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October 9, 2022 / mws

2022 Smoky Mountain Highlights

After three decades away, we returned to visit the Great Smoky National Park in September of 2022. Driving thru Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg was an eye opener. It has changed so much. The congestion and commercialism has taken over the delightful small town atmosphere. We were sad to see obnoxious buildings blocking the view of the glorious mountains.

So we traveled to the quiet side of the Smokies for our stay in Townsend, TN…much better!


Cades Cove

In anticipation of visiting the Great Smokies, we most looked forward to being in Cades Cove!  We stayed in Townsend, TN so it was only about a 10 minute drive to the beginning of the 11 mile Cades Cove loop. We arrived in the late afternoon and were pleased that there were no crowds. The creek parallels the road most of the way with ample pulloffs to stop and take photos.

IMG_1778Historic structures dot Cades Cove from almost 200 years of residential living. From John Oliver’s first cabin in 1820 to Kermit Caughron’s house, where he sold honey to travelers on Cades Cove Loop well into the 1990s, you’ll see the thriving spirit of the Appalachian homesteader.

IMG_1784Photographers love the John Cable grist mill with its overshot wheel and the picturesque split rail fences. History buffs enjoy visiting Elijah Oliver’s homestead and the Visitor Center’s living museums at the back of the Cades Cove loop.


Roaring Fork Motor Trail

An exuberant mountain stream gave this area its unusual name. Roaring Fork is one of the larger and faster flowing mountain streams in the park. The 5.5-mile-long, one-way, loop road is a favorite side trip for many people who frequently visit the Smokies. It offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forest, wildlife sightings, and a number of well-preserved log cabins, gristmills, and other historic buildings. 

IMG_1747Before entering the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guiding nature trail offers a walking tour of an authentic mountain farmstead and surrounding hardwood forest. Highlights include a streamside tubmill and the Ogle’s handcrafted wooden flume plumbing system.


And a “wet weather” waterfall called Place of a Thousand Drips provides an awesome finale to the drive.


Foothills Parkway

Paving and maintenance work was being completed over the summer of 2022. I was watching to see if the Foothills Parkway had reopened.  The day before we had planned to travel the Parkway, it reopened! Yay!

IMG_1865The Foothills Parkway consists of 33 miles connecting US 129 and US 321 in Tennessee. This scenic drive through US Forest Service lands offers a number of incredible views of east Tennessee all the way to the Cumberland Mountains about 50 miles to the west and the Great Smoky Mountains to the east. 

The route has minimal traffic compared to other Smoky Mountain highways and provides an easy, scenic connection for tourists between the Tail of the Dragon and Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.  We were mostly alone on the road with perfect weather to see the incredible vistas from each pulloff.

One great stop was the Look Rock Tower. Located on the scenic Foothills Parkway, Look Rock is a natural observation ledge overlooking the park. An easy 1/2 mile hike leads to the observation tower and a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of the mountains.

Little River Road

Spanning 18 miles, the Little River Road drive includes overlooks, trailheads, picnic areas, campground access points and even a waterfall that can be seen from the road.

We enjoyed the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area alongside the Little River as well as the Elkmont Campground area. The Sinks waterfall was a great area with wide cascades and deep pools. Though difficult to spot the Meigs Falls was also impressive. It would be better in winter since it is partially hidden by the vegetation. 

Clingmans Dome

IMG_1941We were reluctant to take in an “obvious tourist trap”, but curiosity got the better of us. Located just south of the Newfound Gap is the turnoff that winds seven miles to the Dome. This is the highest point in the park and the highest point in Tennessee at 6,643 feet. The walk to the Dome is very steep (there are benches where you can rest) but the view at the top is a full 360-degrees of the Smoky Mountains. It was worth it!! I was told that on a clear day, you can see seven states from the top of Clingmans Dome: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

IMG_1943We had cool walking weather, and the views at the top were incredible. We stopped at the benches on the trek to the top and chatted with some very nice folks. We were glad we took the time and made the effort to reach the Dome.

Newfound Gap Road

The lowest drivable pass in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Newfound Gap Road (US 441) has an elevation of 5,046 feet. The scenic roadway travels between the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, up and over the mountains and into Cherokee, North Carolina. The 31-mile stretch of mountain road is the only fully paved road in the park and the only one that travels through the park’s center.


 The views were stuning and we stopped often to take in the glorious scenery!

IMG_0242Most notable is the Webb Overlook, named for Senator Charles Webb of North Carolina, another staunch supporter of the Park’s establishment. 

IMG_2219 (2)Close to the end of the Newfound Gap Road is Mingus Mill (located at mile marker 29.9).  This is a large water-powered mill for grinding corn can be seen in operation one-half mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center in Cherokee on US 441. The grounds are open daily. Built in 1886, this historic grist mill uses a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel to power all of the machinery in the building.

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

Though not part of the Great Smoky Mountains, we included the magnificent Cumberland Falls to conclude our journey south.

IMG_0284The scenic waterfalls of Kentucky are as majestic as it gets, and Cumberland Falls is the grandest of them all. Measuring approximately 68 feet tall and 125 feet wide, this impressive waterfall has earned its moniker of “the Niagara of the South.” The 3,600 cubic feet of water that spills over the sandstone edge every second creates a formidable roar and a breathtaking sight. 

“In the woods we return to reason and faith.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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