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Road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains from Atlanta

7 posts
Road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains from Atlanta

Hi, me and my partner are hiring a car from Atlanta this September and driving to the great smoky mountains to stay there for 2 nights and then return to Atlanta. We have never driven in the US before and aren’t sure of which route would be best to take. I’ve looked on google maps and it seems to give 2 options - one of which seems to go through a lot of green areas which I’m guessing is woodland etc and one that seems to be a more straightforward route around all of that (through chatnooga) but takes a little longer. Just wondering what would be the best option for me to take as I’m quite young and although I’ve had a lot of driving experience in the uk I’m still a little nervous having never driven in the US before. Any help would be appreciated thanks!

8 replies to this topic
Georgia
Destination Expert
for Atlanta, Savannah
Level Contributor
19,116 posts
95 reviews
1. Re: Road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains from Atlanta

It's a VERY easy drive from the Atlanta airport. My only caution is that driving through Atlanta's commute traffic can be a bear so time your trip accordingly.

Leave the airport on 85N. Either go straight through Atlanta on 85 (if it's not during weekday commute times) or go around on 285 to reconnect with 85N.

Head toward SC.

About an hour up the road, the interstate splits. Don't continue on 85. Bear left on 985/ 365 which becomes 441. Follow the signs toward Gainesville.

441 continues north all the way to Cherokee, NC and the southern entrance to the GSMNP.

For the first 1.5 hours, your drive will be expressway/ interstate highway.

After Gainesville it becomes limited access. Still 4 lane but with a red light every 30 miles or so.

The last section of Georgia - Rabun county - Clayton / Dillard area is a great place to spend the night and enjoy the area. Absolutely beautiful.

441 continues on through Franklin, NC and all the way up to Cherokee.

The "green" area is beautiful countryside with lots to see and do.

Atlanta, Georgia
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
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34,736 posts
505 reviews
2. Re: Road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains from Atlanta

I like the I 85, I 985 , Hwy 441 route. Great little gem museum in Franklin and great food in Clayton.

atlanta,ga
Destination Expert
for Atlanta, St. George Island
Level Contributor
3,754 posts
103 reviews
3. Re: Road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains from Atlanta

Asheville nc is terrific spot,esp Biltmore hotel. Churchill slept there.

Atlanta, Georgia
Level Contributor
130 posts
71 reviews
4. Re: Road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains from Atlanta

I recommend Highlands NC. We stayed in this collection of cabins: https://firemt.com It's probably a 10-minute drive into the little town's center.

http://highlandschamber.org

Georgia
Level Contributor
3,185 posts
4 reviews
5. Re: Road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains from Atlanta

Hannah,

First things first, have you ever driven on the right-side of the road? If not, try to avoid rush hour (either thru downtown on 75/85 or if you go around on 285). Both will have their share of some bumper to bumper during rush hour. I'd suggest catching Campcreek Parkway to 285. At a minimum it will give you about 5 miles of 4 lane road (2 each way) before having to hop on the Interstate. If you need a bit more time to get comfortable, there are some large parking lots along the road (The International convention Center almost immediately once on Campcreek or several shopping centers just beyond the Campcreek/285 interchange).

If you go up for 2 days and you are looking specifically at The GSMNP (as opposed to Asheville or Highlands or elsewhere), you might think about a one-nighter on the east side of the mtns and one night on the west. Or pick one town like Cherokee or Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge (pros and cons). Townsend is an option too, close to Cades Cove.

You should research activities and sites in the GSMNP, prioritize your must-do's and nice-to-do's. No matter what, I'll guess that Cades Cove and Clingman's Dome/Rt 441 over the divide are must's. Maybe the Cherokee Orchard/Roaring Fork loop near Gatlinburg.

Either way, I'd suggest doing a loop up from Atlanta. The route mentioned in #1 is fine. The route back or up thru Chattanooga is fine. There are also a couple "middle routes" thru Blue Ridge and then Murphy and Bryson City OR thry Robbinsville to Tellico Plains (aka, the Cherohala Skyway, which is absolutely stunning).

Here's a loop that I've mapped for you, includes Campcreek Pkwy, Cherokee Orchard, Cades Cove and both middle routes as mentioned.

https://goo.gl/maps/TtKhkA9i2iE2

Just about everything north of Jasper GA is scenic and at least mountainous.

1 post
1 review
6. Re: Road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains from Atlanta

Thanks everyone! I wasn’t too clear before but we’ve already booked our accommodation around Gatlinburg area. Was just looking for advice on driving tips/the route and whether it would be a relatively easy drive for me. I’ve not driven on the other side of the road before but I’ve booked a driving lesson the day before to hopefully familiarise myself with this!

Georgia
Destination Expert
for Atlanta, Savannah
Level Contributor
19,116 posts
95 reviews
7. Re: Road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains from Atlanta

'but we’ve already booked our accommodation around Gatlinburg area."

Oh, please no!

Change that reservation to one in a less congested, touristy area. You will be sitting in traffic that's worse than Atlanta's during work commute times. Use Cherokee as a base for the park instead. Plus it's on the south side.

A driving lesson won't help that much, especially just one the day before. The best tip anyone ever gave me =

Go to a big parking area when the stores are closed. Back in the day, it was a shopping mall when stores were closed on Sunday.

Practice driving the lanes "on the wrong side of the road". Drive the empty parking lot "backwards" and give your brain time to adjust to the difference. Then, when you are actually here, have your navigator say "Think right, think right, think right" every time you pull out on the road. Your natural tendency will be to pull into the left hand land. Practice getting used to being on the right. Remember, the steering wheel will be on "the wrong side" also.

Seriously reconsider staying in Gatlinburg. It's very touristy with some of the worst stop-and-go traffic anywhere. Enjoy the mountains without the nightmare of G's traffic.

If you want an alternate route, leave the Atlanta airport and drive on the south side of Atlanta to I20 east. Stop at Covington GA and/or Madison GA to get an idea of what a real antebellum southern town is like. Even consider spending the night there. Then, in the morning, drive up through Athens to Commerce to Clayton to GSMNP. You'll be on a nice secondary road but not as intimidating as a 4 or 6 lane expressway might be. Plus it's a beautiful drive.

atlanta,ga
Destination Expert
for Atlanta, St. George Island
Level Contributor
3,754 posts
103 reviews
8. Re: Road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains from Atlanta

Another hint. The most dangerous spots are walking. Acfriend of mine was run over by a bus in London because he looked left.so make sure to look both ways walking or driving.

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