There’s nothing quite like taking a Jeep off the beaten path and onto a challenging trail.
If you’re looking for an off-road adventure, the Smoky Mountains are the perfect place to go. With everything from easy gravel paths to difficult rocky uphill climbs, there’s something for everyone.
*WARNING: Before you go out on any trails, please read through my list of essentials here. I could save your life!
The Smokies are home to dozens of trails and it may be difficult to decide on where to start. So I’ve picked out some of my favorites that highlight the beauty of this part of Tennessee’s amazing outdoors.
Here are 10 of my favorite Jeep trails in the Smokies:
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- Newfound Gap Road Drive
- Cherokee to Clingmans Dome
- Townsend Wye
- Little River Road
- Laurel Falls
- Metcalf’s Bottom Picnic Area
- Little Greenbrier School
- The Sinks
- Cades Cove Loop Road
Table of Contents
The 10 Best Jeep Trails in the Smokies
I always recommend doing a little research before hitting any trail for the first time or during bad weather. Knowing what to expect will help you prepare for the adventure and make sure you have the right mods and equipment.
Below is a detailed description of each of the trails and what to expect.
1- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
This 10.8-kilometer long trail passes near Gatlinburg in Tennessee. Here you will come across gently flowing rivers and streams that will make the ideal backdrop for scenic driving. No matter what your driving skill level, you should have no problems on this easy-going trail.
Just make sure that you watch out for black bears. And also keep a look on campers and travelers basking in the natural beauty of the Smokies.
You can drive your Jeep all the way to Grotto Falls, where you can relish much natural beauty along the way. There is plenty to capture on film, so be ready with your cameras. There is plenty of cascading water to see along the way, and at the end of your trip, you will be rewarded with the Place of a Thousand Drips.
This is a good place to visit if you are not driving for there will be plenty of traffic. Drivers will have to look out for big vehicles as well as people walking along the side of the road. You may have to stop your Jeep for wildlife crossings.
2- Newfound Gap Road Drive
The Newfound Gap Road Drive is another point-to-point trail that stretches over 47.3 kilometers. Driving your Jeep along this long track means that you will treat yourself to spectacular idyllic scenes of pristine mountain beauty. Make sure that you have your cameras ready to capture this natural rugged scenery.
The Newfound Gap Road passes close to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This road is easy to navigate, and you can access it year-round.
3- Cherokee to Clingmans Dome
The 37 kilometers long Cherokee to Clingmans Dome goes through Cherokee in North Carolina. You will come across a river as you travel this moderate-traffic trail.
Besides scenic driving, you can also make nature trips to suitable spots nearby while enjoying this trail.
Nature lovers will be quite pleased to see some elks along the way.
4- Townsend Wye
This is one of the most highly visited rivers in East Tennessee, thanks to the immense natural beauty surrounding it. Townsend owes its development to this river.
The river depth is ideal for picnic enthusiasts and families alike. Thus you can go swimming and have plenty of fun in the water. Driving along the shallow river also makes for a great experience.
5- Little River Road
Adventurers may want to visit Little River Road from the Metcalf Bottoms.
To reach Metcalf Bottoms, drive along Highway 321 South and then turn right to drive on the Line Spring Road. Keep going till you reach the picnic spot at Metcalf Bottoms. You can then reach Little River Road from here.
A leisurely drive along the Little River Road will reward you with gorgeous scenery from Townsend to Gatlinburg.
6- Laurel Falls
One popular trail in the national park is the 2.6-mile road that goes to Laurel Falls. The area is embellished with rhododendron and is known as laurels by early residents.
Laurel Falls is a 50 feet high water cascade that has a fairly placid pool at the bottom where you can bathe, soak and enjoy a marvelous outing.
7- Metcalf’s Bottom Picnic Area
The Metcalfs Bottom Picnic Area is a very sweet spot for enjoying the great outdoors. This spot used to be a family farm at one time but is now a well-loved picnic area.
