If you’re looking for an ideal way to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, consider driving along the Newfound Gap Road, also known as US Route 441. This 33-mile road traverses the entire park, and is the only road that does so. You can drive the length of the road in one hour as part of a longer vacation, or you can stop at all of the points of interest for many hours of enjoyment. When you do this, your motorhome really comes in handy, as you can make dinner, decide to stay for the night, or just be in the comfort of your RV rental while enjoying the scenery.
Be aware that the park’s busiest season is the summer tourist season in June through August, as well as leaf peepers who come to view the spectacular fall foliage in October. However, the wildflowers are in bloom as early as mid-March, and are abundant in April making for excellent motorhome vacations while the other tourists are still scarce.
You can drive the route from either end, starting at Gatlinburg or Cherokee. The Sugarlands Visitor Center is located less than one mile from Gatlinburg. The visitor center can provide you with maps of the park, displays of the park’s natural history, and well-informed park rangers that can answer any of your questions regarding the best sights to see on that particular day.
If it’s a warm day, you may spot other RVs on the pull-offs beside the road. Join them and splash in the crystal waters of the Little Pigeon River. After just a few miles, you’ll reach the best view in the entire park, the Campbell Overlook, where you can see Mt. LeConte, the third highest mountain in the Smoky Mountain range.
If you want to leave your motorhome and walk around, you can take a “quiet walkway” that lets you see the remains of a number of homesteads that used to occupy this area of the Smokies. Look at the remnants of foundations and chimneys, and imagine what it was like to live there.
Large parking areas at the trailheads allow tourists to park and either take the two mile hike to admire the ever-changing views of the Smokies, including a view of Mt. Mingus, or take the challenging five mile hike up to the LeConte Lodge and intersection with the Appalachian Trail. You can also get out and walk a short distance on the Appalachian Trail as you pass through Newfound Gap itself.
An easy hike is the half mile to the observation tower on top of Clingmans Dome. From this highest point in Tennessee, you can see seven different states on a clear day. There is also a 4.2-mile round-trip hike to Andrew’s Bald, which contains truly amazing displays of flowers in June.
There are also two picnic areas in the park, although you can stop and eat in the kitchen of your RV at any of the pull-offs or parking areas.
Finally, you can stop at the Oconoluftee Visitor Center before leaving the park, and see the Mountain Farm Museum. This remarkable museum consists of buildings of the original pioneers that have been relocated from throughout the park.