Cherishing Cherokee's Vistas
Heintooga Ridge/Balsam Mountain is a high-elevation area that thrills motorists with views typically reserved for hardy backcountry enthusiasts. A 9-mile drive takes you to a picturesque picnic area and overlook with restrooms.
From this point, Balsam Mountain Road becomes a one-way gravel route and continues onto the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The drive drops through Pin Oak Gap and winds through mature stands of spruce and fir. You'll feel as if you are hiking in your car.
Directions: Exit the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mile Marker 458 at the turnoff to Balsam Mountain Campground. Follow Heintooga Ridge Road for 9 miles to the Heintooga Picnic Area and overlook. From there, continue along the one-way Balsam Mountain Road, and exit onto Big Cove Road in the Indian Reservation. Plan on two or three hours, plus picnic time.
Catching Sight of Elk in Cataloochee
On the lesser visited eastern side of the park in North Carolina, the Cataloochee auto tour explores old settlements. During the last few years, the park added another attraction when it reintroduced elk into the valley. Droves of motorists come to watch during the fall rutting season. Although this place will be almost impassable in a month, now you can sneak in at sunrise and sunset to see magnificent bull elks with 6- to 7-foot racks vie for position in the herd. They'll pose and prance to establish their superiority and sometimes even get into sparring matches.
Directions: From Exit 20 on I-40, travel 0.2 mile, and turn right. Follow the signs on Cove Creek Road 11 miles into the valley. Plan on at least two hours.
For more information: Contact Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (865) 436-1200 or www.nps.gov/grsm. Check with the National Park Service for information on road closings.
"Undiscovered Drives in the Smokies" is from the September 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.