Route: Foothills Parkway
Type: Point to Point
Begin: Walland, TN (A)
End: Chilhowee, TN (B)
End: Sevierville, TN (C)
Travel Time: 52 minutes (non-stop without traffic)
Distance: 31.5 miles
Highlights: Panoramic mountain vistas, foliage, easy ride, slight curves, straightaways, water
Bikers visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near the Townsend, TN entrance, will not want to miss the Foothills Parkway, a National Parkway maintained by the National Park Service.
The US Congress authorized construction of the 71-mile Foothills Parkway project in 1944, yet funding issues have plagued the project ever since.
Although it remains Tennessee’s oldest unfinished highway project, this 31.5 mile section of the Parkway is complete; and it is beautiful.
Most visitors to the Foothills Parkway enter at US-321 / E. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Walland, TN. Walland is a small community located between Maryville and Townsend and is marked by the “A” on our map below.
New Section Now Open
This section begins in Walland (A) and ends in Sevierville (C) or vice versa.
The newest section of Foothills Parkway opened in November 2018 and has been a welcome addition. To see the new section of the Parkway beginning at Point A on the map (Walland), turn left onto the Parkway and drive all the way to Wears Valley (Hwy 321) Point C. To see the older section of the Foothills Parkway, you will need to backtrack to Point A, then continue on to Point B, in Chilhowee.
New Foothills Parkway Section Now Open | Photo: Ann G. Bowman
The newest section of Foothills Parkway opened in November 2018. The section from Walland to Sevierville provides great new views of Townsend and the surrounding mountains.
Overlook on Foothills Parkway | Photo: Ann G. Bowman
In the above photo, if you look closely enough, you can see the road below and the river flowing out of the mountains. In person, this is a spectacular view and if you are in the area, you simply must make this drive and stop along the way.
Caylor Gap Foothills Parkway | Photo: Ann G. Bowman
Caylor Gap Overlook is amazing. Even on a cloudy day, like the one when this picture was taken, the views are breathtaking. A number of overlooks will entice you to stop and take it in.
Overlook on New Foothills Parkway | Photo: Ann G. Bowman
Older Section of Foothills Parkway
This section begins in Walland (A) and ends in Chilhowee (B) or vice versa.
The Foothills Parkway travels along the western ridge of the Chilhowee Mountain with amazing views on both sides.
As you drive along the Parkway, stop at any of the overlooks to enjoy the scenery. To the north is the Tennessee Valley and to the south, the Smokies.
Foothills Parkway | Townsend, TN | Photo: Marc Bowman
Don’t worry about large trucks or other commercial vehicles getting in your way, they are banned from driving on the Parkway.
In addition, you will not see billboards, homes or commercial buildings. The Foothills Parkway is as pristine as it gets. The only man-made thing you will see from the seat of your bike, is the road.
The highest point on Chilhowee Mountain is a knob called Look Rock. We suggest stopping and taking in the view it provides.
To get to the Look Rock Observation Tower, follow the signage to the parking area just off the Parkway, then walk the half mile trail.
The view from Look Rock provides the best vantage point on the Parkway to see Mount LeConte, Clingman’s Dome, and other points of interest.
Foothills Parkway is a two lane road with changes in elevation, scenic views, curves, and under normal conditions, light traffic.
The best times to ride Foothills Parkway are the spring, between April and May, and the fall, specifically, October. Spring weather in east Tennessee is mild and makes for great bike riding conditions. Summers can be hot, but not unbearable.
I grew up in south Mississippi and can testify that the heat and humidity there make Tennessee a summer paradise. Springtime is fantastic in the Smokies.
Riding the Foothills Parkway in October is a color overload. I call it, “The Changing of the Leaves.” The foliage is red, orange, yellow, purple, magenta, green, and pink, and looks like it is on fire.
I mentioned earlier that I grew up in south Mississippi, and we didn’t have seasons. It was hot and not-so-hot. The leaves didn’t change colors there; they were green year round.
The changing of the leaves in the Smokies is one of the most beautiful things in nature.
As you approach the southern end of Foothills Parkway, you will see a small body of water leading into Chilhowee Lake.
When you arrive at the end of the Parkway, you can turn around and backtrack or turn left and take an hour or so to ride the Tail of the Dragon on US-129.
Google Map | Foothills Parkway