During the construction of the Little River Road, the Metcalf family would bring workers fresh spring water to drink. The National Park Service named the area after this family to honor this kind gesture.
8- Little Greenbrier School
The Little Greenbrier School is located about a mile ahead of the Metcalf Bottoms. The charming school building evoked reminiscences of education in the 19th century.
The building is made of logs, and it also served as a church before the National Park Service finally took over. In the carefully restored schoolhouse from bygone times, you will find desks and benches in the classrooms together with blackboards and lecterns.
9- The Sinks
You can find The Sinks about 1.5 miles to the east of Metcalf Bottoms. There are deep pools and rapids in the area that you would like to see if you visit Metcalf Bottoms.
Legend has it that a train once fell into the Little River and was never traced. Whether that is true or not is debatable. However, this place came to be called The Sinks owing to this bit of local folklore.
10- Cades Cove Loop Road
I saved the best for last! The Cades Cove Loop Road extends to over 16 kilometers. This loop trail has a fair bit of traffic, so be ready. However, you will soon discover why this trail is so heavily frequented by travelers and adventurers alike. The scenery is simply fabulous, and there is so much to do here besides scenic driving like road biking, camping, and trekking.
The trail opens up spectacular vistas graced with wildlife, a lush valley, and historic structures.
Keep in mind that the road is open to foot and bicycle traffic only from May to September on Wednesdays for the whole day. But on all other days, the trail is open to Jeeps and vehicles from sunrise to sunset if the weather permits.
Cades Cove is the most popular tourist spot by far in the Great Smoky Mountains. The verdant valley features plenty of awe-inspiring mountains from which the place takes its name. Exploring the Cades Cove is the most obvious way of basking in the beauty of America’s favorite national park.
Nature enthusiasts will be thrilled to behold wildlife that comes their way, such as white-tailed deer. You will also likely run into coyotes, black bears, raccoons, turkeys, groundhogs, skunks, and perhaps other fauna as well.
It is said that the Cherokee nation hunted in these parts for hundreds of years. However, there is no archaeological evidence for any major settlement.
The first settlers may have populated the area somewhere from 1818 to 1821. The population was just 270 by 1830. Thus, you will have the pleasure of seeing some really fascinating historical edifices that will take you back in time. There are more historic buildings here than any other trail in the Smokies.
Log houses, barns, grist mills, and three churches are some of the restored buildings that have stood the test of time.
The loop trail is one way. You can drive along at a leisurely pace in your Jeep while admiring the sights and sounds of the mountains. A walk through the landscape is a good idea to explore some areas and come closer to nature.
Halfway along the loop trail, you will run into the Cable Mill area that stands as a monument to the rich past of this place. You can also make good use of the visitor center as well as restrooms that are close to the Cable Mill.
Here, you will have the chance to visit the Rocky Top that was made popular by a well-known song. You can also hike all the way to Thunderhead Mountain by embarking on the many trails to be found in Cades Cove. Make sure that you go along the 5-mile roundtrip trail that will take you through Abrams Fall.
The road is fairly accessible since it is smooth, paved, and typically over 4 feet wide in most places. The grade is under 5%. At about the 2-mile and the 4.6-mile mark, you will run into the steepest points, where the grade ranges from 10 to 13 percent. Those using strollers, wheelchairs, and other mobility equipment may find it too difficult to cross these points without assistance. The mobility impaired should also know that most places around the historic sites are surrounded by dirt and gravel and are not accessible to the wheelchair-bound.
There are drinking fountains along the way to quench your thirst.
There are times when there is heavy traffic along with this popular tourist hotspot. You may want to embark on a bicycle trip or a trek on foot if that is the case, so plan your itinerary accordingly. But those walking should be careful since there are plenty of black bears that frequent this area.
Going off-road in the Smokies is a great way to experience the beauty and serenity of this area. With so many trails to choose from, there’s something for everyone.
Be sure to do your research before hitting the trails, and always remember to pack the proper gear. Have a fun and safe journey!