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Ultimate Atlanta to Smoky Mountains Road Trip Itinerary

Planning a road trip from Atlanta to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or to Gatlinburg?

The road trip from Atlanta to the Smoky Mountains is one of the most scenic in the country.

It’ll take you through a diverse region with tons of attractions and activities for all ages-from visiting Civil War sites, to enjoying arts and crafts festivals, to taking a ride on the world’s largest wooden roller coaster!

You will be driving through gorgeous scenery in northern Georgia, North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee.

Find the best routes, the must-see stops, best time to visit, and what to pack for your Atlanta to Smoky Mountains Road Trip in this detailed guide.

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Routes from Atlanta to Smoky Mountains

There are three different routes that you can take for this road trip.

Via US-23 N and US-441 N

This route will take you through the charming mountain towns of Northern Georgia and via North Carolina to the eastern entrance of the Smoky Mountains near Cherokee.

The trip is 190 miles long and takes 3 hrs 30 mins.

Via US-74

Alternate way of reaching the eastern entrance of the national park from Atlanta GA is US-74.

The route passes through Canton, the charming town of Blue Ridge, Georgia and Nantahala National Forest before reaching Whittier and the Oconaluftee entrance to the Smokies near Cherokee.

The trip is 204 miles long and takes 4 hrs 20 mins.

Via I-75 N

The trip is 260 miles long and takes almost 5 hours.

You can also visit the park from Atlanta, Ga via I-75.

This route crosses the Georgia Tennessee order near Lookout Mountain. You can spend  a day in Chattanooga before heading north towards Knoxville.

From Knoxville, head to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, then visit the national park.

Loop Road Trip

So exactly which route should you take?

We recommend a loop road trip if you have the time.

Take the I-75 to Knoxville and explore Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga along the way.

Enjoy a weekend in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

Then spend time exploring the natural beauty of the Smokies.

Return via the eastern entrance in North Carolina via US-74 or the US-441/Us-23 route.

Atlanta to Smoky Mountains: Essential Stops on US-23 & US-441

Here are some essential stops on this route.

Atlanta

If you are flying into Atlanta, then be sure to spend some time in this vibrant city.

You can easily rent a car near the Atlanta airport for your trip.

It is home to attractions such as the World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium, the Atlanta History Center, and Grant Park.

Explore the city by taking a walking tour. Hit some of the city’s top museums and galleries.

Go for a stroll in Piedmont Park to see its lakes, ponds, and monuments.

Dine at famous restaurants or enjoy a food crawl through the Farmer’s markets.

Dahlonega

Next you can visit the historic town of Dahlonega.

Dahlonega was home to the first gold rush in the United States.

The area has preserved much of its old charm and there are several attractions such as The Gold Museum, 1833 Courthouse Square, Firefighter’s Park, and the Old Dahlonega Jail.

Helen

The Appalachian town of Helen makes a perfect pit stop on this road trip.

Take a stroll along Helen’s Main Street and admire the Bavarian architecture. Eat some bratwursts and drink beer while in the town.

The town has beautiful views of the Georgia mountains and is surrounded by numerous hiking trails.

Helen also hosts a major Oktoberfest each fall that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the country.

Cherokee

Next head your way north to Cherokee, North Carolina.

You can spend time exploring Cherokee and its attractions such as the Oconaluftee Indian Village, Tsali Recreation Area, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and more.

Get a scenic view of the mountains from Cherokee’s Blue Ridge Parkway.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Finally, you will reach the famous national park by the Oconaluftee entrance.

See the elk near the Visitor Center, then drive the Newfoundland Gap Road to explore the park.

Search for wildlife including the famous black bears.

Stay in a hotel in Gatlinburg or Cherokee or camp inside the national park during your stay.

Atlanta to Smoky Mountains: Essential Stops on US-74

Here are some essential stops on this route.

Atlanta

Downtown Atlanta is only a short drive from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, so you can stay at one of the many nearby hotels before heading out on your road trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Gatlinburg via US-74.

Canton

Get a taste of the South in this charming small town, known as one of the best-preserved antebellum towns in Georgia.

The town is home to several events such as the Summerfest and Antique Week where you can enjoy live music, crafts, antiques, and more.

Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge, Georgia is a charming town that is located just under 2 hours from downtown Atlanta.

There are plenty of interesting shops and museums in the area.

The views from Blue Ridge, Georgia are breathtakingly gorgeous.

Blue Ridge also hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year.

Nantahala National Forest

Next you will encounter Nantahala National Forest, which is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in North Carolina.

The area has numerous waterfalls and rivers as well as hundreds of miles of hiking trails.

There are also plenty of camping spots in Nantahala National Park for those who love being in nature.

Bryson City

Explore this area by visiting some of the Main Street shops, the Bryson City People’s Market, and take a trip to the Nantahala Gorge.

Take a walk along the river or stop by the local brewery for a beer and some fresh trout.

Cherokee

The next town you will drive through is Cherokee.

Visit the Oconaluftee Indian Village and Tsali Recreation Area.

