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The 10 Best Mountain Roads in Tennessee

Here's what you need to know...

No matter where you travel in the state of Tennessee, you will find a piece of its rich history.

Within Tennessee are the homes of former Presidents Jackson, Johnson, and Polk. Historic battlefields and frontier cabins are other historical markers located here.

The Cherokee Heritage Trails allows visitors to explore native culture and history. Tennessee also offers the Civil War Trails for those who want to learn more about the Civil War Drama.

If you are looking to visit Tennessee soon, make sure you have the proper coverage first. Enter your ZIP code above to start comparing auto insurance rates!

History of the Appalachian Mountains

It was more than 16,000 years ago when Native American hunter-gatherers first came to Appalachia. The Icehouse Bottom site in Tennessee is an Archaic Period archeological site. During the 16th century, the mountains of Tennessee were home to complex agrarian societies.

English explorers arrived in the late 17th century. European immigration began here in the 18th century.

The mountains of upper Tennessee saw an increase in settlers near the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. Frontiersmen of Appalachia were known for being rugged and hardy.

Daniel Boone is an excellent example of these frontiersmen, and he helped in the early settlement of Tennessee.

The mountains of Appalachia saw many battles and turmoil during the American Civil War. An economic boom happened in this area post-Civil War. Poverty struck by the 1950s due to poor farming practices and changes within the mining industry.

Today, this area is growing in popularity due to its IT sectors.

Major Mountains and Views in Tennessee

– The Appalachians

The Appalachian Mountains is one of the largest mountain ranges in North America. It runs through several different eastern states, including Tennessee.

Sedimentary and volcanic rock can be found throughout the mountain range. Many different deciduous broadleaf (hardwood) trees reside here as well as eastern hemlock, the balsam fir, and the Fraser fir. Moss and several different types of fungi also live here.

Animals that live in this mountain range –just to name a few– would include:

  • Wolves
  • Squirrels
  • Owls
  • Snakes
  • Hawks
  • Moose
  • Deer

– The Smokies

Found among the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the Great Smoky Mountains are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains. Sometimes referred to as the Smoky Mountains or the Smokies, this area is protected as a National Park and has an estimated 187,000 acres of old growth forest.

Here you can find many black bears and the most diverse salamander population found outside of the tropics.

Due to their prominence, the Smokies get large amounts of precipitation each year, usually between 50 and 80 inches. Views of numerous wildflowers and slate rock can be seen in these majestic mountains.

– The Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains originate in southern Pennsylvania with chief summits located along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, known as the Unaka Front.

Here you can see metamorphic rocks which mimic the look of marble cake with their folds and swirls of light and dark-colored minerals.

These mountains are filled with grass, shrubs, hemlock, and mixed-oak pine forests. If you are lucky, you might spot an American black bear, a wild boar, a whitetail deer, or even one of the many different species of reptiles and amphibians that call these mountains home.

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What makes a good mountain road?

A good mountain road will have several different characteristics, such as:

  • Twists and turns – If you are looking for a mountain drive, you probably are not looking for an easy straight road.
  • Views – A mountain drive without scenic views is just another drive. A good mountain road will have several different views such as valleys and other mountains.
  • Clearings to see how high you are – Half the fun of taking a mountain drive is being to see how high up you are. Without being able to do so, you may as well not be in the mountains.
  • Waterfalls or other neat features – Seeing a waterfall or another unusual feature on your mountain drive makes it even more worth the time that you spend.
  • Seasonal views – An excellent mountain drive should show you what season it is. In the fall, you should be able to enjoy all of the different colors of leaves on the trees. In the winter, you may be able to see snow or ice and the evergreen trees.
  • Areas to park and explore – No one likes to be cooped up in the car for extended periods of time. Having at least one area where you can get out to explore and see different views can be good for your mind, body, and soul.

The 10 Best Mountain Roads in Tennessee

#1 – Blue Ridge Parkway

If you are ready for a relaxing mountain drive, try the Blue Ridge Parkway.

From this road, you get a front seat view of long-range mountain tops as well as the stunning landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands.

At 469 miles, this road offers plenty of opportunities for sight-seeing. Year-round you can view over 100 tree species, and in the spring, tulip trees and serviceberries bloom in full force.

#2 – The Tail of the Dragon

Known formally as US129, Tail of the Dragon Road can be found between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Trail.

Not only does this road have a unique name, but it also has unique views and tight turns. It is a popular mountain drive for many as it has no intersecting roads or driveways.

