Scenic Drive Near Waynesville – The Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Byway

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park received 14.1 million visitors in 2021.  That is more than any other National Park in the United States.  The majority of those visitors saw the park by traveling along The Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Byway, otherwise known as Newfound Gap Road or Highway 441.

A scenic drive along the The Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Byway will take you through the heart of the National Park, allowing you to see historic structures, dense forest, wildlife, and access to the highest peaks and some of the most scenic views available in the park.

The road provides access to many hiking trails and waterfalls as well, including the famous Appalachian Trail.   

Let's take a virtual ride along the Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Byway from Cherokee to Gatlinburg, and we'll highlight all of the great places to stop and see!

Where is the The Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Byway from Waynesville?

From Waynesville, the Oconoluftee visitor center in the Great Smoky Mountains National park is the starting point for the Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Byway in North Carolina.  The visitor center is about 45 minutes from Waynesville.

The fastest way is to take the Smoky Mountains Expressway from Waynesville (Highway 74) to Cherokee, and catch 441 to the Oconoluftee Visitor center.   That drive is about 45 minutes.

The most scenic way, and the way we love to go, is by going through Maggie Valley on Highway 19 (Soco Rd), and catching the Blue Ridge Parkway at Soco Gap, then driving on the parkway to the Oconoluftee Visitor Center.  It's a about a 10-15 minute longer drive, but well worth it for the scenery.

Our Fall Drive Video

Here is our video of a drive along the Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Byway in Fall during peak season.  Hope you enjoy!

Oconoluftee Visitor Center and Farm Village

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is a popular stop for visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  

The Visitor Center offers a range of resources and information for visitors to the park, including exhibits, maps, brochures, and helpful staff who can answer questions and provide guidance on hiking trails, scenic drives, and other attractions.

One of the highlights of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is the Mountain Farm Museum, which showcases the life and culture of early settlers in the area. Visitors can explore a variety of historic structures, including a farmhouse, barn, springhouse, and blacksmith shop, and learn about traditional crafts and farming practices.  The structures are all original, and were brought in and re-assembled from various places around the park.

In addition to the Mountain Farm Museum, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center also offers access to the Oconaluftee River Trail, a scenic hike that follows the river through the park and offers opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography.  This is one of the few trails that are dog friendly.

Mingus Mill

Mingus Mill

Mingus Mill is located just off Newfound Gap road, and is a beautiful and fascinating historic site.  The mill has a rich history and showcases the craftsmanship and technology of early milling.  

You'll find the mill just a short distance into the national park, past the Oconoluftee Visitor center on the left.  There is a large parking area, restrooms, an a short trail leading out to the mill.

Mingus Mill, named after its builder, John Mingus, was constructed in the late 18th century, around 1886, and has since become an iconic landmark. It is situated near the Oconaluftee River and surrounded by beautiful Smoky Mountain scenery, making it a popular destination for tourists and history enthusiasts alike.

What makes Mingus Mill truly unique is its design and operational method. The mill is a water-powered grist mill, but it uses a turbine, which was leading edge technology at the time.  The turbine harnesses the power of water to grind grains such as corn into flour.   It was far more efficient and powerful than traditional water wheel based mills.

Visiting Mingus Mill allows you to step back in time and witness the ingenuity of early engineering. Inside the mill, you'll find a variety of original equipment and machinery, including the grinding stones used to mill the grains. The skilled craftsmen of the past built these machines with great precision and attention to detail.

During the summer, the mill is active with a millwright, and you can see and experience the mill in operation, and buy flour and corn meal ground there at the mill.

Apart from the mill itself, the surrounding area offers additional attractions. You can take a leisurely stroll along the nature trails that wind through the scenic landscape, providing opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife spotting. 

Oconaluftee Baptist Church at Smokemont

As you travel along Newfound Gap Road through the scenic Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one noteworthy stop worth exploring is the Oconaluftee Baptist Church (also call Lufty Baptist Church) located in Smokemont. This historic church holds significance both in terms of its architecture and its cultural heritage.

The Oconaluftee Baptist Church stands as a testament to the religious heritage and community spirit of the region. Constructed in 1912, the church's architectural style reflects the simplicity and charm of early 20th-century rural churches. Its modest white exterior, adorned with a simple steeple, blends with its natural surroundings.

