5 Less Crowded Scenic Drives in the Smoky Mountains

June 09, 2020

Hiking isn’t the only way you can explore the Smoky Mountains! In addition to hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are a number of motor nature trails you can explore by car. We know you’ve heard about the popular scenic drives like Cades Cove and Roaring Fork, but if you’re looking for something less crowded on your visit, we can help! Here are 5 less crowded scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains:

1. Rich Mountain Road

If you love Cades Cove but hate the traffic, this is a great alternative! Rich Mountain Road provides another way to exit Cades Cove. It’s a one-way, 7-mile gravel road that ends in Townsend. The road passes by waterfalls, streams and cliff sides and provides opportunities to see gorgeous views and wildlife! Along the drive, you’ll find a scenic overlook where you’ll have a stunning view of the Primitive Baptist Church. Be sure to have your camera ready to capture the beautiful sight!

Rich Mountain Road is located before the halfway point around Cades Cove. The entrance is across from the Missionary Baptist Church. Keep in mind that this road is seasonal, and it is typically open from April through mid-November.

2. Foothills Parkway

foothills parking in the smoky mountainsFoothills Parkway offers breathtaking views, and you can expect traffic to flow easier than some of the more popular scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains! The Foothills Parkway currently has two finished sections. The western section extends 33 miles from Chilhowee to Wears Valley. The eastern section stretches about 6 miles from Cosby to Interstate 40 and offers views of Mount Cammerer. The scenic drive is known as one of the most beautiful in the area.

3. Little River Road

Little River Road is another quiet drive in the Smoky Mountains. It winds for 18 miles between Gatlinburg and Townsend, and eventually dead-ends into Cades Cove. Along this scenic drive, there are opportunities for you to park and go for a hike, including the Laurel Falls Trail and Meigs Falls. The drive itself features overlooks, trailheads, picnic areas, campground access points, and a waterfall that can be seen from the road! Little River Road is marked with 7 signposts, each numbered to show visitors the top points of interest. Right before the first signpost, you’ll see a non-marked overlook. We recommend pulling off onto the paved parking and taking in one of the most amazing mountain views here!

4. Upper Tremont Road

Upper Tremont Road is a secret spot in the Smokies! It travels for two miles through one of the park’s most scenic areas. This scenic drive is great for families and visitors who want a peaceful drive through the mountains. If you love nature, you’ll love Upper Tremont Road. Along the gravel road, you’ll see hiking trails, waterfalls, the Middle Prong of the Little River and other scenic views. This is one of the best drives to do during the fall when the leaves have changed colors! To get to this road, drive through Townsend into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll turn right toward Cades Cove, and a few hundred yards later, you’ll turn left at the sign for the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.

5. Cataloochee

scenic overlook in Cataloochee ValleyCataloochee Valley is a picturesque valley located on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s the most popular place to spot elk in the Smoky Mountains, and is also home to 9 historic buildings. The self-guiding auto tour in Cataloochee allows visitors to learn about the history of the area, including the Little Cataloochee Trail. This trail is a 5.2 mile hike that features historic structures and rolling hills and valleys in the Smoky Mountains.

Please note: Cataloochee Road is currently open to Palmer Chapel only.

More Scenic Drives in the Smoky Mountains

These scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains are perfect if you’re trying to avoid the crowds, but the popular drives provide a great experience as well! Learn more about the best motor nature trails in the Smokies and decide where you want to drive on your visit.