The mountains of Tennessee provide some of the most breathtaking views in the country... and make for some pretty killer scenic drives, with new views of the landscape over every hill and around every bend. Cruise into the Volunteer State's gorgeous Southeastern region on the Cherohala Skyway to experience a different side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Rather than driving through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge (towns that are fun, but in a touristy and kitschy way), these back roads skirt the south edge of the park, a quieter part of the mountains that gives you enough space to relax, but enough excitement and surprising gems to still be wildly fun.
Connecting Tennessee and North Carolina, Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile road twisting and turning its way through the mountains of the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. The road is dotted with beautiful overlooks, brilliant foliage (this route is at its absolute prettiest in the fall) and a beautiful river. The road makes it easy to forget that the rest of the world exists, as its quiet splendor is unmatched.
The Lost Sea Adventure is a one-of-a-kind tour that takes you on a glass bottom boat ride through America's largest underground lake. Located in Craighead Caverns, the visible surface of the Lost Sea is 800 feet wide and 200 feet long... but that doesn't take into account the tunnels and passages below the surface. In fact, a diving expedition in the 1970s couldn't find the end of the underwater caverns! As you explore the caverns on a guided tour, enjoy the dark, mysterious vibes and fascinating history of the caves, from when Native Americans held meetings here, to its stint as a speakeasy.
Fort Loudon State Historic Park preserves a little-known but completely amazing bit of Tennessee history. Fort Loudon was built by the British during the French and Indian War at the western edge of what was then the colony of South Carolina. This was the Wild West of the 18th century, and this outpost was a small safe haven for settlers. Of course, it didn't last forever; once British and Native American relations deteriorated, the Cherokee tribe attacked the fort, took it over, and tore it down. During the Great Depression, though, the CCC rebuilt a replica of the fort, and it remains a great historic park. Explore the building, watch re-enactments, immerse yourself in the living history programs, and soak in the stunning views of the Appalachian Mountains!
Right on another scenic byway, Look Rock Campground is a great place for you to pack up for the night and get some must-needed relaxation. The campground is located right off of Foothills Parkway, and it is only a half-mile away from an observation tower with beautiful 360-degree views of the mountains. From the campground, you can see over 20 miles on a good day, so you won't want to leave your spot! Thankfully, once you get comfy in your dream RV from Thor Industries, you won't need to.
If you'd like more driving, Foothills Parkway is 18 miles of scenic observation points and lovely mountain views. Look Rock is the highest point on the parkway.
With a scenic view of the Little River, Little River Bar-Be-Que is your stop for some delicious traditional grub on your trip. The restaurant's smoker never stops running, and you can stuff yourself full with beef brisket, ribs, hush puppies and cole slaw. Don't forget to add one (or more) of their famous sauces to your meal!
The Bar-Be-Que joint is located right next to River Rage Tubing and a go-kart track. The restaurant does a special Tubing and Barbecue combo, so you can get more bang for your buck. They also do family to-go packs in case you want to eat your food on the drive, or have a picnic on the river.
End your trip with a cruise around the scenic Cades Cove loop inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Set in a wildflower-studded valley that offers views of the rolling mountains, Cades Cove also has tons of pull-offs that offer hikes (like the trail to Abrams Falls), historic buildings to explore, viewpoints, wildlife, and loads more. If you get here early in the morning you'll get peace and quiet, and the chance to see the mist that makes the Great Smoky Mountains so smoky!
With scenic curves, beautiful overlooks, and down-home eats, your trip through the mountains will leave you with memories of a lifetime. If you're looking for an experience in the Smokies that's a little more off the beaten path, then the Cherohala Skyway, with all of its beauty and quirky attractions, is an incredible experience that isn't to be missed!