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Everything You Need to Know About Driving the Foothills Parkway

Foothills Parkway in the Smoky Mountains
January 2, 2023

If you want to go on a scenic drive while you’re in the Smokies, Foothills Parkway is a great option. This is a unique drive in the area, and your whole family will enjoy seeing wooded and mountain views along the way. Keep reading to find out everything you should know about the Foothills Parkway:

History of the Foothills Parkway

foothills parkway

Foothills Parkway was approved by Congress in 1944. It was going to be 71 miles long and run from I-40 south to Chilhowee Lake at US 129. It was going to be completed in 8 phases. The first sections were built in 1966 and 1968. The most recent sections were completed in December of 2018. The remaining sections have yet to be started, but the national park has the right of way. Due to funding and environmental issues, the construction was delayed over the years, which is why this drive isn’t fully complete.

Driving the Parkway

In late 2018, what’s known as the “Missing Link” opened on Foothills Parkway. The Missing Link is a 1.65-mile section between Walland and Wears Valley that connects the full 16 mile road. Prior to the Missing Link, the Foothills Parkway was split into two sections. The west section of the road runs from US 129 at the Chilhowee Lake to US 321 in Walland to Wears Valley. The eastern section runs from I-40 south to US 321 near Cosby. Now, visitors can drive 33 miles of road connecting US 129 to US 321 in Tennessee.

Along the Drive

view from the foothills parkway

You’re probably wondering what all you can see along your drive. There are several overlooks along the west portion of the road. These overlooks aren’t officially named, but they are referred to based on what you see if you stop. A good portion of the drive is through the woods, which allows you to really take in the vegetation and possibly wildlife that thrives in the Smoky Mountains. This is especially beautiful when the leaves change colors in the fall.

No matter which overlook you stop at, you’ll have a new view of the mountains. You’ll probably want to stop at every single one to take in the breathtaking views. There are parking spots at almost every lookout so you can safely reach the vantage point.

If you want to get out and stretch your legs, you are capable of doing it along these overlooks, or you can stop at Look Rock. This section of the road has an incredible mountain view overlook with a short hiking trail. You can look at the view from where you park, or you can take a 0.8 mile hike up a path on foot. There’s also a picnic area with tables and charcoal grills. This is the perfect activity for families, couples, or anyone to enjoy. Pack yourself a picnic lunch or grab a bite from a local restaurant and bring it with you to enjoy at the Look Rock picnic area.

More Scenic Drives Near Foothills Parkway

If you love Foothills Parkway and are looking for another exciting drive in the Smoky Mountains, we can help! There are numerous scenic drives throughout the area that each offer something special. Enjoy the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Newfound Gap, or the ever-popular Cades Cove Loop Road! For more information, take a look at our favorite scenic drives near Gatlinburg!

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