In fact, it is America’s number one motorcycle and sports car road with 318 curves in only 11 miles.

#3 – The Snake

North of Mountain City, Tennessee, the Snake begins on US 421 in the farmland. However, drivers quickly note that it changes into a twisty mountain climb into the forest.

Thankfully, the road quality is good. You will come across a country store where you can stop for a bite to eat or for some souvenirs.

Eventually, you will find Backbone Rock. Here the road passes through a tunnel. Backbone Rock is an ideal spot to stop to stretch your legs and take some pictures.

#4 – 300-Mile Loop of Scenic Roads in Western NC and Eastern TN Mountains

This 300-mile stretch of road begins and ends in Waynesville, North Carolina. To drive the entire road will take you about eight hours, not counting any restroom or sightseeing breaks you may take.

Here you will be witness to some of the most memorable and twisty roads in the Blue Ridge and the Smoky Mountains in both Tennessee and North Carolina.

#5 – Cherohala Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway has been called a best-kept secret by some travelers. This road runs for 18 miles in North Carolina before descending into its final 23 miles in the forested backcountry of Tennessee.

Waterfalls, scenic views, long sweeping corners, and summer breezes are just some of what you will experience on this drive.

Be prepared with a full tank of gas and an empty bladder as there are only a few restrooms and no gas stations on this drive.

#6 – Moonshiner 28

Moonshiner 28 provides travelers with breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala Forest on a 107-mile winding road. Many curves, untouched scenery, lakes, and waterfalls can be seen on this drive.

While legend has it that this road used to be frequently used for moonshiners, today, it is a road less traveled.

#7 – Cove Creek Road

Cove Creek Road leads to the Cataloochee Valley. If history is what you crave in a mountain drive, this is the drive for you.

Many historic buildings are in this valley such as churches, schools, homes, and historical frame buildings.

From the road, you can see many of the 6,000-foot mountain peaks. It is not unusual to see an elk or two on this drive, especially during the hours of sunrise or sunset.

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#8 – Newfound Gap Road (US Highway 441)

Newfound Gap Road is a 33-mile long road that runs between Gatlinburg to North Carolina.

There are several opportunities to pull off of this paved road to enjoy the mountain’s panoramic views. Plan to stop at the top where you can use the restrooms and take in the beautiful views of the spruce forest.

This road will also provide you with access to the Appalachian Trail.

#9 – Balsam Mountain Road

Balsam Mountain Road can be accessed at milepost 58 off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and has a campground around its peak.

You can enjoy a quiet scenic ride with views of trees, flowers, and shrubbery all the way up to the top of the mountain. Some lucky travelers may even spot some whitetail deer or a black bear.

#10 – Roan Mountain Road

With a distance of nearly 43 miles and an elevation of over 6,000 feet, Roan Mountain Road runs from Tennessee to North Carolina. This road is popular with motorcyclists near and far.

You will first enjoy the drive along the river, and then as you climb higher into the mountain you will have access to picnic sites and campgrounds.

At times you will be treated to glimpses of valleys and horizons that not many get the chance to see.

Safe Driving Tips for the Mountains

– Pack Plenty of Supplies

Any trip should begin with preparations for safety and emergencies, especially mountain road trips.

Be sure you have a full gas tank and possibly some extra gas. Top off all of your vehicle’s fluids and pack food and water.

– Take an Emergency Kit

In addition to food, water, and extra fuel, there are a few other emergency supplies to have with you. Pack a flashlight, road flares, bottled water, a blanket, and a first aid kit.

– Drive Appropriately

Mountain driving requires different skills than city or rural driving. You need to be sure you brake early and drive slowly around turns and on downgrades.

If you need to downshift, do it when you brake and before you go into a decline. You should also use a pulse braking method in which you let off of your brake for short periods of time to allow it to cool down.

– Be Aware of Weather Conditions

Make sure you check the weather forecast before starting off on your journey. Pack your supplies accordingly, and if the weather seems like it may get severe, postpone your trip.

Be aware that weather conditions in the mountains are known for being severe and for changing quickly.

– Have the Right Coverage

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Protect yourself, your vehicle, your passengers, and fellow drivers by making sure you have the insurance coverages you need before going on your mountain drive.

If you need to lower the price you pay for auto insurance, consider using a price comparison tool online. These tools are a convenient way to view several different policies and premiums all in one place to comparison shop.

Try our FREE online quote tool and start comparison shopping today! Enter your ZIP code below to begin!

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