With the Great Smoky Mountains on the east end and the mighty Mississippi River to the west, Tennessee is literally surrounded by beautiful scenery.
If you’re planning a road trip in Tennessee, it’s worthwhile including some of the scenic byways in your travels. Winding your way along mountain ridges or cruising along beautiful woodland lakes, these top scenic drives in Tennessee will captivate any traveler!
In this guide, you’ll see the best places to drive in Tennessee along with information about the other activities along the way, including everything from Civil War history sites to campgrounds.
1. Tennessee Scenic Drives: Cherohala Skyway
- Distance: 43 miles total, 23 in Tennessee
- Time Needed: 2 hours or more, depending on stops
The entire drive connects Robbinsville, North Carolina, with Tellico Plains, Tennessee, so it’s one of the best roads in Tennessee to take if you’re going to or coming from North Carolina.
The twisting, winding road has a scenic vista at every turn, so you’ll definitely want to plan for time to make stops for photographs or check out some of the hiking trails along the way. There are a couple of waterfalls visible from the road, such as the impressive Bald River Falls, or places to go swimming, like the Indian Boundary Recreation Area.
If you’re interested in camping, there are plenty of spots to pick from, some of which require reservations, and other campgrounds are on a first-come-first-serve basis.
When to go: Spring through fall are the best times for this drive since the road can be very dangerous in the winter.
2. Tennessee Scenic Drives: Cumberland Gap Scenic Byway
- Distance: 200 miles
- Time Needed: 4 hours to several days, depending on stops
Not only is this drive beautiful, it’s also one of the scenic byways in Tennessee with historic importance. The Cumberland Gap became a significant crossing point for thousands of pioneers and settlers who made their way west across Tennessee during the early days of the United States.
The drive connects Cumberland Gap on the east end and Dale Hollow on the west end. In between, it becomes one of the best scenic drives in middle Tennessee, taking you through farmland, up over bluffs, and along twisting roads with mountain vistas.
Cove Lake State Park is a good place to stop which is known for its beautiful mountain scenery and the pristine lake which is good for swimming, canoeing, and kayaking. Hiking enthusiasts will want to check out the nearby Devil’s Racetrack hiking trails which are known for their unique rock formations.
There are several historic towns the drive passes through, including Rugby, known for its original Victorian architecture, which has earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
When to go: Spring through fall are the best times of year to appreciate the hiking and outdoor activities along this Tennessee scenic byway.
3. Tennessee Scenic Drives: Sequatchie Valley Scenic Byway
- Distance: 70 miles
- Time Needed: 3 or more hours
The Sequatchie Valley is considered one of the most picturesque places in the state, thanks to the rolling hills and gently meandering Sequatchie River.
This is an excellent Tennessee scenic byway near Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville, making it easy to include on a road trip itinerary from a number of starting points.
Although the drive is doable in a few hours, if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll definitely want to set aside at least an entire afternoon, if not a day, to explore the valley. There are lots of hiking and biking trails accessible from the drive, and if you’re interested in a bit more of an adrenaline rush, hang-gliding and paragliding are also popular activities. There are several places that offer lessons and gliding experiences in the area.
One of the most visited places on the Sequatchie Valley scenic byway is Fall Creek Falls State Park. This stunning gem of Tennessee is home to the highest waterfall in the eastern United States, which plummets 256 feet. Definitely plan on making a stop to visit this largest waterfall, and if you have time-add a hike to one of the other falls like Cane Creek Falls or Piney Falls.
When to go: Spring through fall is best for outdoor activities, but it’s also possible to drive this route in winter.
4. Tennessee Scenic Drives: Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway
- Distance: 45 miles
- Time Needed: 1.5 hours or more
Known as the “Land Between The Lakes,” the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway connects Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.
Outdoor recreation is the main attraction of the area, whether it’s boating on one of the lakes, mountain biking on one of the thrilling trails, or hiking through the forest.
There are lots of outposts, which rent equipment like canoes, kayaks, bikes, or ATVs so you don’t need to worry about having your own gear.
Moss Creek Day Use Area is a popular place to visit thanks to the great swimming area and picnic area with grills. If you’re interested in spending a night or two, there are several campsites to choose from, like Hillman Ferry Campground. There are also some Bed & Breakfasts and cabins in the area if you’d rather not stay in a tent.
In addition to the outdoor activities, there are other interesting historic sites like the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living History Museum. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to before the Civil War, and there are various interesting seasonal activities guests can take part in like candle making or woodworking.
When to go: Each season has its benefits: summer is best for water sports, spring is known for its beautiful flowers, during the fall you can appreciate the bright autumn leaves and excellent hiking conditions, and winter is very picturesque and good for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
5. Tennessee Scenic Drives: Newfound Gap Scenic Byway
- Distance: 31 miles
- Time Needed: 1 hour or more
If you’re looking for scenic drives in the Great Smoky Mountains, Newfound Gap should be top of the list. This is the only paved road through these mountains and has stunning scenery of vistas and forested areas.
Driving isn’t the only thing that the Newfound Gap scenic byway is good for. The Appalachian Trail crosses the route, which any hiking enthusiast should plan on spending some time exploring. There are also several campgrounds like Smokefront Campground and places to stop for picnics like Chimney Tops picnic area and Collins Creek picnic area.
The Newfound Gap Road is well-maintained and not difficult to drive, but it’s best to go slow not only to take in the scenery but also to avoid accidents on some of the turns the route takes. Thanks to the numerous pull-off points at overlooks like Campbell Overlook and Morton Overlook, there are plenty of spots to safely stop to get out of your car to take photos or just soak in the mountain air.
When to go: Spring through fall are the best times of year but the drive is also open in the winter. Be sure to check before beginning your drive since the closures can happen because of the weather.
6. Tennessee Scenic Drives: Ocoee River Byway
- Distance: 30 miles
- Time Needed: 1 hour or more, depending on stops
Famous for being the first National Forest Scenic Byway established in 1988, there’s no doubt that the Ocoee River Byway remains one of the best Tennessee scenic drives.
The route was first built in the 1830s when it was a wagon trail used for transporting copper from the copper mines in the region.
There are lots of scenic overlooks on the drive, like the Ocoee Dam Overlook, which has a view of Sugarloaf Mountain, and Lakeview Overlook, which has a stunning view of Parksville Lake.
The drive also holds plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, from hiking to swimming. At the Lake Ocoee Marina, you can rent paddleboats, canoes, or other boats to explore Parksville Lake. At nearby Parksville Beach there is an excellent public swimming area as well as restrooms and a picnic area with grills and tables.
If you have time to add a hike along with this drive, then the Benton Falls Trail is a good pick. The fairly easy hike is about three miles round-trip and takes you to the stunning Benton Falls.
There are many places to camp along the Ocoee Scenic Byway, both for tenting and RV vehicles. Be sure to check about reservation status since some places are first-come-first-serve while others need a permit.
When to go: To enjoy the outdoor activities on this drive, spring through fall are the best seasons.
Read Next: The Most Beautiful Scenic Drives in Mississippi
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