441. 5000 FT. NC/TN Line. Elk. River Island. Dirt Roads. And More 🙂
If you are looking to make the most of your time in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN – or if you would like to rent a street-legal UTV while you’re in the area – use this blog post as a guide to have an original experience and a trip like no other 🙂
We spent countless hours to produce this guide to eliminate the guesswork for you.
One of the main questions Off-Road Gatlinburg’s customers ask us is “where can we take our street-legal rental.“
We tell our guest – “out of the five (5) on-road or street-legal destinations Off-Road Gatlinburg recommends, Cherokee is #1. If you rent a UTV, take it over to Cherokee, NC for a stellar experience.”
Why is this?
As the old saying goes, you can kill a few birds with one stone when you take your UTV over to Cherokee.
The trip over to Cherokee is many trips in one, essentially. Here are some of the destinations you can experience on way over and while in Cherokee:
- Chimney Tops
- Newfound Gap
- Clingmans Dome
- Oconaluftee Visitor Center
- Oconaluftee Island Park
- The Town of Cherokee
- Cherokee Gravel Routes
As you can see, there is so much to do and again, this is why we recommend going to Cherokee.
Before we get into it and as a p.s.- if you’d like to also check out the Instagram Guide that highlights the different Instagram Posts on Cherokee, here’s the link to that as well: Cherokee, NC Instagram Guide.
I. STREET-LEGAL IN NC
Most UTV Rental Companies in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN won’t let you drive your rental over to Cherokee, NC.
Since our team was responsible for changing the law in NC so that UTVs can operate legally on NC roadways, on top of Cherokee being the best destination you can take a UTV rental, we feel compelled to recommend Cherokee as a top destination to travel to with your rental.
II. CHEROKEE VS THE OTHERS
… other UTV friendly destinations that is.
Cades Cove is our second recommendation. And, we love Cades Cove, esp. in the winter months 🙂 Cades Cove Instagram Guide
What separates Cherokee from Cades Cove is the fact that you can hit other prominent locations on the way over (i.e. Clingman’s Dome), the Elk, the visitor center, the park along the river, the town, the fact that you can eat (and drink), the backwoods dirt roads, and more.
You get the best of both worlds, essentially.
In our opinion, the drive over to Cherokee is the best drive you can make on a UTV, rain or shine. Cold or warm. In fact, each season has something to offer!
Check out that picture above. I think it’s cool enough to be on the cover of a magazine… and this was just a random picture from a few afternoons ago (2/20/2023). This is what I’m getting at…
And, as you just saw, we mentioned rain or shine. I’ll have you know, driving a UTV in the rain in the Smokies is magical.
It touches your soul.
Check out this blog post: Things to do in the rain in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
“In the rain you’ll experience sounds and smells of nature that aren’t around on a normal sunny day”Venture Outdoors
Laugh if you may, but you have to experience it for yourself. The best thing about the cold and rain too is that you don’t have to fight the crowds. You get it all to yourself.
I’d only recommend checking out the weather app to determine what you wear or which type of UTV you rent. For those who would like to check the weather, here’s the link: Cherokee Weather.
When it’s not raining, the drive over to Cherokee is one of the best mountain drives you can take on the East Coast.
My personal favorite time to make the drive over is in the winter, I might add.
Why’s that? The leaves are off the trees and allow you to see everything.
III. 441… THE ROAD OVER.
Some of you may be asking by now, “how exactly do we get to Cherokee from Gatlinburg?”
The great thing is, you don’t even need a GPS to be able to drive over to Cherokee from Gatlinburg, TN 🙂
It is one road, lol!
From Downtown Gatlinburg – drive into the woods on 441 at the end of town. To really paint the picture, and to be clear, from the main strip or drag in Downtown Gatlinburg on 441 – stay straight and continue into the National Forest. Don’t turn at the Pigeon Forge overlook or at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, which are the first two exits. Just stay straight!
From there, you’ll begin the climb up the mountain to the NC/TN line.
Five to six minutes into the National Forest, you’ll be struck by the surrounding beauty, like the picture above depicts.
On the way over to Cherokee, you can stop at these really cool waypoints along 441:
- Chimney Tops | 4724 ft in elevation
- Morton Overlook | 4826 ft in elevation
- Newfound Gap | 5049 ft in elevation
- Clingmans Dome | 6643 ft in elevation
The drive over to Cherokee from Downtown Gatlinburg is only 50 minutes, but you could spend a half of the day making your way over.
To get started, all you have to do is use the Google Maps App and to GPS “Cherokee, NC.”
As you can see below, the drive over is gorgeous and there are so many pull offs on the way to Cherokee, NC.
Newfound Gap is the halfway point of the 31 mile stretch of road that cuts through the Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s at mile marker 14.7 to be exact lol. This is at the top of the mountains, where the NC/TN line is.
The Appalachian Trail Runs through here as well.
There is a huge parking lot at Newfound Gap and it overlooks the NC side of the mountain.
A you continue past NewFound Gap, you’ll come up to Clingmans Dome. It’s a good chance it could be closed in the winter, as ice and snow loves to hang around up there for a good period of time after winter weather, as its 6643 ft in elevation.
