CNY Hiking HOME PAGE Great Smoky Mountains National Park North Carolina BRP Highlights Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway

Spur Road



Heintooga Overlook with its two benches and spectacular view

This paved nine mile mountain road begins as a spur of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Wolf Laurel Gap located at mile marker 458.2 of the Parkway. It leads drivers along the crest of Balsam Mountain with scenic overlooks on both sides and into a remote part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

One highlight is the Mile High Overlook that scans the distant peaks of the Smokies to the left, including Clingmans Dome, Mount Le Conte, Mount Kephart, and Mount Guyot. To the right, the Balsam Mountains reach to the sky. This overlook is located 1.3 miles from the Parkway.

View from Mile High Overlook

After 3.6 miles you reach Black Camp Gap and enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Picnic tables are available at Black Camp Gap.  There is also a Masonic Monument located near the parking area.  At 4.8 miles there is access to the 2.6 mile Flat Creek Trail, which leads a short way to Flat Creek Falls and then on to the Heintooga Overlook and Picnic Area.

At six miles you'll reach Polls Gap.  A trailhead is located here for three remote hiking trails that lead into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Hemphill Bald Trail, Rough Fork Trail and Polls Gap Trail all lead into a rough, secluded area of the National Park.  There are opportunities for long loop hikes (the shortest being a strenuous 13.7 mile hike), as well as backpacking trips from this trailhead.

Site 16 at Balsam Mountain Campground

Balsam Mountain Campground is reached at 8.4 miles.  At 5310 feet, this is the highest campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There are 46 tent sites, fire grills, picnic tables, cold running water, and sanitary facilities.  A nature trail originating at the campground introduces campers to life in the higher elevations of the National Park. 

The campground is usually open late May to October.  There is no electricity, so be sure you have a lantern for the restrooms.  This secluded campground rarely fills, so you'll have plenty of privacy, even with the sites being so close together.  The current (2010) camping fee is $14 per night.

At 8.9 miles is the Heintooga Ridge Picnic Area with 37 secluded sites for a real remote picnic experience.  A short walk along the Flat Creek Trail leads to the spectacular views at the Heintooga Overlook.  Two benches are located at the overlook.  This is a great spot for sunset views.

Sunset at Heintooga Overlook

At nine miles, the paved Heintooga Spur Road ends and the seasonal gravel Heintooga-Round Bottom Road begins.  The 15 mile Heintooga-Round Bottom Road begins its one way curving route from an altitude of 5,535 feet and descends to about 2,000 feet. This rough road can be driven by most vehicles, except RVs and trailers.  The one way road is closed in winter.

It will take about an hour to travel this route, which showcases the botanical diversity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through stands of beech and birch, followed by hemlocks, maples, and oaks.  The one lane gravel road runs north along Balsam Mountain before descending into Straight Fork Valley to emerge at the nearby Qualla Cherokee Indian Reservation.

There are several hiking trails along the way, including Palmer Creek Trail, which descends into a beautiful richly forested valley; or the Hyatt Ridge Trail, the Beech Gap Trail, or the Balsam Mountain Trail. Anglers can fish for trout on Straight Fork. Very few cars travel this road each day. Watch for wildlife, including black bears running across the road.

At the broad, flat area known as Round Bottom, the one-lane road becomes two-way before it joins the paved, two-way Big Cove Road north of Cherokee, North Carolina. Round Bottom has one of the drive-in horse camps in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are no signs to lead you to Cherokee at the end of the road. You basically turn left on Big Cove Road and go down hill about ten miles to Cherokee.  On your way be sure to stop and make the short hike to Mingo Falls.

4.8 4891 ft View Flat Creek Falls in winter.  Flat Creek Trail access.
6.0 5125 ft Polls Gap - Access to Polls Gap Trail, Rough Fork Trail and Hemphill Bald Trail. 
6.2 5178 ft Overlook
8.4 5340 ft Balsam Mountain Campground
8.9 5335 ft Heintooga Ridge Picnic Area (37 sites) - Picnic Tables, restrooms.  Access to hiking trails - Flat Creek Trail - short walk to Heintooga Overlook with nice views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
9.0 5335 ft Pavement Ends.  One way gravel Balsam Mountain Road continues into Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


CNY Hiking HOME PAGE Great Smoky Mountains National Park North Carolina BRP Highlights Blue Ridge Parkway