Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over 800 square miles and is one of the most pristine natural areas in the East. An auto tour of the park offers a variety of experiences, including panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and mature hardwood forests stretching to the horizon.
There are 384 miles of road to choose from in the Smokies. Most are paved, and even the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard passenger cars. Travel speeds on most of the park’s paved roads average 35 miles per hour.
Inexpensive booklets are available to serve as your personal tour guides along many park roads by visiting http://www.nps.gov/grsm for booklets that are keyed to numbered posts or landmarks and include information on park history, wildlife, and plants. Booklets are available for the following roads:
- Cades Cove Loop Road
- Cataloochee Valley
- Newfound Gap Road
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- Upper Tremont Road
In addition, the book Smokies Road Guide covers main thoroughfares and scenic back-roads in the park. This book and the self-guiding auto tour booklets listed above are available at park visitor centers and online. Self-guiding tour booklets are also available from dispensers at the start of the roads they cover.
Beating the Crowds
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park. Times when visitation is highest are July 1-August 15 and the month of October (especially October weekends). During these times, traffic may become congested, especially on the Newfound Gap and Cades Cove Loop roads. Fortunately, lesser-used roads and off-the-beaten path destinations are scattered throughout the park. Anytime you want to escape the crowds, try one of these alternatives:
- Foothills Parkway East or West
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- Rich Mountain Road*
*motorists must travel part of the busy Cades Cove Loop Road to access this one-way back-road (closed in winter).
In summer, motorists can also avoid the crowds by traveling before 10:00 a.m. in the morning or after 5:00 p.m. in the evening. During October, traffic is heaviest during the afternoons and evenings