The best scenic drives in Tennessee
Summer is nearly here, and you know what that means: It’s time to hop in the car and take a scenic drive. Tennessee is one of the best states for it. With rolling hills, steep mountains, low delta plains, and an air of natural wonder, Tennessee offers a bounty of scenic drives for those willing to explore off the beaten path. Here are a few of them:
Among these hundreds of back roads in East Tennessee, you can get lost without once worrying about finding your way out. After all, you’re not far from major population centers like Gatlinburg. Yet despite the closeness of civilization, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve entered another world amidst the lush evergreens and tranquil hills. Nature lovers will be quick to pull over and explore the incredible variety of wildlife, plants, and flowers to be found in the Great Smoky Mountains.
On your way through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hop on the popular Highway 441. Follow it to Newfound Gap on the Tennessee Border. “Gap” in southern Appalachian vernacular means a low point in a mountain ridge. At a little more than 5,000 feet, Newfound Gap is the lowest pass accessible to drivers in the park. You’ll see a startling variety of forest ecosystems out your windows as you drive, first passing pine-oaks and cove hardwoods and, several thousand feet later, the soothing fragrance of evergreens.
More than three decades of labor went into building this highway winding up and over 5,400-foot mountains from North Carolina to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, and the result is breathtaking. The National Scenic Byway-designated Cherohala Skyway is a 42-mile long road affording spectacular views of mountains, waterfalls, and forests as far as the eye can see. Any one of its many overlooks provides vistas of incomparable beauty, but it’s the view from the Santeetlah Overlook – the Skyway’s highest point – that will really fill you with a sense of wonder.
Here in Cherokee National Forest, on the 33 twisting, turning miles of Highway 421 known as “The Snake,” driving enthusiasts and motorcyclists will find some of the most beautiful natural scenery this country has to offer. Nearly 500 curves weave through The Snake’s three mountains and one valley, making this road from Mountain City to Bristol a truly thrilling experience. Halfway through, consider stopping by the Shady Valley Country Store, beloved for its charming souvenirs and good old fashioned country cookin’.
Arguably the most famous motorcycle drive east of the Mississippi, U.S. Highway 129 – or as it’s better known, The Tail of the Dragon – begins in Deal’s Gap, about 90 miles from Asheville, North Carolina. Comprising 318 curves in just 11 miles, The Tail of the Dragon whips through sharp turns around the soaring mountains and curls through steep drop-offs. Its hairpin curves and switchbacks (commemorated in movies like The Fugitive) are something like a rite of passage for bikers. Be careful, though. Oncoming cars and trucks demand a high level of awareness and caution.
Full of historic beauty and recreational activity, the Great River Road is one of the most popular scenic byways in the country. Tennessee is just one of the 10 states comprising the Great River Road, running on parts of Highway 61 (running south from Memphis to Vicksburg, Mississippi). In addition to the scenic beauty of the Lower Mississippi Valley, the road has great historic value. Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Elvis Presley all traveled the Great River Road, giving it the nickname the “Blues Highway.” Rhythm n’ blues music began here. Crank up your radio volume and enjoy!
Stunning all year round (though some cherish it most as a winter drive), the Chattanooga Loop portion of the Tennessee River Gorge is a 126-mile drive with Signal Mountain to the north and Lookout Mountain to the south. Lookout Mountain forms a backdrop to Chattanooga, a city named for the Indian word for mountain, Chatanuga. Drivers can stop at any point along the road to find scenic views, historic buildings, and hiking, biking, and fishing opportunities. While some other roads are a bit more edge-of-your-seat exciting, the Chattanooga Loop is great for families looking to relax.
This article is intended for informational purposes only. It may not reflect the official policies of Elephant Insurance or current developments.