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. The
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Wildflowers peak in the mountains in late April and early May. Heat
and humidity bring afternoon showers June
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.