If you’re making it a Great Smoky Mountains National Park vacation as a trip from somewhere further north, like driving from Michigan, Ohio, or Kentucky, then driving along the Foothills Parkway can make for a perfect quiet welcome to the Smoky Mountains!
Otherwise you can make a trip out here if you’re looking to escape the crowds a bit.
You can make a stop at any of the many overlooks and eat a picnic lunch with views!
You’ll be driving a tree-lined road on the Foothills Parkway.
The Foothills Parkway is not technically considered to be within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, although it is managed by the national park.
It is located just outside the national park on the northern side in Tennessee, and it can provide great views of the Smoky Mountains.
There are currently 2 sections of the Foothills Parkway, the west side and the east side.
The list below covers the westernmost 16-17 miles of the Foothills Parkway.
Explore the map.
The western side of the parkway extends a further 14-15 miles to the east.
This means that it’s possible to drive around 31 miles of the western Foothills Parkway.
The western side of the Foothills Parkway (Townsend TN side) and the eastern side of the Foothills Parkway (Cosby TN side) are not connected. The construction of the road to connect the 2 parts is in the “planning phase” according to the National Park Service in 2018. Those who are in the know indicate that it might be another 20 years until the western Foothills Parkway connects to the eastern Foothills Parkway. The US government originally authorized the Foothills Parkway to be built in 1944. (lol…)
Side note! See the more of the Smoky Mountains:
- Best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains
- Best hikes with VIEWS in the Smoky Mountains
- Best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains
- Driving the scenic route from Gatlinburg to Clingman's Dome
- Driving the slow scenic route from Gatlinburg to Cades Cove
- The big list of things to do in the Smoky Mountains
Here’s the quick list of stops you can make on the western portion of the Foothills Parkway!
This will be in order if you are entering from the southwest entrance of the Foothills Parkway.
If you want to drive the Foothills Parkway coming from the other end, start the list from the bottom up!
For reference, the “map” will link to the exact spot on google maps. And speaking of google maps, it’s best to download offline maps before you go since you may not have much data, if any at all, in these parts of the mountains. That goes for most of the national park. While data may not work, GPS still widely does, so you can use offline maps to navigate.
You don’t actually need to do much real planning for the Foothills Parkway, except to know where it starts! Once on the Foothills Parkway, you can just stop at any of the overlooks that look good to you as you approach any of the many parking areas located on the side of the road!
In any case… Here’s a sampling of stops you can make!
Things to do on the Foothills Parkway, west side
1. Welcome to the Foothills Parkway!
2. Foothills Parkway West Overlook #14 / Southwest parking spot #1
3. Southwest parking spot #3
4. Foothills Parkway West Overlook #10 / Southwest parking spot #5
5. Look Rock lower overlook / Southwest parking spot #6
There’s a pretty big parking area here compared to the other parking spots. You could say the Look Rock area is the “main attraction” of this part of the Foothills Parkway.
6. Look Rock Trail to the Look Rock Tower
After you take in the views at the Look Rock lower overlook, you can then walk on over to the start of the trail to the Look Rock Tower. It seems as though in normal times you can climb up the tower, but in fall 2020, it was closed. (I assume because of covid.) Even if you can’t climb up the tower, you can get sweeping views of the area. This will be a round trip 1 mile hike.
7. Look Rock picnic area
The Look Rock picnic area (and campground) is a short drive from the Look Rock overlook parking. There are some tables that come with views! Picnic area was open for use in fall 2020.
Also… bears. You will see a “bear-proof” trash dumpster. For the everyone’s safety, be sure to take care about trash! This area is bear country.
If you’re looking for a bathroom when you’re driving this section of the Foothills Parkway, the Look Rock picnic area is where to go!
8. Southwest parking spot #8
9. Southwest parking spot #15
10. Welcome to Foothills Parkway!
There’s a sign on the other end too if you’ll be entering the Foothills Parkway from this side.
And then onwards you drive from the Foothills Parkway to your next destination!
One option would be to pass through the town of Townsend, and then drive the Little River Road (the slow scenic route) to get to Gatlinburg.
Or, you can cross the highway (Highway 321 / Lamar Alexander Parkway) to further continue driving more of the Foothills Parkway too, and then make your way to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.
For more great drives during your Smoky Mountains vacation, be sure to see:
HAPPY DRIVING THE FOOTHILLS PARKWAY!
Best shoes for hiking in the Smoky MountainsYou will want good shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains.
In general, the best shoes for hiking in the Smoky Mountains will be hiking boots (more ideal) or trail running shoes (more versatile for everyday activities compared to hiking boots but still will give you advantages compared to regular shoes).
I liked wearing my hiking boots for the thicker soles (good on rocky trails) and the waterproof (water resistant) nature of them.
They were especially helpful on rainy day hikes to keep my shoes (and socks!) dry! They are also better to be walking on mud compared to regular shoes.
On rougher terrain (like the trails that are a bit rougher with more rocks), hiking boots are more ideal so you won't feel it on the bottoms of your feet as much.
If you want shoes that can work out better as everyday "out and about" kind of shoes, then you might like trail running shoes better! Trail running shoes are a little more durable than regular shoes, so they can also work out as good hiking shoes. Trail running shoes are a bit lighter weight and less bulky compared to hiking boots.
Shoe fit is very important for your feet! Be sure to break in your new shoes by walking around the neighborhood and/or at the grocery store before you go on your "big hike" in the Smoky Mountains!