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mount leconte from foothills parkway

Alternatives to Cades Cove This Winter: Top 6 Places to Explore in the Smoky Mountains

This winter season, the only road to get to Cades Cove is closed to all traffic through Feb. 29 for repairs to Bote Mountain Tunnel. Although you can still hike to Cades Cove, it’s at least a 14-mile roundtrip hike to the Cades Cove Loop Road from any of the boundary trailheads. That’s why we’re giving you some alternatives to Cades Cove to visit this winter! Take the time to explore other beautiful areas in the park. Here are 6 places to explore in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park while Cades Cove is closed:

Other Mountain Drives

If you were hoping to enjoy a scenic drive in the Smoky Mountains this winter, there are roads other than the Cades Cove Loop Road you can take! Here are some of the most popular scenic drives to do in the winter:

1. Newfound Gap

newfound gap road with snow surrounding itNewfound Gap Road is a 33-mile roadway that connects Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. It provides the opportunity to experience everything the park has to offer in a short amount of time. Depending on traffic, the drive typically takes about an hour. During the winter, you’ll be able to see incredible mountain views. Campbell Overlook offers some of the best vistas in the park, including Mt. LeConte. Keep in mind, however, that the temperature at the highest point of the road is about 15 degrees cooler than Gatlinburg, which means there is a good chance of snow and ice. Keep an eye out for road closures throughout the season.

2. Foothills Parkway – Missing Link

The Foothills Parkway is one of the most beautiful drives in the Smoky Mountains. The southern-most miles run from US 129 at the Chilhowee Lake to US 321 at Walland. In 2018, the “Missing Link” section of the road was completed, adding a 16-mile stretch for a total of 33 continuous miles from Chilhowee to Wears Valley. You’ll love the gorgeous views you’re able to see from the comfort of your car along this road.

3. Tail of the Dragon

motorcycle riding on snowy roadTail of the Dragon is the top motorcycle and sports car road in America! It has more than 300 curves in an 11-mile stretch. It’s bordered by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest. There are many rideable days in the winter, and it’s a great time to have the road all to yourself. A benefit of riding the Tail of the Dragon in the winter is that the trees have dropped their leaves, so it’s easier to see around corners.

Popular Winter Hikes

If you’re missing some of the hiking opportunities in Cades Cove, don’t worry! There are other great hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for you to do during the winter. Here are 3 of the best:

4. Laurel Falls

laurel falls in the great smoky mountains national parkLaurel Falls is a 2.6 mile round-trip hike that is one of the most popular in the Smoky Mountains! After 1.3 miles, you’ll reach the 80-foot waterfall. The waterfall has both an upper and a lower section, which is divided by a walkway that crosses the stream at the base of the upper falls. It’s a great hike for families to do because it’s not too difficult!

5. Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is another popular winter hike that is 5.4 miles total to the waterfall and back. On sunny afternoons, a rainbow is produced by the mist from the 80-foot waterfall. What’s impressive about hiking this trail in the winter, however, is that a large ice formation can build around the falls during extended cold spells.

6. Alum Cave Trail

snow along the alum cave trailThe Alum Cave Trail offers gorgeous views in the winter. One of the highlights along the trail is Inspiration Point, which is a great place to view the valley surrounded by mountains. About 2.3 miles along the trail, you’ll reach the Alum Cave Bluffs. During the summer, water droplets fall from the ledges above, and during the winter, the water turns into large icicles!

Learn More About the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

While you wait for the road to Cades Cove to reopen, take time to explore what else the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer. Learn more about the national park, then start planning your visit!