The scenic drives in the Smokies can introduce you to plenty of wildlife, rushing streams, colorful flowers, lush forests, mountain vistas, and historic buildings—all from the seat of your car. To get the full flavor of the Smokies, be sure to park in plenty of the many pull-offs so you can get out and explore on foot as well.
This is the fourth in a series of posts describing the park’s best scenic drives.
Little River Road is one of the prettiest drives in the park. With its big gray boulders, mini-cascades, and sun-dappled surface, the meandering Little River (which is ironically one of the larger rivers in the park) follows the road most of the way.
|Walker Sisters Cabin. Photo by Donald Miller.|
The road traces 18 miles from its start at the Sugarlands Visitors Center to its end at the park’s Townsend entrance, but the twists and turns make the drive about 45 minutes. Along this road you’ll encounter the trailhead to Laurel Falls (2.5 miles, round trip) and a turnoff leading to both the Elkmont Campground and the Elkmont self-guiding nature trail (0.75 miles, round trip).
Little River Road also takes you to the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, where the trailhead is located for the Metcalf Bottoms Trail leading to the Little Greenbrier School (1.2 miles, round trip). In most seasons, you can also take a one-mile drive from the picnic area on the Little Greenbrier Road across the bridge to get to the school, but the road is closed in winter. At the schoolhouse, you can extend your hike along the Little Brier Gap Trail to the Walker Sisters Cabin (2.2 miles additional, round trip).
The cabin dates back to the 1800s and was occupied by the Walker Sisters until 1964. The structure was temporarily closed to the public as of December 2021 for repairs to be carried out throughout 2022.
|The Sinks area along Little River Road. Photo by Gerald Botkin|
From Metcalf Bottoms on, Little River Road has more bends in it than a slinky. You can round a turn and suddenly face a waterfall that’s gone in a few seconds as the road twists in a new direction. In fact, the 28-foot Meigs Falls can be seen tucked back about 300 feet from the road at marker #6. (Winter is an excellent time to see Meigs Falls, since there won’t be any leaves blocking the view from the road.) Drive with care and use the pull offs.
Little River Road technically ends at the Townsend Wye (the Townsend entrance to the park), although the roadway continues as Laurel Creek Road, leading seven miles to Cades Cove.
Fun Factivity: Have your kids look at the sedentary rock walls along Little River Road to see if they can identify Indian Head Rock, which resembles a man’s profile. (The spot is 15 miles from where the road begins in Sugarlands, or three miles from its other end at the Townsend Wye.) The road curves around this larger rock, an outcropping that rises 50 feet and juts out above the roadway. In 2006, a big chunk of the rock under the “chin” fell into the road. Special engineers trained to work with rock faces glued and bolted it back into place, ensuring it will remain for generations to come.
Katy Koontz is an award-winning freelance writer, author, and editor whose work has appeared in numerous publications. She has served as a freelance editor for several best-selling authors and is herself the author of several works, including Family Fun in the Smokies: A Family-Friendly Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains, Smoky Mountain Travel Guide, and The Banana Police.