The Foothills Parkway has always been one of the best rides in the Great Smoky Mountains. Your lovable Grey Beard Biker rarely misses a chance to ride the Parkway when he is in East Tennessee. It is both a destination and part of the journey. It is a beautiful ride, one where a biker can set his cruise control and just run the speed limit the entire length, and rarely, if ever, touch your brakes. Connecting Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville to rides like the Tail of the Dragon, Cherohala Skyway and Wayah Road it is a staple of the Smoky Mountains. Until recently, you would have to traverse Wears Valley and Townsend, navigating the heavy traffic, to get to the entrance of Foothills Parkway, near Walland, Tennessee.
In November 2018, the final section of the 16 mile extension of the Parkway opened, which now connects Wears Valley to the original section at Walland. This makes it easier to reach Chilowee, Tennessee, from Gatlinburg, Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.
Construction of this section of the Parkway started in 1966 and was delayed while the 1.65 mile “Missing Link” was completed. This small section of the Parkway required modern construction techniques, not available in the 1960s, to build nine bridges which literally seem to hang off the side of the mountains – but are actually all freestanding.
During our visit last fall to Pigeon Forge, we were unable to ride this new section, as we were there one week before the official opening. Needless to say, Old Grey Beard was a bit disappointed as we were there during the peak of fall colors.
But the wait proved to be very worthwhile as we were have been able to ride it twice, from both directions, this spring. To say the views of Wears Valley are amazing might well be the biggest understatement your Grey Beard has ever made. Riding east along the Foothills Parkway to the “Missing Link,” gives the impression you are riding into heaven. You can see the bridge curve around the mountain, with nothing to the south but the spread out, open valley and the sky to the east, directly in front of you. My only complaint is that the National Park Service has set the speed limit about 10 MPH too slow, but it is understandable as the views are so overpowering that people would never be able to stay in their lane through the curves.
If you are planning a trip to the Gatlinburg area, make sure to take time to ride this beautiful road. Traffic is manageable and there are plenty of spots to pull over and take pictures. Check out the GoPro video, below, to experience this stunning ride.