Itinerary: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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When you enter Bryson City, you’ll find a place literally surrounded by nature (87% of it is federal land) with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just to the north, making it the ideal setting for a dreamy off-the-grid getaway. Take a look at some of our recommendations for 1/2 day and full day experiences on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Deep Creek: Morning or 1/2 Day

 

Start your day by grabbing some breakfast “to go” downtown . Try the Everett Street Diner, La Dolce Vita Bakery, or Mountain Perks Espresso Bar and Cafe to start your morning and then head to Deep Creek. Plenty of picnic tables line the creek near the parking lot for a truly relaxing morning breakfast in nature.

 

Located just minutes north of Bryson City, the Deep Creek section of the national park has a great hike to three different waterfalls. Tom Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls, and Juney Whank Falls are each with easy access from the Deep Creek picnic area.  

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The trailhead for the waterfall hike is adjacent to the picnic area. It’s roughly over two-miles to hike to see all the falls in an easy to moderate hike, but there are miles and miles of trail waiting to be explored if you’re looking for a longer trek into the park. 

 

Expect the hike to take 1 - 1.5 hours, depending on your pace and how long you plan to spend at each waterfall. 

Main Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Half Day or Full Day
 

Grab some lunch at  Boxcar Cafe and Cones, Loretta’s Snak Shak, or High Test Deli. Then head to Cherokee for the main entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where you'll find the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum. Explore the outdoor, open air, museum as well as watching the elk in the evenings.

 

Heading north on Newfound Gap Road (US 441N) Mingus Mill is just a 1/2 mile up the road. Built in 1886, this historic grist mill uses a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel to power all of the machinery in the building. Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM daily mid-March through mid-November. Also, open Thanksgiving weekend.

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Road to Nowhere: 1/2 Day or Full Day

 

One of the most unique areas in Bryson City is found on Lakeview Drive in an area locally known as “The Road to Nowhere,” part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park After the construction of Fontana Dam flooded other access roads, a replacement highway was promised in the 1960s, However, construction was halted due to environmental issues, and the Road to Nowhere was born.

Directions: From downtown Bryson City head north on Everett Street and continue on Fontana Road for about 2.5 miles until you reach the national park entrance called "Lakeview Drive." This scenic drive travels another six miles to the "Road to Nowhere Tunnel.” Consider these half-day and full-day hiking options:

Along the curvy road, you’ll see the scenic mountainside with occasional views of Lake Fontana. From the Lakeview Drive entrance, the first pull-off on the left is a scenic view known as "Fontana Lake Overlook." The next pull-off on your left is the parking area for the Noland Creek Trails North and South. These two trails offer epic creekside views and plenty of solitude. The Noland Creek South Trail travels one mile to Fontana Lake, with one mile back to the parking area, whereas the North Trail meanders along the creek with forest and rushing creek views:

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Newfound Gap Road, also known as US Highway 441, connects Cherokee, NC to  Gatlinburg, TN.  This 33 mile scenic drive takes you up and over the Great Smoky Mountains. There are ample turn outs and photography opportunities as you drive the Newfound Gap Road. 

 

Traveling north along US 441/Newfound Gap Road reveals a plethora of winding roads and higher-elevation views of mountain layers. As you continue to climb to the higher elevations of the Park, where long range views of mountain ridges are plentiful. Most of these overlooks and parking areas will be on the left side.

 

Oconaluftee Valley Overlook provides stunning mountain landscape scenery. Photographers love this spot for sunrise photos. Just after this overlook, you'll see the signs for Clingmans Dome on the left. Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at just over 6,000 feet in elevation. From the top of the Dome you can see at least seven states on a clear day.  

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It's seven miles to the end of Clingmans Dome Road and there are scenic pullouts with endless views of ridges and valleys along the way. The road ends in a large parking area from which a 0.5 mile trail leads to the summit. The trail is paved but steep, and leads to an observation tower on top. The Andrews Bald trailhead is also located here. 

 

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Continuing north on Newfound Gaps Road is another gorgeous overlook with some history, and appropriately named Newfound Gap. The North Carolina/Tennessee border is located here, along with stunning views from the parking lot. A public restaurant is adjacent to the parking lot. Just past Newfound Gap, is Morton Overlook, a great spot for sunset views. 

On the way down the mountain toward Gatlinburg, the winding road takes you through forested mountain sides and tunnels. Near Gatlinburg, be on the lookout for Little River Road, which provides access to Elkmont, Tremont, and Cades Cove. 

To return to Cherokee and Bryson City, just take the same road back - US 441 S/Newfound Gap Road.

 

The next - and last - stop on Lakeview Drive is a dead end with trail parking on the right. A few short steps take you to the entrance of the Road to Nowhere Tunnel. Many people enjoy hiking through the tunnel to the other side, where you have a few choices for hiking further. Be sure to bring a flashlight, because it’s hard to see the ground about halfway through the 365-foot tunnel. The Lakeshore Trail continues 33.5 miles to Fontana Dam, which would be a 2-3 day hike that is better suited for experienced overnight hikers. Or you can hike a short while and return through the tunnel. One other option at the end of the tunnel is the Goldmine Loop Trail, one of our staff favorites: 

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Evening

When it’s time to head back to Bryson City make sure to go slowly by the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to see the Elk that might be roaming in the Fields. 

Finally stop by Jimmy Macs, Everett Bistro, Nate and Nicks or Anthony's for some dinner before relaxing for the rest of the night. 

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