It was dark when we arrived to the hotel, so the morning was a nice surprise when I opened the curtains and saw amazing mountain views from our balcony. Our 6th floor room was a score!
That morning we grabbed Subway sandwiches to go, and drove to the Smoky's! It was a beautiful, sunny autumn morning as we followed many other visitors down the Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) - 32 miles drive, from Gatlinburg TN to Cherokee NC.
The drive across the mountains is the park's most traveled road and it's popularity is justified. Views are memorable as you follow the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River up from the 1,462-foot elevation at Sugarlands to 5,046 feet above see level at Newfound Gap, then descent 3,000 feet to Oconaluftee, 16 miles away. It's an easy ascent, although the road requires two tunnels and unusual 360-degree loop over itself to make the climb.
[Map of Great Smoky Mountains, Newfound Gap Road in blue, crossing through the Smokys]
Newfound Gap Road, unlike many other roads in the park is delineated by mile posts. They are placed one each mile starting at the park boundary in Gatlinburg, TN and ending at the boundary with Cherokee NC. You can park the car and get out to check out the scenes, take photos and enjoy the beauty of the park. There are many, many overlooks as you follow the Newfound Gap Road, so it takes a while to move from point A to point B. In some areas you have to drive really slowly, due to steep curves, and sometimes heavy tourist traffic. Fall is probably the busiest time in the Smoky Mountains. If you are planning on making a trip to GSM, I WOULD recommend visiting during the fall months. It's truly amazing!
On mile post 14.7 we finally approached Newfound Gap, which lies on the state line of Tennessee and North Carolina, and has a huge parking lot. Here you can look down the Oconaluftee Valley where the road continues on, stand on the Rockefeller Memorial where President Roosevelt stood in 1940 to dedicate this park, walk a few steps on the Appalachian Trail, look at flowers, study the exhibits or get water and take a bathroom break. The Appalachian Trail runs for more than 2,100 miles between Springer Mountain, GA and Mount Katahdin, ME, and 72 of those miles go along the spine of the Smokys.
We followed the Newfound Gap Road until about 20 mile post. After that we turned around and decided to catch the sunset at one of the most popular spots - Clingmans Dome. Read about in the next Road Trip post.