If you haven’t driven through the scenic Foothills Parkway in Tennessee yet, then you’re missing out on one of the most picturesque drives in the country. The Foothills Parkway stretches for 33 miles, and as you drive along its winding roads, you’ll be able to witness the stunning beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Tennessee Valley.
But that’s not all—the parkway is also conveniently located near several must-see destinations, including Cades Cove and Wears Valley. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about driving the Foothills Parkway and what to do nearby. Get ready to hit the road in a Classic Ford Bronco and create unforgettable memories in some of East Tennessee’s most popular destinations!
Why East Tennessee?
East Tennessee has a magnetic allure, with its rolling hills, lush forests, and the magnificent Smoky Mountains dominating the horizon. It’s a destination that promises memorable experiences for both you and your family. We love living here for that reason. Our shop is only a few minutes from Knoxville and almost just as close to Townsend!
East Tennessee is highly convenient for road trips due to its accessibility from major highways like Interstate 40 and 75, short driving distances from nearby cities, and a well-developed tourist infrastructure. The region offers a variety of scenic routes and has plenty of options for day trips and outdoor adventures. We like to go white water rafting or tubing in the Smokies!
Accessing the Foothills Parkway
Accessing the Foothills Parkway in Tennessee is relatively straightforward, and there are multiple entry points. Here are some of the primary access points to the Foothills Parkway:
- Townsend Entrance:
- This is one of the most common entry points for the Foothills Parkway.
- In Townsend, Tennessee, look for signs leading to the Foothills Parkway.
- Once on the parkway, you can begin your scenic drive from here.
- Another access point is located in Wears Valley, Tennessee.
- Follow signs to the Foothills Parkway from Wears Valley Road (State Route 321).
- This entrance allows you to start your drive from the western end of the parkway.
- If you’re staying in Gatlinburg or the Gatlinburg area, you can access the Foothills Parkway from this direction.
- Follow U.S. Highway 441 south from Gatlinburg until you reach the parkway.
- Located further east, the Chilhowee Entrance provides access to the eastern section of the Foothills Parkway.
- To reach this entrance, take U.S. Highway 129 from Maryville to the Chilhowee Recreation Area.
- Along the length of the parkway, you’ll find various overlooks and entrances.
- These entrances allow for different starting points if you prefer to explore specific sections of the parkway.
Remember to check for any road closures, updates, or specific directions from your starting point, especially if you’re using GPS or navigation apps. Additionally, consider visiting the official Great Smoky Mountains National Park website or contacting local authorities for the most up-to-date information on accessing the Foothills Parkway and any current conditions or closures.
Once you start the drive there’s not a lot of places to stop for gas – so if you’re in an Early Bronco, make sure you have one of our 23 gallon gas tanks so you don’t have to worry about running out of gas!
Tip 1: Best Time To Drive The Foothills Parkway
As you’re heading to the Foothills Parkway, keep in mind that timing is everything. For the ultimate experience, plan your trip during the fall.
The vibrant foliage transforms the landscape into a kaleidoscope of colors, setting the stage for fantastic family photos. If you can’t make it in the fall, don’t worry; spring also offers stunning wildflower displays.
Stop 1: Scenic Overlooks and Family Fun
Now, let’s talk about the real highlight of this journey—those breathtaking scenic overlooks. These spots are not just for photos; they’re your chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Smoky Mountains.
Look Rock Tower: One of the best views around, the Look Rock Tower offers a 360-degree panorama that will leave you speechless. Climb to the top and take it all in, kids in tow. The view is worth every step.
Picnicking: Pack a blanket and some family favorites for a picnic amidst this natural wonderland. There’s nothing like sharing sandwiches with your loved ones while surrounded by such awe-inspiring scenery.
Family Hikes: For a dose of adventure, explore the hiking trails along the parkway. The Look Rock Trail is perfect for families, offering a manageable hike with rewarding views.
What to Do Near the Foothills Parkway:
If you’re looking to add some adventure to your trip, we have some good news: the Foothills Parkway is conveniently located near several must-see destinations.
