Scenic route from Gatlinburg to Cherokee

Multiple routes can take travelling from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, but you should take one that goes through your areas of interest. The journey is 44 miles and that is about 1 hour 57 min. The cost of fuel is about 7.78. 

Amongst the places found between Gatlinburg to Cherokee are Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee Scenic Drives, Mingus Mill, Sugarlands Visitor Center, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Chimney Tops Trailhead, Alum Bluffs Trail, Chimney Tops Picnic Area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingmans Dome, Heintooga Ridge Spur Road, Campbell Overlook, Newfound Gap Overlook, Morton Overlook, Ocolonee Valley Overlook, Webb Overlook and many more. This blog post provides a detailed route outline and online resources.

Trip from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC

Table Of Contents

See The Full Route and Itinerary

Gatlinburg, TN

Travel Overview: 34 minutes — 6 mi

This scenic drive is a stretch between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, approximately 44 miles. The road spans through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park ( There aren’t any restaurants or gas stations along this route. 

There is also NO cell phone signal at most points along this drive, but you can still enjoy a few points of interest between Gatlinburg and Cherokee that make great pit stops. These include the Chimneys Picnic Area, Newfound Gap State Line Marker, Clingman’s Dome, Mingus Mill, and the Mountain Farm Museum. 

The scenic drive begins in Gatlinburg, TN, and ends in Cherokee, NC. Make your first stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center (I1), where you can get information to personalise your experience and learn more through the interpretive exhibits and short films. Explore the Cades Cove Loop, 25 miles south of here. The scenic drive takes you back in time, to the 1800s when a community lived in these hills.

Before beginning the drive, consider a side trip on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (T1), accessible from Gatlinburg’s Airport Road and becoming Cherokee Orchard Road. This narrow crooked one-way road travels the serene forest offering spectacular views and pullouts. A 1.2-mile walk takes you to the beautiful Grotto Falls. For a more strenuous adventure, hike four hard miles to the top of Mount LeConte.

The trailhead for the Alum Cave trail is on this road, and several scenic overlooks where you can pull over and take in the mountain views. There are several stops for quiet walkways. Get out, walk through the woods, a few tunnels, curves, and turns. It is a fun ride. If you are going slow to sightsee and get a line of cars behind you, utilise the pull-offs to let others pass.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Travel Overview: 44 minutes — 7 mi

That is a 5.5-mile, one-way, loop road for people who visit the Smoky Mountains. The narrow, winding road has several well-preserved structures like old cabins, grist mills, and more. Drive alongside the Roaring Fork stream. It looks stunning after heavy rain.

There is a high demand for parking in some of the busiest park destinations like Roaring Fork and exceeds capacity. Avoid marked no parking areas, and always park with all four wheels out of the roadway.

There is a mountain stream known as the Roaring Fork. It is one of the largest and fastest-flowing mountain streams in the park. Drive this road after a hard rain for a calming and serene experience.

The narrow, winding, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail allows you to slow down and enjoy the forest and historic buildings of the area. The 5.5-mile-long, loop road is a favourite side trip for Smokies regulars. It offers rushing mountain streams, glimpses of old-growth forests, and well-preserved log cabins, gristmills, and other historic buildings. Note that the road is closed in winter.

Before entering the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, there is a stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guiding nature trail, offering a walking tour of a mountain farmstead and surrounding hardwood forest. Highlights include a streamside tub mill and Ogle’s handcrafted wooden flume plumbing system.

Beyond the Ogle, the farmstead is the trailhead for Rainbow Falls, one of the park’s popular waterfalls. The hike to the falls is 5.4 miles roundtrip and strenuous. To complete this hike, wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots and carry plenty of water and snacks.

The entrance to the motor nature trail is a short distance past the parking areas for Rainbow Falls. There is a trailhead for Grotto Falls, another of the park’s popular waterfalls, along the route, and a waterfall called Place of a Thousand Drips. It is amazing. Get a booklet at the beginning of the motor nature trail that details landmarks along the route.

To access Roaring Fork, turn off the main parkway in Gatlinburg, TN, at traffic light #8 and follow Historic Nature Trail Road to the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park. Beyond the Rainbow Falls trailhead take the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, but closed in winter. Note that buses, trailers, and motor homes are prohibited on the motor nature trail.

Newfound Gap Road

Travel Overview: 39 minutes — 31 mi

That is one of the most scenic highways in the Smoky Mountains. Newfound Gap Road takes you straight across the mountain from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, North Carolina, a 33-mile road. The drive from Gatlinburg to Cherokee along Newfound Gap Road takes about an hour. Pull off and stop to take pictures and see views of the mountains. Pick up a dollar booklet with more information at any national park visitor center for directions.

U.S. 441, is the main route through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to connect Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. Be aware of the temperature change as you reach the park. At the road’s highest point, it is approximately 15 degrees cooler than in Gatlinburg. Expect snow and ice, and the road may close for safety in the case of black ice or excessive snow. In case of temporary closure, the alternative routes make your trip longer.

The drive along Newfound Gap Road is beautiful and filled with different ecosystems and types of forestry. Get a self-guided auto tour booklet at any national park visitor center and pull-offs along the road. Stop to take pictures of the stunning mountain views. Check out the National Park Service website for information on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway, maps, visitor guides, and current road conditions (

Cherokee, NC

Travel Overview: — 0 mi

The scenic drive ends as you arrive in the town of Cherokee. The Oconaluftee Visitor Center (I2) offers more information on the history of the people who lived here and the park’s development. Visit the Mountain Farm Museum, featuring a collection of log structures, including a farmhouse, barn, smokehouse, and more. You can either retrace your steps back to Gatlinburg or head north on the Blue Ridge Parkway to continue exploring the ancient Appalachians.


In conclusion, there are more places to stop by on your way from Gatlinburg to Cherokee. Make a list of places you wouldn’t want to miss. Start by the Smoky Mountain National Park for some tunnels, curves, and turns. Plan your trip to avoid disappointments. Research the routes on the National Park Service website for more information and enjoy the journey. 

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