Stepping inside the church, you'll be transported back in time. The interior features wooden pews, original wooden floors, and rustic decorations. There is even an old "dual" outhouse out back!

Smokemont Riding Stables

Just down from Lufy Baptist Church is a real hidden Gem, Smokemont Riding Stables where you can ride through the beautiful Great Smoky Mountain National Park on horseback!

Smokemont Riding Stables is an amazing equestrian facility located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you have a love for horses and enjoy exploring the great outdoors, this is the perfect place to visit.  Even if you're like me (Larry) and not a huge horse fan, this is truly a wonderful experience.

The stables offer a range of horseback riding experiences, allowing you to embark on guided trail rides through the scenic beauty of the national park. As you saddle up and hit the trails, you'll be immersed in the breathtaking landscapes, lush forests, and picturesque mountain views that the Smokies are known worldwide for.

The stables provide well-trained horses that are suitable for riders of all levels, whether you're a seasoned equestrian or a first-time rider. The experienced guides and wranglers are there to ensure your safety and comfort throughout the ride.  They are truly amazing and patient.

As you meander along the trails, you'll have the chance to spot wildlife, hear the sounds of nature, and breathe in the fresh mountain air. The trails vary in length and difficulty, catering to different preferences and riding abilities. Whether you opt for a leisurely ride or a more adventurous trek, the is an experience you will not want to miss.  We highly recommend it!

Newfound Gap

Newfound Gap

Photo by: Timothy Wildey

One of the highlights of the Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Byway is Newfound Gap.  

On September 2, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stood right here at Newfound Gap and opened the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during a dedication ceremony.  He delivered remarks emphasizing the importance of protecting this incredible natural landscape and providing access to it for people from all walks of life.  These are values and traditions the park honors today.

Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the National Park and is located at the Tennessee-North Carolina border.  The "gap" and overlook are at 5,046 feet in elevation.  This large overlook offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.  

From Newfound Gap, you can see as far as Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains. Newfound Gap is also an access point for the Appalachian Trail.  Visitors can take a short walk or hike on the AT, and claim they've walked the Appalachian Trail!

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower

Located just across from Newfound Gap, you'll find the 7-mile long access road for Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at an elevation of 6,643 feet.

The parking area offers incredible long range views of the surround smoky mountains, and visitors can reach the top of Clingmans Dome via a steep, half-mile paved trail that leads to an observation tower at the top of the mountain. The tower offers 360-degree views.

While the views are gorgeous, and the hike worth it, we would be remiss to not warn visitors about how steep the trail up is.  There are lots of benches for resting, but it's the toughest 1/2 mile hike you'll take pretty much anywhere.

In addition to the observation tower, there is a visitor center at the base of the trail, which offers exhibits, information, and restrooms for visitors. The area around Clingmans Dome is also popular for hiking, with a variety of trails ranging from short, easy walks to challenging backcountry treks.  The Appalachian Trail crosses near the observation dome.

Chimney's Picnic Area

The Chimney Picnic Area is a popular picnic area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located along the Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg, TN and Newfound Gap. This scenic picnic area is situated near the banks of creek, surrounded by lush forests and stunning mountain vistas.

The Chimney Picnic Area features a number of picnic tables, grills, and restrooms for visitors to use, as well as easy access to the creek for swimming, wading, fishing, and other water activities. 

One of the main attractions of the Chimney Picnic Area is the historic Chimneys, a pair of towering rock formations that rise up from the surrounding forests. The Chimneys are visible from several locations within the picnic area and offer a unique perspective on the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Sugarlands Visitor Center

The Sugarlands Visitor Center is one of the main visitor centers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The center serves as a main entry point into the national park and provides a wealth of information about the park's natural and cultural history, as well as a variety of educational programs and exhibits.

At the visitor center, guests can pick up maps, guides, and brochures to help plan their visit to the park, as well as purchase books, souvenirs, and other items related to the Smokies. The center also features a museum exhibit that showcases the natural and cultural history of the park, including displays on wildlife, geology, and the human history of the region.

Sugarlands Visitor Center offers a variety of educational programs, including ranger-led walks and talks, as well as a Junior Ranger program for kids. The center also serves as a starting point for many of the park's popular hiking trails, including the Laurel Falls Trail and the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail.

The visitor center is also the last stop along the Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Byway.  From here you can continue on to Gatlinburg, or turn around and head back to Waynesville.

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