In southern Appalachian vernacular, a gap is a low point in a mountain ridge. New Englanders call such places “notches” while... more » 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.