In southern Appalachian vernacular, a gap is a low point in a mountain ridge. New Englanders call such places “notches” while westerners refer to them as mountain “passes.” At an elevation of 5,046 feet, Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The old road over the Smoky Mountains crossed at Indian Gap, located about 1.5 miles west of the current site. Newfound Gap's recognition as the lowest pass through the Great Smoky Mountains did not come until 1872. Arnold Henry Guyot, a Swiss geographer, measured many Southern Appalachian elevations. Mount Guyot, the second highest peak in the Smokies, takes his name. He used a simple barometer to measure changes in air pressure to calculate mountain heights. In most cases he was within 2-3 percent of current values.
His work revealed Newfound Gap as the lowest pass through the mountains, displacing nearby Indian Gap. When the lower, easier crossing was discovered, it became known as the “newfound” gap. A new road followed, and it became the forerunner of Newfound Gap Road.
A trip over the Newfound Gap Road has often been compared to a drive from Georgia to Maine in terms of the variety of forest ecosystems one experiences. Starting from either Cherokee, North Carolina or Gatlinburg, Tennessee, travelers climb approximately 3,000 feet, ascending through cove hardwood, pine-oak, and northern hardwood forest to attain the evergreen spruce-fir forest at Newfound Gap (5,046'). This fragrant evergreen woodland is similar to the boreal forests of New England and eastern Canada.
Newfound Gap runs from Sugerlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, TN, up over the mountains and down to Cherokee, NC.
Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to see all of the sites and to enjoy the different stops. Be sure to pull over for people that want to go faster then you
Open every day except Christmas Day.
January - February 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
March 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
April - May 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
June - August 8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
September - October 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
November 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
December 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Ranger-led programs conducted seasonally. Check at the visitor center for locations and times.
Free admission to 20-minute film about the park. Extensive natural history exhibits.
Great Smoky Mountains Association bookstore and shop. Public restrooms and telephones. Soda and water machines. Backcountry permit station.
This place is named in honor of Carlos Campbell,who was helped in the creation of the national park. This roadside exhibit focuses on different forest patterns in the mountains in front of you. The peak on your left is Bull Head and the far peak in the the center is Balsam Point.
Driving this road up to Newfound Gap from the lowlands is the botanical equivalent of going from Georgia to Canada. You can see the latitudinal changes before you on the vertical slopes of the Smokies, from mixed southern hardwoods to Canadian-zone evergreens.
You'll find the Little Pigeon River as a rushing cascade, with its banks line with giant hemlocks and other trees, which are remnants of an old-growth forest, saved by the creation of the park. This setting is perfect for a picnic and a stroll along the nature trail.
The is named from the towering Chimney Tops, twin peaks rising abruptly beyond it.
The nature trail here is a three-quarter mile loop that starts just after you enter the picnic grounds. The sheltered cove is unusual because of the accumulation of rich humus in its crevice, which gathers much runoff from rainfall and forms a natural course for springs and streams.
There are three overlooks that provide outstanding views of one of the best known features of the park. The twin peaks were known to the Cherokee as Duniskwal-guni (forked antlers). They cap a sheer rise of nearly 2,000 ft, one of the Smokies' steepest cliffs. The right-hand peak has a cavity in its top about 30 ft deep, the "flue" which inspires the name.
Directly across from the overlooks, the road cuts have exposed a wall of layered rock. See how the earth beneath you has been laid down, lifted, and tilted over the past half-billion years.
Stop and enjoy the rushing river and the roadside exhibit.
In the woods across the road, big angular rocks are exposed among the trees. During the Pleistocene ice age, the huge pieces were split by frost from rock ledges higher on the slopes. Overgrown by forest and lichen-covered today, these boulder deposits are from a colder time, a period when permanent snow fields dotted mountains like Le Conte.
Life in the Smokies depends on a thin layer of soil, which varies in depth from a few inches to several feet, all spread atop a solid rock core reaching nine miles deep in this mass of mountains. Small changes on the face of the land can make a drastic difference to the delicate balance.
This is difficult engineering even now; think of the obstacles faced by road builders with hand tools. Here the mountains crowd the Little Pigeon river closely on both sides, leaving little room for a road. To provide passage, a tunnel had to be cut and the road had to make a super switchback, actually looping back atop itself in a 360 degree circuit to stairstep its way up the steep slope.
A second interpretation of the loop came from local wag and mountain guide, Wiley Oakley. He claimed that when the road was built, there was some left over, so they "tied a knot in it."
