October 25, 2013 – I had heard about the panoramic beauty of the Foothills Parkway and saw the turnoff to it from Highway 321 many times when I was going between my nearby home base at Tremont Outdoor Resort and shopping in Maryville. When I finally made the drive, I sure was rewarded many times over!
I had read in the Blue Ridge Highlander:
“If you can’t get enough the Great Smoky Mountain’s scenic drives or you just want to view them from another perspective at a much lower altitude, then your going to love the Foothills Parkway. The views from these lower mountain ridges are spectacular. The Foothills Parkway takes visitors above the treetops and foothills from the valley below, offering incredible mountain vistas across the entire face of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”
Well, even after being in the area for several months, I certainly couldn’t get enough of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So I headed off during peak leaf-peeping season to enjoy the colorful views from this scenic parkway.
It’s a nicely paved, 18 mile road and I kept gawking at the the trees struttin’ their stuff. This Southern Gal just can’t get enough of them!
There are numerous places to pull off and enjoy the scenic views. I can’t get enough of mountains, either. They’re magical beings in my opinion.
From here I spied Clingman’s Dome with the first dusting of snow of the season. I haven’t made it up there yet, but it’s on my ever-growing list!
A great spot with a large parking area across from the trail to Look Rock, 11 miles down the parkway from Hwy. 321.
From the parking area, it’s an easy 1/2 mile mostly paved trail and you turn left at a dead-end to get to the observation tower. I imagine it was once used for a fire lookout, and there is an air monitoring station nearby and radio repeaters on top to improve Blount County emergency services communications.
On the way up, I looked down and stopped to visit with this tree and marveled at how much persistence it took to continue its growth through such a boulder. I wondered what came first – the tree and then the boulder crashed into it at some point and it survived – or the boulder had been there and the seemingly fragile roots fought to find a way to get the tree to the sunlight through such denseness. In any case, amazing and inspiring!
Once I stopped chatting with the tree and made it to the top, the views are phenomenal! Here you’re on top of Chilhowee Mountain with 360° of panoramic gorgeousness. The Cherokee called the surrounding mountains “Shaconage,” meaning “the place of the blue smoke.” Now the informational sign tells us that these days the haze here is far different from what the more nature-loving natives saw, and the decreased visibility now is due to the pollution our modern day technology creates. Wouldn’t you have loved to have seen it then if it’s this beautiful now?
Another vantage point shows winding road through undulating mountains with distant lake beckoning.
I took full advantage of my day on the Foothills Parkway and was duly rewarded with this sunset view.
I wanted to learn more about this drive, so here are a few links I found interesting:
Foothills Parkway (Blue Ridge Highlander)
Top of the World
Enjoy a Quiet Scenic Drive with Panoramic Views of the Smoky Mountains
Look Rock on the Foothills Parkway
Look Rock Web Cam
Look Rock Campground Map (gotta check this one out)
There are plans for expansion of the Parkway, but of course politics and budget limitations always rears their ugly heads:
NPS: Foothills Parkway skirts portions of the park’s northern side in Tennessee. Foothills Parkway West runs from Walland to Chilhowee, while Foothills Parkway East travels from Cosby to I-40, Exit #443. Originally, the road was intended to run the entire distance from I-40 to Chilhowee, however due to funding and legislative difficulties, the ultimate status of the unfinished sections of the parkway remains uncertain.
But in the works is a “Missing Link” bridge, and that looks intriguing, especially given the mountainous terrain. I also love bridges, so would love to cross that one!