waterfalls and trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.