One of the most popular attractions is Cades Cove, a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains. Once there, you can hike, bike, or explore historic sites such as antique structures.
If you’re looking for a more laid-back experience, Wears Valley is a great option. This charming mountain community features plenty to see and do, especially if you’re a fan of nature. Plus, you’ll find several restaurants and shops that will satisfy your hunger and thirst.
Thunderhead Mountain and English Mountain:
Want to explore the nearby Thunder Mountain and English Mountain? Here’s a quick rundown of these famous peaks.
- Thunderhead Mountain:
- Elevation: Thunderhead Mountain is one of the highest peaks in the Great Smoky Mountains, standing at an elevation of 5,527 feet (1,685 meters).
- Location: It is located in the western part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.
- Visibility from Foothills Parkway: While Thunderhead Mountain is a significant peak in the Smokies, its visibility from the Foothills Parkway is limited. The Foothills Parkway primarily offers views of the foothills and lower elevations of the Smoky Mountains, so Thunderhead Mountain may not be visible from most of the parkway’s overlooks.
- Elevation: English Mountain, situated in the eastern part of Tennessee, has an elevation of approximately 3,629 feet (1,106 meters).
- Location: It is located east of Knoxville and not within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Visiting Thunderhead Mountain:
- Hiking: To reach Thunderhead Mountain, consider embarking on a challenging hike within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail leads you to this iconic peak.
- Pack Essentials: Be prepared for changing weather conditions, as the elevation can bring cooler temperatures. Bring layers, water, snacks, and a map.
- Views: Once you reach the summit, soak in the breathtaking panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains and the surrounding landscapes.
Visiting English Mountain:
- Scenic Drives: While you can’t hike to the top of English Mountain, you can enjoy its beauty from afar by exploring the scenic drives and viewpoints in the region.
- Photography: Capture the picturesque scenes of English Mountain and its surroundings. The changing light throughout the day can create stunning photo opportunities.
Remember to check current conditions, trail statuses, and any park regulations when planning your visit to these mountains. Enjoy your adventure and the natural beauty that both Thunderhead Mountain and English Mountain have to offer!
Tip 2: Embrace Local Culture Along the Way
While exploring the Foothills Parkway and its nearby towns, take the opportunity to immerse your family in the rich local culture of East Tennessee. Here’s how:
Visit Local Artisans:
Seek out local artists and craftsmen. You’ll find unique handmade goods, from pottery and jewelry to woodwork and paintings. Not only will you be supporting the local community, but you’ll also take home one-of-a-kind souvenirs as mementos of your trip. We have some ice cream bowls that we always use from Alewine Pottery.
Attend a Bluegrass Jam:
East Tennessee is famous for its bluegrass music. Check if there are any local jam sessions or live performances happening during your visit. It’s a chance for the whole family to tap their toes and experience a slice of Appalachian musical heritage. To be honest, we didn’t think we liked Bluegrass that much, but in person you’ll probably find yourself tapping your toes. Some places even have interactive sessions – so don’t be afraid to grab those spoons!
Sample Local Cuisine:
Don’t just eat; indulge in the regional flavors. Try some authentic Southern dishes like biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, or a slice of classic pecan pie. Food is a wonderful way to connect with a place and its people. We always grab a slice of pie from The Apple Barn. Maybe even grab a few more for the road.
Stop 2: Exploring Nearby Towns
While the Foothills Parkway itself is a wonder, don’t miss the chance to explore the charming towns nearby. Townsend and Gatlinburg have a lot to offer in terms of dining, shopping, and local culture. Treat the family to some mouthwatering Southern cuisine and indulge in a little retail therapy.
Can you get to the secret entrance to Gatlinburg from the Foothills Parkway?
Yes, you can get to the “secret” entrance to Gatlinburg — known as the Wears Valley entrance — from the Foothills Parkway. The Wears Valley entrance connects to Little River Gorge Road, where you can access some of the most popular areas of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Remember, this is considered a “secret” entrance because it’s less known and typically less crowded than other entrances. It’s a favorite among locals for entering the national park.
