Newfound Gap Road#1 in Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Also known as notches or passes, gaps are the low points in a mountain ridge. The Newfound Gap, which sits at an elevation of 5,046 feet, is the lowest drivable pass in the park. The 31-mile, scenic Newfound Gap Road – U.S. Route 441 – runs through the center of the park from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, over the mountains and into Cherokee, North Carolina. Mile markers denote several interesting attractions along the way, including the Newfound Gap, Mingus Mill, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum, and the Smokemont Campground and Nature Trail.
Recent travelers who drove along this route raved about the mountain views and photo ops, although some called the twisting mountain road "an automotive roller coaster." Many recommended the Newfound Gap visitor area for its quality facilities and access to trailheads, noting that the Appalachian Trail also crosses here. If you're visiting on a holiday weekend, prepare for crowds: some travelers said they were unable to find parking at many of the stops.
Newfound Gap Road can be accessed from the main parkway in Gatlinburg that leads to the Sugarlands Visitor Center; follow the signs to Cherokee. For more information about Newfound Gap, check the NPS website.
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#2 Sugarlands Visitor Center
According to recent travelers, the Sugarlands Visitor Center should be your first stop in the park. The visitor center features extensive natural history exhibits and screens a free 20-minute film about the park. The center also houses a bookstore, a gift shop, restrooms and a variety of information including trail maps. There are also several ranger-led programs offered seasonally.
Recent visitors recommended picking up both driving and trail maps here, and many commented on the excellent displays in the wildlife exhibit. Most travelers appreciated the helpful staff and the gift shop, as well as the clean restrooms. However, some lamented the limited parking during peak seasons.
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