Morton Overlook: One of the Best, Most Accessible Views in the Smokies

morton overlook

Morton Overlook is an easy to access overlook along Newfound Gap Road (photo by Dave Allen Photogrphy/shutterstock.com)

A Smoky Mountain local talks about one of his favorite area overlooks

We were cutting through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, returning home from Bryson City, North Carolina on Newfound Gap Road – aka U.S. Route 441. I was driving so my attention was on the road and I missed some of the natural beauty of the spruce-fir forests. I also missed pointing out Mt. LeConte and the Chimney Tops. And I was about to miss a Great Smoky Mountain sunset. However, getting the family home safely takes priority over even the most breathtaking sunset. But then, we passed the border of Tennessee and entered Sevier County. We approached Morton Overlook, and it turned out to be a great place to stop for some of the best views of the mountains

Morton Overlook Sunset
Morton Overlook is one of the best overlooks along Newfound Gap (photo by ehrlif/shutterstock.com)

What is Morton Overlook?

On clear days, Morton Overlook is one of the best spots to soak in the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of many overlooks on Newfound Gap Road, Morton Overlook has an elevation of 4,826 feet. It is one of the places in the park to take in a sunset. I hadn’t planned on stopping that particular day. Newfound Gap Road has a handful of small pullouts and they’re usually crowded toward sunset. But then, I saw the setting sun. 

I don’t have the words to describe the view. The overlook faces west, high over a valley. It’s not a panoramic view., there are ridges on either side. The highest peaks create almost an alley effect. However, at the right time of year, when the sun sets in just the right way, it’s the perfect spot to contemplate the beauty and the majesty of the natural world. 

That yellow ray of light hit my face as we drove past. And so without anyone behind me, I slowed the car and we soaked it in as much as we could. The parking lot was full – or I’d passed the only open spot – so we couldn’t stop. It was only a fleeting moment of beauty in the mountains, seconds out of a lifetime spent running through the hills and valleys. But it’s the one that stands out in my memory more than all the others. It may well be the most beautiful sight I have seen. 

Who is the Morton Overlook named after?

Ben Morton, who lived from 1875 to 1952, was a civic leader, a grocer and a Knoxville mayor. He was also a staunch advocate of the National Park and specifically Newfound Gap Road. But possibly not for altruistic reasons. As Knoxville Mayor, Morton believed that park roads that highlighted the natural beauty of the region were a great economic driver. As a member of the Knoxville Auto Club, he pushed hard for the road. Whatever his motivation, the result was a blessing. In addition to allowing millions to access the beautiful scenery, it made crossing the mountains a far more practical endeavor. Before completing the road in 1932, the trip from Gatlinburg to Cherokee was an arduous one. The road was not entirely popular, however. The New Gap, New Road historical marker offers a quote from Harold Ickes – the secretary of the interior in 1935.

“I do not … favor the scarring of a wonderful mountainside just so we can say we have a skyline drive. It sounds poetical, but it may be an atrocity,” he said.

Of course, it was perhaps the most wrong any person has ever been. Though in fairness, a leader in civil rights and civil liberties, Ickles had a lot of good ideas in his day, too. Morton’s historic brick home – known as the Morton-Bush House – is on the National Register of Historic Places. Constructed in 1927, it is a brick house in the Colonial Revival Style and is located among the historic homes on Kingston Pike not far from the University of Tennessee campus. When I was in college, I drove past the house all the time on my way to get high-end beers at the Fresh Market in West Knoxville. 

Morton Overlook with a beautiful colorful sunset
Morton Overlook sunset in Gatlinburg in the GSMNP (photo by Keith Bailey Photography/shutterstock.com)

How do you get to Morton Overlook?

It is not difficult to get to Morton Overlook. Get on U.S. 441 and drive – either from the Carolina or Tennessee side. Morton Overlook is on the Tennessee side. Or, make it easy on yourself and just type “Morton Overlook” into your GPS.

Clingmans Dome with ramp
Newfound Gap Road connects to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Smoky Mountains (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

Is there anything else of interest in the area? 

Sure. In addition to the other scenic overlooks along 441, Newfound Gap Road connects to Clingmans Dome Road, taking you up to the observation tower at the highest peak in Tennessee. The Newfound Gap parking area is right there where the two roads meet. The Rockefeller Memorial is there. The memorial honors the $5 million donation from the Rockefeller Foundation which covered about half the cost of creating the park. The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial is the spot where President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously held the dedication for the National Park in 1940, presumably much to the chagrin of Harold Ickes. 

“For the permanent enjoyment of the people this park was given one half by the people and states of North Carolina and Tennessee and by the people of the United States of America and one half in memory of Laura Spellman Rockefeller by the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial founded by her husband John D. Rockefeller,” the Memorial’s plaque reads.

Also, for hikers, the Appalachian Trail passes nearby. Have you visited Morton Overlook? Do you have a favorite overlook? Let us know in the comments.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at info@thesmokies.com.

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