Check out the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, spend time at some of the shops along the main street, or explore the mountains on a short hike to see local waterfalls and cascades.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The road will lead you into North Carolina where it hits Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Visitors can stop by the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to learn about the animals and cultural history of the area.

Continue driving north into Great Smoky Mountains National Park and explore Cades Cove for an interesting look at early Southern life.

There are also plenty of hiking trails and scenic drives in the park.

Smoky Mountains to Atlanta: Essential Stops on I-75

Take this route on your return journey to Atlanta.

Here are some essential stops on this route.

Gatlinburg

Spend a day or two in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.

Gatlinburg is home to tons of shops and restaurants as well as attractions such as Ripley’s Aquarium, Mystery Mine, Guinness World Records Museum, Hollywood Star Cars Museum, and more.

The town has plenty of attraction and accommodation options.

Pigeon Forge

Visit Pigeon Forge the next day or later in your return trip as it is about 2 hours away from Gatlinburg.

You can visit Dollywood, check out some of the shops and restaurants, and enjoy the splendid mountain scenery.

Knoxville

Drive through Knoxville on your return.

The city has several interesting museums, parks, and shops for an educational and fun-filled day trip.

Visit the Sunsphere, which is one of the key landmarks in Knoxville or stop by the history Museum. You can also visit the Knoxville Arts Museum.

Take some time to walk around Market Square and explore all of its shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Chattanooga

Next, make your way to Chattanooga for a day or two of adventure.

The city is home to plenty of attractions, including the Tennessee Aquarium and Chattanooga Choo Choo.

You can also take a riverboat ride on the scenic Tennessee River, check out some of the shops in downtown Chattanooga, or enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants offering Southern cuisine.

Lookout Mountain

Spend some time on Lookout Mountain for a breathtaking look at the city below.

You can spend an afternoon at Ruby Falls and explore its history and geology.

For those who love nature, you can visit Rock City Garden and take a hike along one of the walking trails.

Marietta and Atlanta

End your trip in Atlanta by heading through Marietta, Ga.

You can stop by Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park and explore the Civil War history of the area.

Stop by Marietta Square before ending the trip in Atlanta.

Great Smoky Mountains Itinerary

At the end of this amazing road trip, you will find the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Use this information to plan your time in the park.

Entry to the park is always free.

The national park consists of several acres of dense forests and mountains.

There are hundreds of hiking trails through the region and many campgrounds for hikers to stay at.

There are several visitor centers in the region as well.

Stop by one of them if you want to pick up trail maps or get help finding your way around.

Here are our favorite things to do in the park.

Read our detailed Weekend in Smoky Mountains road trip itinerary before planning your trip

Cades Cove

Enjoy a scenic drive along the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop.

See the pioneer buildings including churches, cantilever barn, cabins, and grist mills.

Hike along one of several trails in the area to check out some beautiful scenery and spend time outdoors with family or friends.

Read our post on driving the Cades Cove Loop Road here.

Abrams Falls Trail

Hike one of the most popular hiking trails in the Cades Cove area.

The trail is a moderate 5 mile round trip hike to the beautiful Abrams Falls waterfall.

Also Read: Best Waterfalls in the Smokies

Roaring Fork Motor Trail

Take a drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in western Smokies.

This 5-mile scenic one way drive offers gorgeous views of the mountains, bridges, fall foliage, streams, and forests.

You can see historic buildings such as grist mills, log cabins, and churches.

It is perfect for stopping at various spots to take photos or going on a leisurely drive through the area.

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The area is located on top of 6,644 foot Clingmans Dome Mountain.

There is a short and steep hiking trail that leads to the observation tower and offers 360 views of the area.

Detours on Atlanta Smoky Mountains Road Trip

While there are plenty of activities available throughout the 200+ mile Atlanta to Great Smoky Mountains Road Trip, if you have a little extra time, consider adding these detours for an awesome adventure.

Cherohala Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway is one of the most scenic drives in the south.

The 43-mile long road passes through forests, mountains, valleys and small hamlets in North Carolina and Tennessee.

It connects Tellico Plains, TN to Robbinsville, NC and passes through two national forests: Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina and Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.

For those who love the outdoors, there are plenty of activities for all ages to enjoy on this national scenic byway.

Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap

The Tail of the Dragon is a scenic road that passes through Deal’s Gap along the North Carolina and Tennessee border.

It is famous for its innumerable twisting curves!

The road has over 300 curves in the 11 mile stretch and is a favorite with motorcyclists.

Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and forest in North Carolina.

The area has plenty of activities for all ages ranging from fishing, boating, hiking, camping and more.

Shadow of the Bear, Highlands

The Shadow of the Bear Farm is an awesome experience to have in Highlands, NC.

From mid October to early November, you can see the mountainside make a bear shaped shadow over the fall foliage.

The shadow is visible for just half an hour before sunrise and is one of the most unique things to do in the Smokies!

The Atlanta Smoky Mountain Road Trip will take you through different regions of the mountains.

It offers plenty of opportunities to explore nature as well as family friendly attractions to keep kids happy.

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