Drive Through The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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At about the 7-mile point you will see the transition from northern hardwood and cove hardwood trees. Also at this point you will come upon two tunnels. They exhibit the beautiful stone work found throughout the Park--work that was accomplished in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Newfound Gap Road Loop RoadThe second tunnel, a switchback referred to as "the loop", curves around and back over itself. This feature was added to alleviate the extreme slope of the mountain--it was not part of the original road through the Park, which had to be upgraded to Park Service standards.

Also in this area you will find a parking area and the trailhead for the Chimney Tops two-mile hike. It's a very challenging hike, but rewards the hardy hiker with magnificent views of Sugarlands to the northwest; Mt. Leconte to the northeast; and Mt. Mingus to the southeast.Oconoluftee River

For 2-3 miles after the Chimney Tops trailhead, you have several opportunities for pullouts to view the very cool and appealing Little Pigeon River. You are now in northern hardwood forest land, and here you'll find ample opportunity to view the purple-flowered Catawba rhododendron in June and the Rosebay rhododendron in bloom in July.

Around the 9-mile point you will find the Alum Cave Bluffs parking area and trailhead. The hike is moderately challenging and is covered elsewhere in Rod's Guide. You climb 2.3 miles to the cave bluff and then continue another 2.7 miles on to LeConte Lodge (reservations required). The Appalachian Trail lies not far beyond the lodge.

Smoky Mountains SceneAt approximately the 13-mile point you find the Morton Overlook. From here you can look back and see the Little Pigeon River and Newfound Gap Road area you just left. To your left is Sugarland Mountain, Mount Mingus, and the Chimney Tops.

Three-quarters of a mile beyond the Morton Overlook you come to Newfound Gap itself. You are at 5,048 feet and can enjoy views to both the Tennessee and North Carolina sides of the ridge. Here you find the State Line Ridge, which serves as the spine for the entire distance of the Park, and it also comprises the sixty-nine miles of the Appalachian Trail in the Park. If you want to tell people you walked on the Appalachian Trail, you can traverse a short distance of it here before returning to your vehicle.

Here you will also find the Rockefeller Memorial, which lies half in Tennessee and half in North Carolina. It memorializes the support and $5 million donated by the Rockefeller family to help establish the Park, which was dedicated here by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.

Just beyond Newfound Gap and State Line Ridge, you will come to Clingmans Dome Road (closed in winter), which takes you to the Clingmans Dome parking area. You hike the last half-mile and climb the 45-foot observation tower, the highest point in the Park and in Tennessee. On a clear day, it's said you can see seven states. While in the area, consider hiking the 4.2 round-trip to Andrew's Bald. Grassy balds in the Smokies are said to have been originally caused by lightning fires, but have since been sustained by the Park Service. Magnificent displays of rhododendron can be seen here in June.

After you leave Clingmans Dome and continue down Newfound Gap Road toward Cherokee, you will travel approximately one-half mile to the Oconoluftee Valley Overlook, affording you spectacular views of the Oconoluftee River Valley. As you look to where the valley falls away, you can see where you will follow the road downward to Cherokee, North Carolina.

Continuing on, you will approach several quiet walkways and overlooks in the next two miles. Most notable is the Webb Overlook, named for Senator Charles Webb of North Carolina, another staunch supporter of the Park's establishment.

WaterfallAt the 18.5 mile point is one of the most interesting walkways--certainly in North Carolina. Shortly after entering the walkway, the trail splits. The left fork parallels the Oconoluftee River, and the right fork follows the path of the old Newfound Gap Road. Some of the crumbling pavement can still be seen in places. The new Newfound Gap Road was built to Park Service standards in 1964.

Six miles further down Newfound Gap Road, and 24.5 miles into your drive from Gatlinburg, you will come to the Collins Creek Picnic Area. This area was named for a local guide who assisted Arnold Guyot in mapping the Smokies in the 1850s.

One-half mile further you approach Smokemont Campground. Once a lumber company town sustaining a school, church, store and boarding houses, it now consists of 140 campsites (1-800-365-CAMP). Camping fees in Smokemont are $11 per night with a 7-day maximum stay during season (May through October).


 About 2.7 miles further you'll find Mingus Mill, still in operation from Spring through Fall. One hundred years later, the millstone still turns from the force of water funneled through the sluice and over the turbine. The ground corn meal can be purchased.
 Mingus Mill

The next, and final, stop on Newfound Gap Road in the Park is the Oconoluftee Visitor Center. Here, as at the Sugarlands visitor Center, information about the Park can be obtained. A bookstore and exhibits, as well as an on-duty Park Ranger, can provide information about the Park and the people who once lived here. Next to the visitor center is the Mountain Farm Museum, which is comprised of pioneer buildings moved from throughout the Park and permanently preserved here.

Beyond the museum is the southern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park--and beyond it the Cherokee Indian Reservation, where a completely different kind of adventure awaits you.

Additional info:

Wildflowers peak in the mountains in late April and early May. Heat and humidity bring afternoon showers WildflowersJune through August. Autumn colors tend to peak in mid-October but can vary by a week or two either way. Winters are mild--low 20s to mid-60s. Dress in layers.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Headquarters--865-436-1200.



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