The Smoky Mountains are nothing if not amazing to see while driving the many roads we have going through the woods – although semantically that ain’t true considering the beauty of the mountains is what attracted people to come and live here way before we ever had motorized vehicles of any kind – with all the many roadways that connect the cities and communities through largely untouched forestry and the many visitors that explore them in cars, trucks, ATVs, UTVs, motorcycles and more. It’s not hard to see why the backroads, motor nature trails and highways are a popular idea for fun; they don’t cost anything but gas, they lead to picnic spots, wildlife are often spotted, and the views that put to rest any questions why we’re the most visited National Park in the United States.
And no roadway/highway in the Tennessee Smokies totally captures that like Newfound Gap Road that extends from near Gatlinburg, TN, to Cherokee, NC. If you could only do one Smoky Mountain nature roadtrip and hope to get picnics, hikes, wildlife, waterfalls and views in, Newfound Gap is the one. It’s about a 70 minute drive from the start near Gatlinburg to right as you reach Cherokee, but it would take more than a month to do everything you can do in-between those two points… without tourism/commercialization having anything to do with the space accessible from the Gap.
In this blog post, we’ll gather some noteworthy items from a range of websites that are more thoroughly dedicated to covering Newfound Gap to introduce you to the amazing roadway, as well as the websites themselves that we definitely suggest taking a look through for additional Smoky Mountain information.
“A trip over the Newfound Gap Road has often been compared to a drive from Georgia to Maine in terms of the variety of forest ecosystems one experiences. Starting from either Cherokee, North Carolina or Gatlinburg, Tennessee, travelers climb approximately 3,000 feet, ascending through cove hardwood, pine-oak, and northern hardwood forest to attain the evergreen spruce-fir forest at Newfound Gap (5,046′). This fragrant evergreen woodland is similar to the boreal forests of New England and eastern Canada.
At nearly a mile high, Newfound Gap is significantly cooler than the surrounding lowlands and receives much more snow. Temperatures at the gap may be 10° F. or more cooler than in the lowlands and precipitation falling as rain in Gatlinburg or Cherokee may be snow at Newfound Gap. On average, 69 inches of snow falls at the gap.
In southern Appalachian vernacular, a gap is a low point in a mountain ridge. New Englanders call such places “notches” while westerners refer to them as mountain “passes.” At an elevation of 5,046 feet, Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The old road over the Smoky Mountains crossed at Indian Gap, located about 1.5 miles west of the current site. Newfound Gap’s recognition as the lowest pass through the Great Smoky Mountains did not come until 1872. Arnold Henry Guyot, a Swiss geographer, measured many Southern Appalachian elevations. Mount Guyot, the second highest peak in the Smokies, takes his name. He used a simple barometer to measure changes in air pressure to calculate mountain heights. In most cases he was within 2-3 percent of current values. His work revealed Newfound Gap as the lowest pass through the mountains, displacing nearby Indian Gap. When the lower, easier crossing was discovered, it became known as the “newfound” gap. A new road followed, and it became the forerunner of Newfound Gap Road.”
See this page in full at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/nfg.htm.
Romantic Asheville writes:
“Starting from Cherokee, climb approximately 3,000 feet elevation in 18 miles, ascending through cove hardwood, pine, oak, and northern hardwood forest to attain the evergreen spruce-fir forest at the gap. This fragrant evergreen woodland is similar to the boreal forests of New England and eastern Canada. Along the way, stop at historic Mingus Mill and Smokemont Church. Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At nearly a mile high, it’s is significantly cooler than the surrounding lowlands and receives much more snow. Temperatures at the gap may be 10 degrees or more cooler than in the lowlands and precipitation falling as rain in Cherokee or Asheville may be snow. On average, 69 inches of snow falls at the gap.
Things To Do Along Newfound Gap Road:
Elk in Cherokee
Watch majestic elk graze and interact in meadows at the Great Smoky Mountains Oconaluftee Visitor Center and other areas around Cherokee.
Mt. LeConte & Alum Cave
(11 miles round-trip, strenuous) The Alum Cave Trail is the most-hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains. You’ll see why, with interesting geological features and stunning views. To reach the 6,593-ft. summit of Mount LeConte (third highest peak in the Smokies), you’ll climb 2,853 ft. in elevation in 5.5 miles.
Clingmans Dome Trail
(1 mile round-trip, moderate) At 6,643 ft., this is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An uphill, paved trail takes you to the top for panoramic views from the observation tower.
(4 miles round-trip, strenuous) One of the most popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. With an elevation of 4,800 ft., the rocky summit is one of the park’s most recognizable geological structures. It’s all uphill with 1,700 ft. in elevation gain. On the Tennessee side of Newfound Gap Road.
Mingus Mill, Great Smoky Mountains
Mingus Mill & Smokemont Church
See two historic structures within a few miles of each other in the Great Smoky Mountains, both located near the North Carolina entrance on Newfound Gap Road / US 441 near Cherokee.
Mountain Farm Museum
Mountain Farm Museum, Oconaluftee Visitor Center & Mingus Mill
Located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, see historic farm buildings in an open-air museum and get plenty of great information from rangers. Nearby you can explore Mingus Mill, a historic grist mill dating from 1886.
(8 miles round-trip, strenuous) Hike the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap north four miles to this rocky ridge with spectacular views in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You climb about 1,600 ft. in elevation, but it’s gradual.”
See this page in full at https://www.romanticasheville.com/newfound.htm.
Furthermore, a post longer than we could really parse and repost here but excellent in its in-depth information and directions is https://www.gsmnp.com/newfound-gap-road/.
Those interested in touring services that go over Newfound Gap can visit these tour providers:
We recommend anyone coming to the Smokies for a family vacation consider adding a trip through Newfound Gap to their Spring Break fun or Summer vacation in the Smokies. It will create memories impossible to forget for you and your family/group.
Want to look at other nature drives in the Smokies? See our posts below:
* Cades Cove
* Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
* The Tail of the Dragon