The Foothills Parkway East Experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This scenic drive over Green Mountain is lovely any time year; however in the fall, it provides some of the most vibrant displays of color we’ve ever seen in the Smokies! The road begins at the Foothills Parkway Exit #443 on Interstate 40, approximately 21 miles east of its interchange with Interstate 81. This section of the Foothills Parkway East is 6 miles long ending at the intersection with Highway 321 in Cosby, Tennessee.
Along with your standard displays of red, orange and yellow, the foliage colors along the Foothills Parkway West are vibrant shades of fuchsia, peach, maroon, and neon yellow. The forest truly looks like a giant bowl of Kellogg’s Froot Loops cereal! Sounds outrageous we know, but it is unbelievably spectacular! It’s hard to say when it’s peak viewing time; however we usually start checking it out in early October so we don’t miss out.
The Foothills Parkway East is a favorite of motorists and cyclists, and offers Three Scenic Pullouts which we’ve outlined east to west:
The First Pullout faces north with a splendid view of English Mountain. This high ridge which dominates the north rises 3,629 feet above sea level. Part of its imposing appearance is due to the lowland expanse separating the two. The valley below averages 1,300 feet above sea level. The difference in these two elevations is comparable to a 140 story skyscaper. To offer some perspective, consider the the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, has 163 stories.
The Second Pullout is after the drive crests and you begin to descend into the Cosby watershed. This amazing view to the south is sometimes referred to as the Heart of the Park. The high ridge stretching out to the left and right is the state line divide of Tennessee and North Carolina which is considered the “heart of the park.” The state line divide is also the path of the famous Appalachian Trail. The left most knob of the ridge is Mt. Cammerer with its historic fire tower (an awesome hike but that is another blog). Scanning to the right Low Gap is easy to pick out as seen rising above the Cosby Campground. Further right and the second highest peak in the park, Mt. Guyot, rises 6,621 feet above sea level. Far to the right you may even see the third highest peak in the park, the “Island in the Clouds,” Mt. LeConte rising 6,595 feet above sea level.
The Third Pullout offers an excellent view to the west of the Cosby community with the spine of the Smoky Mountains working their way toward Cades Cove. It’s not unusual in this large parking area for families to gather in the evening with their lawn chairs and blankets to enjoy the sunset.
The Foothills Parkway West dead ends at Highway 321 in Cosby, Tennessee. Taking a left here and traveling west is a 23-mile scenic drive to beautiful Gatlinburg, Tennessee.