If it’s not closed, and you have the time, take a right off 441 onto Clingmans Dome Rd.
IV. DOWN THE MOUNTAIN
Once you drop down from Clingmans Dome, there are a few pull offs along the creek when you’re getting close to Cherokee, NC.
Once you get fully down the mountain and into the valley, you’ll start to see fields and openings.
This is where you can begin to see Elk. You can stop and take pictures, as there are pull offs on the side of the road here as well.
As you keep driving down 441 to Cherokee, you can also stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to get some great views of the Elk. Check out the picture below and zoom in:
As you travel along from there, you’ll pass the entrance to the start of the Blue Ride Parkway on your left.
A mile or so after the parkway entrance, you’ll get into the Town of Cherokee.
V. THE TOWN ITSELF
After you pass the one stop light at the beginning of town, you’ll drive on the road beside the river. Notice all the motels, attractions, and shops built right on the river. It’s pretty cool and not something you typically see outside of an Indian reservation.
As you make your way down, and past the first cut over bridge to the left, you’ll see Cherokee Veterans Memorial Park. Checkout the memorials and the tank.
It’s a cool place to stop and take some pictures.
After driving through town once, I recommend crossing over to the other side of the river at the end of town and visiting the park on the river.
VI. Oconaluftee Island Park
If you want to see one of the most beautiful river parks in NC, stop at the Ocoaluftee Island Park.
At the Oconaluftee Island Park, there is parking right along the river.
Once you park, there is sidewalks leading down the river.
I recommend walking over the bridge to the island in the center of where the river splits.
The Oconaluftee River splits at the park and there is a big island in the middle of where the river splits. This is one of the favorite places my girls like to play at.
They love running along the banks and skipping stones on the river.
P.S. Up from the parking lot by the island, there is a wooden walkway that leads through a bamboo field beside the river and to a larger parking lot.
VII. NATIVE BREWS
Once the girls finished playing on the river, everyone typically worked up an appetite and it’s time to eat lol.
The last two times we took an adventure over to Cherokee, we stopped at Native Brews Taproom and Eatery after spending time on the river.
Check out some of the pics we took at Native Brews.
At Native Brews, I recommend getting the “Say What?!?” as an appetizer, which consist of deviled eggs breaded and deep fried.
The bacon jelly jam is to die for and if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself eating out of the container haha.
Here’s more info on Native Brews Tap and Grill:
- Website: http://www.native-brews.com
- Instagram: @native_brews
- Address: 1897 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee, NC 28719
From there, you can explore more in town or hit the dirt roads, considering what day it is.
VII. MORE TO DO IN TOWN
If you’d like to explore more in town, check out:
- Museum of the Cherokee Indian
- Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort
- Mingus Mill
- Fish Cherokee
- Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine
Checkout visitcherokeenc.com for more attractions.
IX. DIRT ROADS
Cherokee, NC has many beautiful dirt roads you can explore on your UTV rental.
Here is a great resource if you’re interested in exploring the dirt roads in Cherokee, NC: Gravel Routes in Cherokee, NC Gravel Maps
The reason we recommend the dirt roads is because they give renters the experience their seeking and due to the fact that most of the UTV Rental companies don’t want their UTVs going on dirt roads, due to the clean up they have to perform once the units are brought back. Customers are Off-Road Gatlinburg’s top priority 🙂 All that we ask is that you respect the dirt roads, the national parks rules and regulations, and the UTVs while you’re on these roads.
Adding dirt roads into your adventure will leave a lasting memory.
Before we move on and while we’re talking dirt roads, for another great dirt road adventure Off-Road Gatlinburg has to offer, checkout this Instagram Post: Greenbrier on a UTV Rental. Greenbrier is the #3 UTV Rental Destination we recommend.
X. RENTAL INFO
By this point, you may be asking how much time you’ll need to take a trip over to Cherokee, NC and take it all in.
Depending on the day you GPS Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC – the GPS could say anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour and 10 minutes.
Here are the recommended durations:
- 3 HR RENTAL: This will allow you to drive straight over and straight back.
- 4 HR RENTAL: This will allow you to stop 1-3x on the way over and/or back from Cherokee and allow you to not be as rushed.
- 8 HR RENTAL: This time period will allow you to stop at all the major pull offs, hit destinations like Clingmans Dome, watch the elk, grab a bite to eat (or drink), play down at the river, explore the dirt roads, and have time for extra.
We hope this helps you determine how much time you may need.
5-6 hrs is also a great duration and occasionally, Off-Road Gatlinburg will offer specials like 5 hrs for the price of 4 hrs.
If not, and because you made it this far, as a bonus, use the discount code – cherokee10 – to save 10% OFF your rental 🙂
XI. BACK TO GATLINBURG
If you happen to be driving back across to Gatlinburg after the sun goes down, be sure to stop in the Newfound Gap Parking Lot to get some amazing views.
A few nights ago, we did just this. We stopped and turned the lights off. Faint music was playing in the background. It was another movieesque moment that made you feel alive.
XII. THE END
This is it for now. I’ll be adding a section about the dirt roads – along with more links, helpful content, and updating pictures on this blog post within the next few weeks, so stay tuned.
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post 🙂