Road Trip of the Week: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

RF_GI_84380148web_resizeFew things make a road trip more spectacular than misty mountain views, a panorama of fall foliage, the lure of trout streams, and cool autumn air whipping into the car from rolled-down windows. Not to mention a 454-mile run through this brilliant terrain, test-driving the new snow tires before that first flake even hits the pavement.

The sloping Smokies at the southern end of the Appalachians offer more than a half million acres of wildlife, plus museums, rustic restaurants, cozy cabins, and historic sites. On a drive from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Gainesville and Asheville, North Carolina, either stop often to visit attractions or cruise along, admiring the megapixel-worthy scenery.

Fuel up in Knoxville, and head out to Gatlinburg on I-40, then on to SR 66 and US 441 (42 mi./about one hr.). In nearby Sevierville, Dolly Parton’s hometown, check out the Smoky Mountain Knife Works which claims to be the largest knife showroom in the world.

Gatlinburg is packed with hotels, restaurants and attractions, including the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The 5-mile loop is canopied by trees and winds past waterfalls, streams and old cabins; the stunning nature is just a a taste of what’s available in the area. The entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just two miles from Gatlinburg.

Next, drive 97 miles to Asheville, Tennessee, taking US 441 to US 74 to I-40. The most visited site in the park is the lush valley of Cades Cove, filled with fields of springing deer, rare trees, old barns, and some 1, 500 black bears (roll up those windows). In Asheville, take a historic trolley tour and check out the Art Deco architecture.

Head back to Knoxville for a 315-mile drive back. This is where Smoky Mountains give way to the Blue Ridge range. Take I-40 to US 74 to I-75. You’ll pass through Chattanooga, famous for the Tennessee River. Cast a line here or check out the renowned riverfront Tennessee Aquarium. Lookouts dot the drive back to Knoxville: check out Lookout Mountain, a broad plateau that overlooks the bucolic scene.

Carry on to your city of origin. Or, if you’d rather, replay your trip and head back the long way.


  • MoparzRule
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    It would be nice to see a yellow or purple Challenger rolling down the road.

  • hemiuberalles
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    When you get up into the pristine areas you’ll feel a bit sheepish about your loud exhaust.

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