- Drive Parson’s Branch Road, Cades Cove
- Drive the Tail of the Dragon
- Fontana Dam
- Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City
- Cherokee, NC
- Clingmans Dome
- Dinner in Gatlinburg, TN
This is an all day trip. It will be 5 to 6 hours driving time, not including the train ride or the side trip up to Clingmans Dome. There are two ways you can approach it. On the map below I suggest going through Cades Cove and out Parson Branch Road. Parson Branch is a single lane, one-way gravel road about 7 miles long that will take you an hour to drive. (It is seasonal and closed in the winter.) You’ll feel like the last person on earth going through a heavily forested area, following and crossing streams at times. You can bypass it and take the “pink route” shown on the map, crossing the Foothills Parkway. You will put a few more miles on the car, but the time will be about the same because Parson Branch is slower. On Foothills you are skirting the ridge tops so there are good views. If you take Day Trip Seven, you can come back to our Smoky Mountain Accommodations via the Foothills Parkway so you may not want to drive it twice.
Plan on a minimum of two hours from Gracehill Bed and Breakfast to the end of Parson Branch. Once you hit Hwy 129, turn left and you will be entering the Tail of the Dragon, 318 curves in 11.1 miles. (Again, I talked about this in Day Trip Seven.) The Dragon is often used by motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts. Rt. 28 will split off to your left. Stay on Rt. 28 until you can get off and scope out Fontana Dam. It is particularly pretty in the spring with all the redbud and dogwood trees blooming. Once back on Rt. 28 you follow it until you merge with Hwy 74 and Hwy 19. At some point Rt. 28 will split off, stay on Hwy 19 into Bryson City where you can catch the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train ride.
From their website, “… The train departs from Bryson City, and this four-and-a-half- hour excursion carries you 44 miles to the Nantahala Gorge and back again. Travel the Little Tennessee and Nantahala rivers across Fontana Lake and into the magic of the Nantahala Gorge. There is a one-hour layover at Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for sightseeing or lunch by the river from one of the many eateries, and just plain relaxing!” There are 53 miles of track, two tunnels and 25 bridges. For departure times and cost click on the link above.
If you decide to skip the train ride, continue into Cherokee where there are sights and activities. Then head back into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Hwy 441/Newfound Gap Road. Right before you enter the Park on Hwy 441, on your left, you’ll see Qualla Arts and Crafts that is a nice shop of hand made native crafts. Once you enter the Park you’ll see the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on your right. Continuing on to the other side of the mountain, on the outskirts of Gatlinburg is the larger Sugarlands Visitor Center, which is also the Park Headquarters.
From Cherokee to the road on your left that will take you to Clingmans Dome, it is 19 miles. (If you skip Clingmans Dome, the drive back to Gracehill is around an hour. Also, just past the road to the Dome is a parking area at Newfound Gap, elevation 5046’ where you can get some fine photos.) The road up to Clingmans Dome is 6.4 miles to the parking lot. From the parking lot up to the Dome, on the paved trail, it is around a ½ mile, change in elevation 300-400 feet. (This would be a spot to hop on the Appalachian Trail if that has been on your bucket list since college!) The elevation at Clingmans Dome is 6643’, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, second highest east of the Mississippi River. (TRIVIA NOTE: The highest point east of the Mississippi is Mount Mitchell in Mt. Mitchell State Park in Micaville, NC.)
Once you are done at the Dome, backtrack the 6.4 miles to Newfound Gap Road/Hwy 441 and hang a left to drive the 14 miles down to Gatlinburg. You will pass the “Chimneys” on your left, which has a nice picnic area. If you haven’t eaten dinner yet, I’d suggest stopping in Gatlinburg at one of the many restaurants. See Day Trip Two for food recommendations there.
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View Cherokee NC, Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, Fontana Dam in a larger map