Waterways like the Little Pigeon River, and the dozens of others that course through the mountains, are important to the abundance of life in the Smokies. This roadside exhibit demonstrates that graphically.
900 billion gallons of rain fall in the Smokies each year. The park includes 28 watersheds with minimal disturbance, producing some of the cleanest water in the eastern United States.
The gorge you are driving through was carved millennium after millennium by the force of this water. The giant rocks around you are carried by the water's force.
The Alum Cave Trail is the shortest and steepest of the five trails leading to the Le Conte massif, which contains four separate peaks in all, the highest of which has an elevation of 6,593 feet. Due to its short length and beautiful scenery (it is often considered Le Conte's most scenic route) it is the most common footpath for hikers seeking to reach the summit of Le Conte.
Along the way you will pass by Arch Rock, Alum Cave Bluff which is not a true cave. It is what geologists refer to as a rock shelter.
At the top you will find the LeConte Lodge which provides the only commercial lodging in the national park, as it operates about 10 rustic cabins with no electricity or appliances.
This overlook is named in honor of Ben A. Morton, Knoxville's mayor in the 1920s and an avid supporter of the effort to create a park here. The Chimney Tops are easy to spot on your left. They, like Mt. Mingus (the highest peak on your left), are part of a long ridge called Sugarland Mountain, which runs down from the crest of the Smokies toward Gatlinburg, hidden by peaks in the lowlands 15 miles away.
At this elevation northern hardwoods dominate. It's the type of forest you'd find, or instance, in upper New York and much of New England. Evergreen fir and spruce, which rule the higher slopes here, mix with broad-leaved hardwoods, chiefly American beech and yellow birch. This is near the upper limit of such trees as maples, black cherry, and hemlock; pin cherries, buckeyes, and serviceberry persist a little.
Out west this would be a pass and in New England a notch. The term refers to low points that provide passage across the crests of mountains.
For many generations, until surveys proved otherwise, the Indian Gap two miles west of here was thought to be the lowest in the heart of the mountains. When this point (at 5,046 ft) was discovered to be the lower, it was referred to as the "new-found gap".
This mainline Smokies ridge is the state line for Tennessee and North Carolina, and also the route of the famous Appalachian Trail. Of the trail's 2,174 miles from Maine to Georgia, 71 follow a path through the park's high country.
The gap not only provides outstanding views in many directions, but also is a spot full of meaning. On the rock platform President Franklin Roosevelt spoke in 1940.
Despite its heavy winter snows, the pass is kept open all year, except during and just after winter storms. When closed, the snow route is a long detour around the east-northeast end of the park, using U.S. 321 and Interstate 40. The Tennessee side typically has heavier snow because of its north and northwestern exposure. Even when valley roads are clear and there is little snow in Gatlinburg (and almost none in Cherokee), Newfound Gap may have far deeper snow, and will be closed for several hours after significant snowfall ends. Additionally, being in a national park, Newfound Gap Road is only treated by snowplows and a gravel/sand mix, as no chemicals can be used for snow removal due to their harm to the environment.
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Only Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mt. Craig (6,647), both located in Mt. Mitchell State Park in western North Carolina, rise higher. The observation tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360° views of the Smokies and beyond for visitors willing to climb the steep half-mile walk to the tower at the top.
The path to the top of Clingman's Dome is steep but paved. At the top they have built an interesting structure that gets you above the treeline and gives you the best view from inside the park. You've got great views of Tennessee and North Carolina and it's said on clear days you can see four states.
Stop in at the visitor's center near the parking lot to see times for ranger talks.
At this point you're perched atop Thomas Divide, a high ridge running in an arc from Deep Creek (near Bryson City) to the crest of the Smokies just above Newfound Gap Road, which follows the Oconaluftee River for most of its course up from Cherokee, climbs to the divide in a giant switchback just below, an S-curve that reverses your direction twice.
When the highway was built, it route followed the stream straight up the mountain below Thomas Divide. In the early 1960s that steeper version with its sharp hairpin curve was replaced by the wider loop and a more scenic drive along the top of the ridge.
Looking down the long ridge at the highway ribbon far below and into the undulating countryside in the misty distance, you may appreciate the reaction of a former visitor here.
It's said that a mountain man made his first-ever trip over the Smokies when the road was new, after spending his whole life in the Tennessee hollows. At this point in the drive he gazed long into the vast country below him and said, "If the world's as big back thataways as it is out younder, then she's a whopper!"
Many among the country's great natural preserves were set aside while still in their natural states. Here in the Smokies, a natural treasure that had already been populated and commercially exploited was bought back by the public and allowed to return to a wild state.
