One of the reasons Knoxville, TN was a great choice for us was I wanted to be near mountains. Knoxville is located between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Smoky Mountains. How great is that? Two great areas to explore.
We spent a little time already in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We had to drive through it to get to Knoxville. The drive from the North to Knoxville is amazing. You climb up the top of the mountains and you ride the spine. It was a super awesome RV drive. We also visit Norris Dam with is near us and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I had been wanting to take a drive through the Smoky Mountains. I also had been wanting to drive the Tail of the Dragon highway. Any highway with a death count has to be a good drive right?
Here is the map I plotted on Google maps.
Lucky for me, Google Map for the cell phone does not talk to Google Map from the website. For some totally awesome reason we ended up taking 321 South of Maryville. The Google Maps on my iPhone directed me at a random time to pull off the main road. I ended up on an amazing route called Foothills Parkway. On Google on my laptop browser I couldn’t make my computer plot a map through the parkway.
The parkway was AMAZING. Every few miles it had places to pull over and take pictures. It was breathtaking. I want land over here! Even better it was February. That means no tourists. We only saw 1 other car the entire drive. It was so refreshing. I was emotionally pumped up to see the beauty around me.
The crazy part is that these are the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. It only took about 50 minutes from my house to get here.
I had no idea where we were. I am pretty sure my phone lost data for a while south of Knoxville and then when it “found” us again it just did an emergency route here. I don’t really know how I found this road but I am so glad we did!
I also didn’t know where the Tail of the Dragon started. The road was nice and twisty so I kept wondering if we were on the road?
At the end of the parkway we turned left and followed a beautiful river for a bit. Then we noticed a sign that warned of no large trucks. Then we saw grave stones. And lots of warning signs to go slow.
The Tail of the Dragon is unbelievably hilly and curvy. Halfway into the pass we took a break. Partly because my hands were burning from the steering wheel sliding around. The main place to stop had a cool stone wall where various drivers painted their names.
All along the path were various stopping points for one car so you could watch other vehicles drive. This was the only place that had great views on the trail.
The main draw are the turns and twists. The curves were actually banked. No guard rails. You periodically saw little crosses and markers were people died. The road is full of blind corners and various places to plummet to your death.
My truck is not a sports car. It is a 21 year old 4×4. I was often doing 10 or 15 mph just to stay in my lane. Crazy! I can’t imagine the pandemonium that must take place when people from all over the world show up to ride motorcycles and race cars through the passage.
After the ride we stopped for pictures. The famous bar and tourist trap is closed for the winter, but we still jumped the gate and took pictures!
Winter means nothing is open. We saw 1 other car at the Tail of the Dragon. All the stores were closed. I was actually feeling a little dizzy from driving the section. Lucky a few miles down the road we found a diner. 4 hotdogs, 2 drinks and $17 dollars poorer we were back on the road for the trip home.
Again, the GPS messed us up. Should I also mention the GPS is set to not use U-Turns? I accidentally went the wrong way out the diner. Instead of telling me to turn around it took me 5 miles down a twisty road. Into a picnic area at a government run dam. We then proceeded to climb a dirt road that Google can’t find anymore. I did manage to find the road in satellite view.
I am not going to lie. I had a lot of fun and was glad we got lost! I did get a little scared because some of it was really muddy and rutted. There was no place to turn around and no guard rails. The road was very steep, and I am not so sure I was supposed to be driving it. A few places had just been timbered. I have a feeling some trees recently blocked the path and someone else cut a path through the fallen trees. If you lived in the area this road probably saves you about 15 minutes of driving if you have a 4×4.
At this point we realized we wouldn’t be home until 5pm and Tracy needed the car by 3pm. I had no cell coverage for hours so I was expecting a lot of trouble. Lucky for me Tracy had her tutoring gig cancelled for the day.
With as much excitement as the boy and I had, we still had a lot to go. The last leg was driving the Smokey Mountain Parkway home. The people at the diner called the park service and found out the road was open. Apparently the road gets shut down from ice and snow a lot in January and February.
Lucky for me and the boy it was all open!
The fact is I am bored talking about how amazing it all is. The imagery of the blue in the sky and the peaks of mountains still burn in my retinas. The frozen waterfalls down the sides of the mountains. The fast flowing rivers, the acres of forests, and the piles of snow all clash together in my mind as a collage of scenes that I can’t imagine ever forgetting. The views and vistas remind me of my place in the universe.
The entire drive is full of overlooks and info boards explain the history of the land. Fun Fact: Apparently we chopped every tree down by the end of WW1 so we could build a lot of airplanes to blow Germany up with. What we see today is the results of the 2nd seeding when the national parks were created.
With all the getting lost and breaks we ended up driving for about 7.5 hours. It ended up being pretty exhausting.
When I close my eyes and remember the day I still feel the elevation changes and see the beauty I was surrounded with.
I can’t wait to go do it again soon!