5. Great Smoky Mountains NP & Cades Cove Self-Guided Tour
Explore the Great Smoky Mountains at your own pace with a self-guided and self-driving tour. Hike to Alum Cave, enjoy a panoramic view from Charles Overlook, and discover Cades Coves from the comfort of your own car.
Start by downloading the Action Tour Guide app that will function as your personal guide, audio tour, and map all in one.. Drive to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to start your journey. After exploring the Visitor Center, head past the Mingus Mill, a remnant of a once-thriving town.
As you drive to Beech Flats Quiet Walkway, hear accounts of the Cherokee people who once lived here. Learn about their legends and their struggle to hold onto their land. Once you arrive, enjoy a meditative stroll through nature.
Hop back into your car and head to Charles Webb Overlook, which offers a panoramic view of the park. Once you’ve snapped some stunning photos, continue toward Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies, for more unparalleled views of the mountains.
Continue to the trail for Alum Cave, one of the most popular hikes in the park. If you wish, take the moderate 4.4-mile roundtrip trail for beautiful panoramas and fascinating rock formations. After your hike, drive to Chimney Tops Overlook, offering more stunning mountain views.
Next, enjoy an easy wilderness walk at Balsam Point. As you continue past yet another incredible vista and another secluded walkway, hear little-known park history.
Jump back in your car and drive towards Gatlinburg, stopping on the way to check out the pristine Cataract Falls. In Gatlinburg, pass the famous Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Drive past Ogle Place, an old-timey homestead dating back to the 1800s, before arriving at Rainbow Falls.
Continue your drive past several more waterfalls and the historic cabins of Ephraim Bales and Reagan Tub, offering a fascinating glimpse into the past. Finally, finish your Great Smoky National Park tour with a visit to the old Ely’s Mill, which is still in operation today.
Start the second part of your combination tour, discovering Cades Coves, just west of Gatlinburg. From there, continue west toward the scenic loop.
The first landmark on your route is John Oliver Place, once home to some of the first homesteaders to make a living here. After that, pass 3 churches dating back to the 1800s and uncover the devastating impact of the Civil War on this community.
Drive to Elijah Oliver Place, a beautifully-preserved homestead offering an authentic look at early pioneer life. If you wish to stretch your legs, hike to Abrams Falls, a secluded, powerful waterfall.
Next, drive to Tipton Place. Finally, reach the Carter Shields Cabin, another idyllic homestead from a bygone era. Finish your tour at the start of the loop as you hear about the last family to call the cove home.