Some traces of humanity are preserved for their historic value. Such preservation requires diligence, however, since the land is always ready to heal itself and erase all evidence of such temporary taming by humans.
This overlook honors the memory of Asheville newspaper publisher Charles A. Webb, civic leader and conservationist whose efforts helped establish great Smoky Mountains National Park. From this point due south, you're looking down the valley of Deep Creek toward Bryson City.
You also have a good view of the park's highest peak, Clingmans Dome, which should be easy to spot a little south of due west. The distinctive backbone of the mainline Smokies covers 70 miles from its abrupt rise from the valley of the Little Tennessee on the west to the Pigeon River gorge on the east. Its average elevation is nearly a mile above sea level, and 16 park peaks exceed 6,000 ft.
In one sense, logging devastated the great Smokies, but the destruction of these vast old-growth forests led at last to enough public alarm to demand preservation. This exhibit tells something of the logging story the most important human factor affecting these mountains.
First effects were relatively small: clearing for farms and pastures, from early pioneers until about a hundred years ago. Commercial cutting began with selective removal of rare cabinet wood: walnut, cherry, birch, and hickory. With the nation's growth at the turn of the 20th century came enormous demand for construction timber: oak, tuliptree, and pine. And finally pulpwood (which included almost everything else) for paper and other uses.
Wholesale timber operations meant a vast network of railroads, lumber camps, and villages. and vulnerable bare land, exploited streams, logging roads, dangerous brush fires. It's hard to realize now, looking at this dense blanket of growth, that more than three-fourths of these lush contours were logged away, mostly in a scant 20 year period after 1900.
When, in the late 1920s, the drive began to preserve the land, nearly half of the acreage in what is now the park was owned b two lumber companies and most of the rest by seven others.
Here and there throughout the park are precious cathedral stands of majestic trees, vestiges of a grandeur that once cloaked the mountains. Given time and human care, the land heals itself; after 70 years, the evidence is before you.
It's pronounced "oh-kon-a-LUF-tee," and the name seems almost as long as the river itself. To the Cherokee, Ekwanulti means place-by-the-river. Corrupted through generations of unfamiliar tongues, it became Oconaluftee. In local parlance the name is often abbreviated as "Lufty."
The Oconaluftee River Trail is one of two walking paths on which visitors can walk dogs and bicycle. Pets and bicycles are prohibited on all other park trails.
The trail travels 1.5 miles one-way from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to the outskirts of the city of Cherokee, NC. It is relatively flat, but does have a few small hills. The trail runs through the forest along side the Oconaluftee River and offers beautiful views of the river.
182 Sites with a Pavilion that seats 70.
Closes at 8:00 PM May 1 - Aug 31; at sunset on other dates.
Pavilion can be reserved in one year in advance for $20 by calling (877)444-6777
Please remember that feeding bears and other wildlife is illegal. The black bear symbolizes the invaluable wilderness qualities of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But bears are dying unnecessarily due to improper disposal of garbage or illegal feeding by visitors. A bear’s remarkable sense of smell may lead it to human foods, such as a picnicker’s cooler, garbage left in the open, or food scraps thrown on the ground or left in the grill.
A bear that has discovered human food or garbage will eventually become day-active and leave the safety of the backcountry. It may panhandle along roadsides and be killed by a car or it may injure a visitor and have to be euthanized. Please do your part to help protect black bears and other wildlife in the Great Smokies. Clean your picnic area, including the grill and the ground around the table, thoroughly after your meal.
You can find a link in this guide to the reservation site for this campground.
The 142-site Smokemont campground is located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and approximately 6 miles north of Cherokee, North Carolina. The campground provides facilities for both tent and RV/trailer camping. The Bradley Fork River flows through the campground and provides for fishing opportunities. The campground allows access to the Bradley Fork Trail, located at the end of D loop, which leads to numerous other trails.
Campsites include a fire ring with cooking grill and a picnic table with lantern pole. Campsites in loops A, B and C also include a 13' x 13' tent pad. Generator use is prohibited in loops A, B and C from May 15 - Oct 31; reasonable generator use is allowed in loops D and F. Campsites are available on a first come, first served basis from November 1 through May 14. Loop F is for RVs only - no tents.
The nearby horse stable offers horseback rides and sells firewood. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Oconaluftee Indian Village and Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, located in Cherokee, NC, provide cultural and historical information about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Full service grocery stores are 6 miles away in Cherokee; medical facilities are 15 miles away in Sylva, NC.
