Traveling to the Gatlinburg area is something my family and I always look forward to anytime of the year. The trip to Gatlinburg can be an adventure itself. I-40 is probably one of the quickest routes to get to the area, but traveling the slower more scenic route offers beautiful views and lots of local sights along the way.
Highway travel on I-40 out of Asheville, NC is necessary, but it is when we get off the Lake Junaluska exit on Hwy 19 that the trip becomes interesting. Hwy 19 will take you through Maggie Valley, NC, located on the edge of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Maggie Valley has the popular Ghost Town in the Sky, a western-themed amusement park, with chair lifts, western shows and rides high above Maggie Valley. Winter months offer some of the best skiing in western N.C at Cataloochee Ski Area.
From Maggie Valley, it is a short ride to Cherokee, NC, located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Cherokee has shops and local attractions. The Oconaluftee Indian village is a popular stop to shop, see a black bear show and experience some of the Cherokee culture. Cherokee also has the small Christmas themed amusement park, Santa’s Land, and the always popular Harrah’s Casino.
From Cherokee, Hwy 441 climbs 3,00o feet as it winds up and around the mountains toward Gatlinburg. Along the way, travelers will go through multiple types of forests. Once you get to the NC-TN border, a stop at Newfound Gap is a must. Newfound gap, at 5,046 ft, is a great place to stretch your legs and enjoy breath taking views. There are both short trails or longer trails along the Appalachian Trail for serious backpackers. Also popular is the large rock formation overlooking the parking lot where travelers can sit and enjoy the view (and is great for pictures).
The last 23 miles on Hwy 441 to Gatlinburg consists of windy roads with hairpin turns that continue the climb to Gatlinburg. There are pull offs to enjoy gorgeous views of valleys and ridges. October offers the extra bonus of autumn foliage that makes the valley and mountain ridges come alive with color as the season changes. Along with the sweeping views of the valleys, there are also the occasional view of little waterfalls flowing over the rocky ledges and the small creek below. If you want to stop and go down to the creek, there are plenty of places where you can access it.
So stop and dip your feet in the cool mountain stream on a hot day. The kids will love it!
Perhaps the best view is before you reach Gatlinburg. You can stop and look down at Gatlinburg nestled in the valley between the mountains. As the sun goes down over the mountains and the lights of Gatlinburg come on, it is truly a sight worth seeing.
Traveling to Gatlinburg doesn’t have to be about highways and rest stops. Take the scenic view and enjoy the sights and views along the way. It may take longer but its well worth the journey!