Sometimes the origins of a place’s name can be fascinating. The mystery of how a place came to be called Gatlinburg – for instance – instead of White Oak Flats can be really interesting.
Other times, there’s not much mystery. It’s fairly obvious nobody burned up too many brain cells in the naming process.
I picture a couple of sailors off the coast of Canada.
“Hey, Jim. I just found a new island.”
“What? You found new land? What should we call it?”
“Wait a minute, I have just the thing!”
And so every time we pass the sign for Newfound Gap, I think about the visionary who first found something that had been there and used by native tribes for centuries and had the chutzpah to name it that.
A gap is, in the Appalachian vernacular, simply a low spot in a ridge. It’s a gap in the ridge where a journey crossing the mountains is made easier simply because you don’t have to climb so dang high.
What is the elevation of Newfound Gap?
At 5,046 feet, Newfound Gap is the lowest pass driving through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A Swiss geographer named Arnold Henry Guyot identified what would become Newfound Gap as the lowest point in the 1870s. Prior to that, the old road over the mountains went through Indian Gap, a couple of miles to the West.
If the name Guyot sounds familiar, it’s because the second highest peak in the Smokies carries his name.
A new road was cut and became the precursor to Newfound Gap Road.
Where does Newfound Gap start and end?
The scenic drive on Newfound Gap Road starts at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and ends at the Mountain Farm Museum in North Carolina.
A trip along the Newfound Gap Road is a trip through the forest ecosystems of the Eastern U.S., like driving from Maine to Georgia.
Drivers leaving Cherokee, North Carolina or Gatlinburg, Tennessee will ascend 3,000 feet through a variety of trees to Newfound Gap, with its northern hardwood forest and fragrant evergreen spruce-fir forest similar to those of New England and Eastern Canada.
How much snow does Newfound Gap get?
The climate at the Gap is significantly cooler than the surrounding lowlands, as much as 10-degrees, and receives quite a bit more snow.
In colder months, when it’s raining in Gatlinburg or Cherokee, it could be snowing in the Gap.
Normally, Newfound Gap receives about 69 inches of snow, annually.
Is Newfound Gap Road a loop?
No, it’s not a loop.
It’s U.S. Highway 441 connecting Gatlinburg to Cherokee, North Carolina.
It’s a major road that is frequently closed during inclement weather.
Newfound Gap Road vs Newfound Gap Loop
There is always some confusion because Newfound Gap Loop is a serious hiking trail in the area that goes for 28.9 miles through difficult territory.
You can access the Newfound Gap Loop by parking at the Newfound Gap parking area and hiking the Appalachian Trail to Indian Gap.
However, this is for the more serious hikers. If you want to do some lighter hiking in the Gap, it’s better to explore a little bit of the Appalachian Trail, which crosses the state line, at the parking area.
It’s a great place to take a break and stretch your legs with some fantastic views.
It’s important to note that the large parking area also serves as the access point for the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, which was built in honor of John D. Rockefeller’s late wife.
John D. Rockefeller donated about half the money for the park’s land acquisition – roughly $5 million.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the National Park in September 1940, he spoke from atop the Rockefeller Memorial. You can stand where FDR once stood.
How long does it take to drive from Newfound Gap to Clingmans Dome?
It is seven miles from Newfound Gap to Clingmans Dome and the observation tower – the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643 feet above sea level.
Editor’s Note: The seven-mile Clingmans Dome Road is usually closed from November to April each year.
To drive, begin at the Newfound Gap parking area.
It’s a major road, but it is pretty twisty through some high elevations.
The time it takes to drive those seven miles varies depending on the conditions. It’s not a ride to the market and back, so be a little patient.
Once at the Dome, you have to park and take a short walk about a half-mile up the steep, but paved trail.
How many states can you see from Newfound Gap?
It’s a good question. From the Gap itself? It’s hard to say.
Remember the Gap is the lowest point in the ridge, so its views are limited by higher peaks around it.
On a clear day, you can see seven states from the top of Clingmans Dome: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.
There are several scenic overlooks along the Newfound Gap Road that offer spectacular views.
Directions to Newfound Gap
The Gap is easy to find. You can hardly miss it. From Gatlinburg, go east 16 miles on U.S. 441. From Cherokee, go west 18 miles.
Have you visited Newfound Gap? Have you driven the scenic road? What did you think? Tell us in the comments.
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