Mingus Mill was built in 1886 by Sevier County, Tennessee millwright Sion Thomas Early for John Mingus, a son of John Jacob Mingus. Early completed the mill in three months for a cost of $600. The mill operated at wholesale and retail levels until the park service purchased the property in 1934. The mill was restored in 1937, but closed again during World War II. In 1968, the mill was again reopened.
Water diverted from Mingus Creek via a sluice (canal) and a wooden flume turns two turbines which provide power to the mill. An iron shaft connects the turbines to grindstones on the first floor and a wheat cleaner and bolting chest on the second floor (the latter two via a series of pulleys). Wheat or corn is first transported by bucket belt to the wheat cleaner, which is essentially a fan which clears the grain of dirt and excess material, and then drops it back to the first floor. The cleaned grain is then fed into the grindstones, which break it down into flour (or cornmeal). The flour is then transported back to the second floor and fed into the bolting chest, which uses bolts of progressively coarse cloth to separate the flour into different grades.
While the mill's turbine is not as photogenic as the overshot wheels that power mills such as the Cable Mill at Cades Cove, it was more efficient and required less water power to operate. The turbine generated approximately 11 horsepower (8.2 kW) turning at 400 rpm.
Aden Carver, who arrived in Oconaluftee in the mid-19th century, helped Early build the mill in 1886. When the mill was restored in 1937, Carver, then in his 90s, aided in its restoration.
Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM daily mid-March through mid-November. Also, open Thanksgiving weekend.
Cornmeal and other mill-related items are available for purchase at the mill.
Oconaluftee offers both a visitor center and the Mountain Farm Museum—a collection of historic log buildings gathered from throughout the Smoky Mountains and preserved on a single site.
At the visitor center, rangers can answer your questions about the park and there is a bookstore with a broad selection of guides, maps, and other products.
The Mountain Farm Museum is a unique collection of farm buildings assembled from locations throughout the park. Visitors can explore a log farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse, and a working blacksmith shop to get a sense of how families may have lived 100 years ago. Most of the structures were built in the late 19th century and were moved here in the 1950s. The Davis House offers a rare chance to view a log house built from chestnut wood before the chestnut blight decimated the American Chestnut in our forests during the 1930s and early 1940s. The museum is adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
The site also demonstrates historic gardening and agricultural practices, including livestock.
Structures at the Mountain Farm Museum:
John Davis Cabin, built in 1900. This cabin was originally located on Indian Creek several miles to the west above Bryson City. John Davis moved to the area in 1885 to free-range his livestock.
The cabin was constructed with matched chestnut logs joined with dove-tail notches.
Enloe Barn, built around 1880 by Abraham Enloe's grandson, Joseph, who owned the land where the museum is now located. The Enloes sold their farm to the Floyd family in 1917. This relatively large barn housed livestock in its lower stalls and grain and fodder in its lofts. This is the only structure that was originally located in Oconaluftee, being moved only 200 yards from its native spot. The roof consists of over 16,000 hand-split shingles.
Messer Applehouse, built by Will Messer of Cataloochee, a valley located within the park on the other side of Cataloochee Mountain to the east. At its original location, the applehouse was partially underground to help insulate it from the summer heat and winter cold.
The meathouse, located just behind the cabin, was moved to the site from Cataloochee. To cure meat (usually pork) and give it flavor, a small fire was built just inside the meathouse, exposing the meat to several hours of smoke,
The Baxter/Jenkins Chickenhouse, built by Willis Baxter in the late 19th century, was originally located at the base of Maddron Bald between Greenbrier and Cosby, Tennessee.Baxter's cabin is still located at its original site. Chickenhouses were used to protect chickens from carnivorous animals.
The blacksmith shop was built around 1900 and moved to the site from Cades Cove.
The springhouse, moved from Cataloochee, was used by farmers for refrigeration.
Two corn cribs, built around 1900, were moved from Thomas Divide, just north of Bryson City. Corn crib roofs were often raised to place the recently-cut corn crop inside. A large pitchfork was used to remove the corn via the small square doors when it was time to take the corn to the mill.
Other buildings include a hog pen, a sorghum press and still (used to draw sorghum from cane and boil it into syrup), an ash hopper (water was filtered through the ashes to extract its lye, which was then mixed with hog lard to make soap), a woodshed, and native fencing.
Two excellent walking trails start from the vicinity. The Oconaluftee River Trail follows its namesake stream for 1.5 miles to Cherokee. Mingus Creek Trail climbs past old farms to the Smokies high country. The easy, 1.5 mile Oconaluftee River Trail begins near the entrance to the museum. It is stroller-accessible and follows the river to Cherokee, N.C. Highlights: