Its broad shoulders stretch out above a sea of blue ridges, the point of the its crowned head towers amongst its surrounding peers. It lives at time within the clouds, often residing in the land of the gods. With its mighty arms stretching out shedding liberal waters to quench a land’s thirst. Like an island in preserve it harbors secrets to life, its lungs give back to the earth what the world try’s to take away. In its care it provides a nurturing home, protecting its woodland children within a natural biosphere dome. Often existing under a heavy mist it has captured essences of its resounding name…land of the Smoking Mountains…the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Millions arrive at the doorsteps of the Great Smoky Mountains each year seeking that unique experience of encountering natural wonders, wildlife, inspiring beauty and the breath of the fresh outdoors. With over 520,000-acres divided over two states, North Carolina and Tennessee this 800 square mile parkland is renowned as the most annually visited National Park in the nation.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is dissected by one major two-lane roadway that crosses thru the heart of the park and over its highest mountain gap. This roadway follows rivers, climbs steep slopes and offers incredible views from the rooftop of the eastern United States. This scenic drive is known as the Newfound Gap Road or US Highway 441. This remarkable roadway is not register as a National Scenic Byway, yet the route is highly regarded on the Scenic Highlander Tours list of great Scenic Mountain drives. The road is 32 miles long cutting across the center width of the parks over 50-mile length. You can access the scenic Newfound Gap Road in either the resort town of Cherokee North Carolina or the resort towns of Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Tennessee
These two towns on opposite sides of the mountains are like complimentary companions in historical and geographical contrast.
The town of Cherokee on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains lies deep in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is located in the Qualla (Native American) Boundary. Cherokee has become a premier resort town since the opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee People has maintained a cultural heritage and tribal customs that date back centuries. The sprawling town of Cherokee has a large variety of shopping, dining, lodging, two outdoor theaters presenting live entertainment, museums, festivals and a large gaming casino. There’s a great variety outdoor adventures and recreation that include hiking, mountain biking, fishing, camping, backpacking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, kayaking and boating on local mountain lakes, all this and more in the land of the Smoking Mountains.
The town of Gatlinburg over the last century has developed from a frontier town and into a premier resort town that still maintains the early pioneer settlement of Gatlinburg in preserve and accessible to the public via the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Both Gatlinburg and its sister town of Pigeon Forge are located on the edge of the Tennessee Valley are very popular vacation destinations. When it comes to lodging, dining, shopping, live entertainment, amusement parks, golf and local festivals these Smoky Mountain towns are hard to beat. When you add to that a variety of outdoor adventures and fun like hiking, fishing, backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, kayaking and boating on one of the many local lakes you’ll find there’s no one vacation destination that has more to offer in the southeastern United States.
The mountain towns and the national parklands of the Great Smoky Mountains offer a non-stop world of fun, adventure and excitement.
This Scenic Highlander Tour of the Newfound Gap Road thru the Great Smoky Mountains National Park starts on the North Carolina side of the park.
North Carolina’s gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains Park National Park and the Newfound Gap Road begins on US 441 on the very northern edge of Cherokee in the Qualla Boundary.
Leaving Cherokee on the Newfound Gap Road US 441 you enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and immediately arrive at the junction where US 441 and the Blue Ridge Parkway meet.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, a paved two-lane roadway is a historic scenic byway that traverses along the narrow ridges of mountaintops bringing its travelers in contact with some of the Blue Ridge Mountains greatest natural wonders. A full journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway will take you from the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the northern tip of the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. A 400-mile trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway is a journey measured in days not hours. This extraordinary-engineered highway and the amazing scenery and trails and unique features that surround the parkway is the subject of a highly recommended scenic drive by the Blue Ridge Highlander. An extensive virtual Scenic Highlander Tour will be presented in several separate features that will in time complete the entire route.
Just past the Parkway you will reach a secluded pristine mountain valley. Here in a valley completely surrounded by mountains is a green pasture-land and an authentic pioneer farm village. The buildings existed before the parklands were purchased then moved here from other locations in the Smoky Mountain National Park to be laid out for historical accuracy. Overseeing this unique pioneer farmstead museum is the Qualla Visitor Center located at the end of the valley on the right side of the road next to the parking area. The Qualla Visitor Center is situated between the parklands of the settlement and the Qualla River. This is a definite stop and see, the farmstead consist of a large barn, cabins, spring-house, corn-crib, meat house, some livestock, planted fields and more. The Qualla River Trail follows alongside the settlement and the river; this trail is one and a half miles long and quite level compared to the mountain trails you’ll encounter along the higher mountain range.
After leaving the center make a right onto the Newfound Gap Road, just a little further up the road and on the left is Mingus Mill the parking area is right after the turn. Park your vehicle and cross the footbridge over Mingus Creek, the mill is just behind the trees. The mill was built in 1886 and equipped with turbine power for the grinding of wheat and corn. There’s no waterwheel on this mill, the mill receives its power from water running thru an elevated millrace that turns the turbine. The mill is operated during the summer months only for historical exhibition. When the millstone isn’t being turned by the turbine the water from the millrace is diverted off to the side causing the waters to pour over the edge of the millrace and into Mingus Creek creating a man-made waterfall worth photographing.
After leaving the parking area turn left onto Newfound Gap Road and continue your journey along the Qualla River, fishing is allowed throughout the park but check with the ranger station in both Tennessee and North Carolina for any restrictions.
The Great Smoky Mountains are classified as a National Park, which means that the 520,00-acres plus parklands are protect from logging, mineral extraction, land sale, ECT. The Smoky Mountains lay between two other mountain ranges in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, the Unaka Mountains. The Smoky Mountains have similar characteristics as the Unaka’s being that their formations evolved simultaneously. The Upper Unaka Mountains lie to the northeast of the Smoky Mountains and the Lower Unaka Mountains to the southwest of the Smoky’s. The Unaka Mountains are partially in Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest and partially in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest to the north for the Upper Unaka’s and the Nantahala National Forest to the south for the Lower Unaka’s. The Unaka Mountains have a National Forest classification and are regulated under laws of protection for National Forest were as the Smoky Mountains National Park is regulated under a National Park’s status, a higher state of protection.
What separated the Smoky Mountains consideration for National Park status from the Unaka Mountains and other mountain ranges in the Blue Ridge Mountains was that the region of the Smoky Mountains range had the largest single land mass plus 100,000 acres of old growth forest. Old growth forest are rare in the southeastern United States due to extensive clear cut logging that went on during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. During those times major forest in the southeastern United States were leveled under the saw leaving many mountainsides completely bare of forest. The Lower Unaka Mountains though, have the notoriety of 17,000-acres of old growth forest in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and the Slickrock Wilderness Area in Graham County, North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.
Although very enjoyable, the mountains can be a driving challenge to a flatlander (no offense), to help you with your new venture, take a look at our driving tips.