By Mike Steely
If you’d like to take the family on a day trip to see views of the Smoky Mountains you haven’t seen before you should consider driving the extension of the Foothills Parkway that opened last fall.
Plan to take your time as the speed limit is 35 miles per hour but the slow pace is worth the trip because the road climbs, winds and curves around the mountain just north of the tall Smoky peaks and the views are great.
For Knox County residents I’d suggest driving to Alcoa and taking Highway 321 toward Townsend. When you pass Walland you’re almost there. Just watch for the signs and you’ll take a right and stop at the bottom of the ramp. The older part of the parkway turns right and leads up to Look Rock and down the mountain to Chilhowee and Tellico Lake.
But take a left and go back under the highway. There you’ll begin to climb. The two-lane road parallels the Little River initially and then follows the ridges and peaks mostly atop the mountain.
There are several pull-off places along the way that accommodate several vehicles.
The most unique feature, aside from the views, is the 1.65 mile “missing link” that features nine bridges that project from the mountain side. It’s hard to get a photo of the bridges without stopping in the road but on the weekdays there’s very little traffic. There are no pull-offs near the bridges and if you want a really good photo you may need to walk back to the bridge.
The new portion of the parkway sat completed for several years until the bridges were built and now offers a leisurely drive for car or motorcycle. You’ll notice your ears pop as you change altitude along the route.
The 16-mile stretch actually began in 1965 and awaited funding, which came from Tennessee, the Eastern Land Highway Division of the Federal Highway Administration and the National Park Service, which totaled $178 million.
With that portion of the Foothills Parkway completed you can now drive from Lake Tellico all the way to Wears Valley. There’s a missing link at that point that will eventually connect to the Cosby Foothills Parkway. That existing portion, completed in 1968, runs six miles from near Cosby to Interstate 40 over the views of Mt. Cammerer.