Tip 3: Capture the Sunset Magic
The best time to drive the parkway can vary depending on your preferences. Early mornings offer a serene ambiance and cooler temperatures, whereas afternoons present warm sunlight that beautifully illuminates the Smoky Mountains.
But don’t rush to leave the Foothills Parkway before dusk! Trust me; it’s worth waiting around for the sunset. As the day’s light gently fades, the mountains take on an ethereal quality.
Find a quiet spot at one of the overlooks, and watch in awe as the sun paints the sky in brilliant hues of orange and pink. It’s a magical experience that your family won’t soon forget and a perfect way to end your day on the Parkway.
Stop 3: Kincer Chassis – A Bronco Enthusiast’s Dream
Before you leave East Tennessee, make a pit stop at Kincer Chassis. Here, you can witness the craftsmanship that goes into creating Early Bronco chassis, and perhaps even gain some insights into these iconic vehicles. It’s a thrilling way to start to dream about your own adventures.
In conclusion, the Foothills Parkway in East Tennessee is a road trip that will not only rejuvenate your spirits but also create lasting memories for your family.
Whether you’re a Ford Bronco enthusiast, a nature lover, or just seeking quality time with your loved ones, this journey has something for everyone. So, rev up that classic Bronco, pack your essentials, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure through the heart of the Smoky Mountains.
How long is the Foothills Parkway, TN?
The Foothills Parkway is a 33-mile stretch connecting US 129 and US 321 in Tennessee.
What are the best views on the Foothills Parkway?
The entire length of the parkway offers breathtaking views, with the Look Rock Tower and the overlooks near Townsend being particularly notable.
What mountains can you see from the overlooks?
From the overlooks, you can see an array of mountains and stunning views within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The exact mountains visible depend on your specific location along the parkway and the clarity of the day.
What hikes are located near the Foothills Parkway?
- Look Rock Tower Trail: This trail is located on the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Chilhowee, TN. It’s a short, half-mile trail (1-mile round trip) that leads to an observation tower open to the public.
- The Sinks, Spruce Flats Falls, Abrams Falls, Laurel Falls Trailhead, and Bald River Falls: These trails are all conveniently located near the Foothills Parkway and offer various hiking experiences.
- Rich Mountain Loop Trail: This 8.3-mile trail ascends almost 2,000 feet, crossing the peaks of Scott Mountain, Cerulean Knob, and Double Mountain.
- Abrams Creek and Cooper Road Loop Trail: Located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this trail is considered challenging and offers a unique hiking experience.
Is the Foothills Parkway Part of the Tennessee Valley?
Technically, no—the Foothills Parkway does not stretch through the Tennessee Valley. However, it does offer beautiful views of the valley and is located near Knoxville, the largest city in the valley.
Is driving the Foothills Parkway worth it?
Yes, driving the Foothills Parkway in Tennessee is definitely worth it for those who appreciate scenic beauty, natural landscapes, and the tranquility of the Great Smoky Mountains region. Here are some reasons why it’s worth the trip:
- Breathtaking Scenery: The Foothills Parkway offers some of the most stunning panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains. The vistas are especially impressive during the fall when the foliage is ablaze with vibrant colors.
- Photography Opportunities: If you’re a photography enthusiast, the Foothills Parkway is a dream come true. The changing light and incredible landscapes provide endless opportunities for capturing memorable shots.
- Family-Friendly: It’s a family-friendly activity. You can take your loved ones along, stop at overlooks for picnics, and enjoy the fresh mountain air together.
- Hiking and Outdoor Activities: While driving the parkway, you’ll find access to various hiking trails and outdoor activities. It’s a great starting point for nature enthusiasts who want to explore the Smoky Mountains.
- Relaxation and Tranquility: The drive offers a sense of serenity and escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s a peaceful way to connect with nature and unwind.