• Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
From the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg, turn at stoplight #8 onto Historic Nature Trail—Airport Road. Go straight at the intersection and continue into Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle historic area provides the opportunity for a short walk on the self-guiding nature trail. A brochure introduces you to life on a mountain farm as well as some local flora and fauna.
Continue on to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a narrow, steep, but paved one-way road that winds through rich forests and offers glimpses of rollicking Roaring Fork creek. As the name implies, this road is designed for leisurely travel and enjoyment of nature. It is impassable to motor homes, buses, or trailers and is closed in winter.
Park at stop #3 and enjoy the view of fall colors and rolling mountains. A short stroll on the path to the right takes you to another viewpoint with benches that beckon you to sit a spell and enjoy the scenery.
At stop #5 you’ll have the opportunity to park and take a 2.6 mile round-trip hike through old-growth forest to Grotto Falls. This popular trail is of moderate difficulty.
A number of historic log and frame buildings can also be viewed along Roaring Fork. Of special interest is the Reagan tub mill, a tiny grist mill used for grinding corn into corn meal. The restored mill is located so close to the road you practically drive through it.
Near the end of the road, a waterfall called “Place of a Thousand Drips” can be seen on the left. During wet weather this waterfall is a remarkable sight.
The Motor Nature Trail ends in Gatlinburg. Turn left to return to downtown via US-321.
• The Blue Ridge Parkway and Balsam Mountain
Turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, which begins just north of Cherokee, NC, on US-441, near the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The scenic parkway follows the crest of the mountains for 469 miles, all the way to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Frequent auto pullouts along the first few miles provide spectacular views of the Smoky Mountains in all their autumn finery.
After 11 miles you leave the parkway by turning left onto the road to Balsam Mountain Campground. Pullouts along this ridgetop road offer fine views as well.
Turn at the campground and park near the entrance for a 0.75 mile stroll on the Balsam Mountain Self-guiding Nature Trail. This is an excellent opportunity to stretch your legs and learn about some of the plants and animals that inhabit these mile-high environs.
A little further down Heintooga Ridge Road is Heintooga Picnic Area (closes for season on October 9, 2006). Even if you’re not hungry, it’s worth walking to the far end of the picnic area for the view from Heintooga Overlook.
From the picnic area, take the one-way, unpaved Balsam Mountain Road (closes for season on October 31). The road is not recommended for large campers, buses, or trailers, but is fine for passenger cars. From this point it’s 27 miles back to Cherokee (18 miles unpaved).
|Fall In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park|