Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sights to See at Great Smoky

Steeped in history and blessed with natural beauty, the Smokies provide visitors with rich sights, from the log cabins of earlier days to primeval forests and misty vistas of seemingly endless ridgelines. Listed below is a sampling of the best the Smokies have to offer.

Central Section

Newfound Gap 

Figuratively, and almost literally the center of the park, Newfound Gap is the cut through the crest of the Great Smoky Mountains. It is almost halfway between Sugarlands and Oconaluftee, along Newfound Gap Road. The Tennessee—North Carolina border crosses Newfound Gap east-to-west, as does the Appalachian Trail. At 5,046 feet high, it offers fine views of the park. 

Alum Cave Bluffs

The 100-foot-high Alum Cave Bluffs were supposedly a source of saltpeter for Civil War gunpowder. It was also the site of a 19th-century alum mine. Alum is a compound sulfate used in munitions manufacturing, in medicines and in setting cloth dyes. The bluffs are now a popular destination for day hikers. Alum Cave Bluffs Trail begins at Newfound Gap Road between Newfound Gap and Chimney Tops overlooks. The trail is somewhat strenuous at the end (it rises 1,360 feet above Newfound Gap Road), and at times hikers must grip trailside cables to traverse cliffs. The trail is 2.5 miles to Bluffs and five miles to Mount LeConte and goes through Arch Rock, which contains a tunnel created by erosion. 

Andrews Bald

Balds are open, unforested fields on mountain ridges. Naturalists can't explain exactly why they occur, but overgrazing or repeated fires set by humans may have caused them. Andrews Bald is the easiest of the park balds to reach, located 1.8 miles south of Clingmans Dome by hiking trail. Grass and flowering shrubs are the dominant ground cover and the views from the field make it an inviting picnic spot. 

Charlies Bunion

A forest fire in 1925 swept clear the 1,000-foot-high cliff known as "Charlies Bunion," leaving it a rocky prominence that now offers sweeping views of Mount LeConte and the Greenbrier area. Charlies Bunion is a popular destination for day hikers who want to travel just a small portion of the Appalachian Trail. Start at Newfound Gap and follow the crest east for four miles. Return the same way for an eight-mile hike.

Cherokee Orchard Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Along these roads are a collection of historical sites including the remains of a homestead owned by the Ogle family who lived here after the Civil War. There are also log cabins and a cemetery in Roaring Fork, the remains of a village that supported some two dozen families about 150 years ago. It is located just southeast of Gatlinburg and is accessible to automobiles via the paved Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (closed in winter). The road is impassable to trailers and recreational vehicles. 

Chimney Tops

Chimney Tops are sheer pinnacles, dramatic examples of the tremendous forces that, millions of years ago, caused the eastern edge of North America to buckle, creating the Appalachian Mountains. You can see the twin summits from the Chimney Tops Overlooks, located along Newfound Gap Road; or hike to the cliffs on a steep, four-mile round-trip trail.

Clingmans Dome

At 6,643 feet in elevation, Clingmans Dome is the highest spot in the Smokies and a natural magnet for visitors. A forest of spruce and fir trees covers the top, but an observation platform rises above the evergreens to provide an unparalleled view of the park. From Newfound Gap, drive seven miles southwest on Clingmans Dome Road to the parking lot. Reaching the platform requires a steep, half-mile walk from the parking lot. Clingmans Dome Road is closed from approximately December to April. 

Mingus Mill

Located north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road, Mingus Mill is one of two water-powered mills still in operation at the park. From mid-April through October, a miller grinds corn and wheat to make cornmeal and flour. -

Mount LeConte

Hikers and backpackers often gather at dawn or at sunset at Mount LeConte, the third-highest peak in the park, for one of the Smokies' most powerful wilderness experiences. The 6,593-foot-high mountain offers its best views from two rocky outcroppings on the summit, Myrtle Point and Cliff Top. LeConte Lodge is located in the trees not far from the summit. To reach Mount LeConte, take one of five hiking trails: Boulevard Trail via the Appalachian Trail starting at Newfound Gap, 16 miles round-trip; Alum Cave Trail at the Alum Cave parking lot on Newfound Gap Road, 11 miles round-trip; Rainbow Falls Trail or Trillium Gap, each 13.4 miles round-trip; or Bull Head, 14.4 miles round-trip from Cherokee Orchard.

Mountain Farm Museum

Settled around 1800, Oconaluftee is now home to Mountain Farm Museum, which replicates a late 19th-century farm. You can see a house, barn, corncrib, sorghum molasses mill and blacksmith shop. From the spring through October, there are costumed interpretive demonstrations. Mountain Farm Museum is located a short walk from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Western Section

Cades Cove 

In the isolated valley of Cades Cove, first settled by Europeans in 1819, the NPS maintains a historical and cultural preserve of log cabins, churches and other buildings. Cable Mill, near Cades Cove Visitor Center, is an operating water-powered gristmill.

Cades Cove Loop Road

This 11-mile, one-way road passes by 19 tour stops. The stops are marked by numbered posts and are keyed to a pamphlet you can obtain at the beginning of the road or at visitor centers. The road is a favorite with cyclists and is often crowded during peak periods in summer and fall, so expect delays. Cades Cove can be reached via U.S. 321 near Townsend, Tennessee as well as via Little River Road from Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Living history demonstrations, held spring through fall, include the making of sorghum molasses, lye soap and apple butter.

The Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park has set up two drive-up donation collection boxes along the Loop Road. Donations go to visitor facility improvements, natural and cultural resource preservation, educational programs and visitor services.

Eastern Section

Cataloochee Valley

This lowland valley is smaller and less visited than areas to the west, but it was once a choice site for farmsteads, making it the largest settlement in the Smokies. Only a few of the nearly 200 buildings that were here at the turn of the century remain. Farmhouses, barns, a schoolhouse and a church are located in the valley. An unpaved steep and narrow road at the junction of I-40 and U.S. 276 leads to Cataloochee Valley.