Smoky Mountain Auto Trails: Foothills Parkway

Smoky mountain car road trail in fall autumn yellow golden trees scenic

Foothills Parkway

The Foothills Parkway is a 33 mile beautiful drive, connecting US 129 and US 321 through US Forest Service lands – offering amazing views of East Tennessee all the way to the Cumberland Mountains 50 miles west – and the Smokies just a stone’s throw east. There is a northern section of the parkway that is 6 miles and connects I-40 with Cosby, TN. Completed sections of the Foothills Parkway are open year-round, weather permitting; uncompleted sections are open to pedestrians, bicyclists, and equestrians. Due to funding and legislative difficulties, the ultimate status of the parkway remains uncertain. Despite political disappointments, the Foothills Parkway’s open sections provide beautiful views of the Smokies and surrounding country. The route has less traffic compared to other Smoky Mountain highways and provides an easy, scenic connection for tourists between the Tail of the Dragon and Gatlinburg. Climb to the top of Look Rock and feast your eyes on a panoramic view of these old mountains.

West – Running southwest from Walland to Chilhowee , this 20-mile section is the Foothills Parkway’s longest segment. It provides beautiful vistas of the northwestern Smokies, including Thunderhead Mountain, the highest peak in the Park’s western half. Many of its south facing overlooks peer over Happy Valley, into the Smokies and beyond. Its north facing views oversee Maryville, Knoxville, and the Great Valley.

Halfway along the segment, a trail leads to the Look Rock Tower. It is 1/3 mile from the road. The trail makes a moderate climb. The tower provides a 360-degree panorama and a platform for scientific research such as air quality. Sunsets from the tower are often spectacular.

East – Foothills Parkway east is a six-mile road leading from Cosby, TN to Interstate 40. Its eastern terminus is TN exit 443. Built on Green Mountain, the road provides wonderful views of Cosby Valley to the south and the Newport area to the north.

Other interesting drives in the park are the Rich Mountain Road, Parsons Branch Road (both closed in winter), and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It forms an 11-mile loop along with Cherokee Orchard Road. The one-way road runs for 8 miles. It is not suitable for bicycles, RVs, trailers, or buses. Cherokee Orchard Road is a two-way road without these restrictions and leads to the Rainbow Falls parking area. Airport Road in Gatlinburg turns into the Park’s Cherokee Orchard Road.

The Spur – technically part of the Foothills Parkway, The Spur is the only direct route from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge. A scenic four-lane highway, it follows the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.

Many park roads have only a gravel surface. Two-wheel drive vehicles can drive these roads. Some provide access to less visited park areas while other are scenic drives in their own right. Below are descriptions of the three main (one-way) gravel roads: