The closest airport to Gatlinburg, TN, is McGhee Tyson, located 12 miles south of Knoxville, just over a 40-mile drive from Gatlinburg, with a few different ways to get there, depending on if you want to hit Pigeon Forge first, and any scenic options you may chose to take on the way in. McGhee Tyson is a friendly little airport, and usually a nice introduction to the friendly people of Tennessee and the Appalachian warmth and culture of the Smoky Mountains.
If you’re flying in, typically you’ll want to rent a car to drive, which you can easily arrange from the airport. You can get taxi service (and Uber/Lyft) also, if you won’t need a car when you get here – perhaps joining up with others, for example. In general the sights and natural attractions of the Smoky Mountains are so abundant that a car is the best way to enjoy your full share of them during your visit.
The fastest drive from the airport heads a little north first on Hwy 129, which can be heavily trafficked at times, then jogs east on Hwy 168 to intersect with 441, which then arcs down south towards the mountains, and eventually plunges you into Pigeon Forge, and on to Gatlinburg.
For an alternate route, you can also go south from the airport to Maryville, and strike out to the east on Hwy 321, giving you the choice to continue east on different roads to intersect with 441, or to take a more scenic drive by staying on 321 to Townsend. By Townsend, you’re in a different world already, and the fun begins.
This route along Hwy 321 gives you options to turn south into the park. And if the northern end of all the action, around Pigeon Forge, is your goal, you can take 321 all the way across, passing through Wears Valley, and amid some gorgeous mountain views.
Another option is Foothills Parkway, a hugely scenic drive that came into existence with the completion of the missing portion in 2018. You can access this roadway from Walland before you get to Townsend, and take it all the way to Wears Valley, getting back on Hwy 321 there. Although you miss the direct connectivity to the national park along this route, you can cut back to the park from Wears Valley, and the sweeping grandeur of the Foothills Parkway view is worth seeing at least once in your visit.
If you’re aiming for Gatlinburg area, or if you want to plunge straight into Great Smoky Mountain National Park, then from Townsend you can leave Hwy 321 and head south towards the Townsend Wye.
From the Wye, you can make your way into Cades Cove, or head eastwards along the gorgeously scenic Little River Gorge Road. You’ll pass through countless natural attractions, including Metcalf Bottoms and a chance to head up to Wears Valley if you want, or you can continue ambling east through the park to Sugarlands Visitor Center, right next door to Gatlinburg. Welcome home!
From the North
You might choose other regional airports in the area and rent a car from there also, if you have a particular itinerary in mind. While it’s estimated that about half the country’s population is within a day’s drive of the Smokies, you may choose to fly to a close point and get a car to explore some of the natural beauty of East Tennessee and other sights.
Any time you’re coming down from the north, once you get to Sevierville, it’s worth knowing about Veterans Boulevard, which runs south parallel to Parkway, and avoids a lot of traffic. It’s good to know this if your cabin is on the eastern side of Pigeon Forge, or you’re heading to Gatlinburg. Here are the directions to our Cabins of the Smoky Mountains office, by the way.
Teaster Lane in Pigeon Forge is another useful side road just a block over from Parkway. Similarly, to avoid the Parkway in Gatlinburg, look for the Gatlinburg Bypass, which does what it says, and lands you south of town on Hwy 441, ready to hit Sugarlands in the park, or turn into Gatlinburg itself. By the way, don’t trust your GPS in the mountains, it may lead you astray – be sure to refer to a map while you’re getting oriented.
Before you come, be sure to book ahead for one of our Gatlinburg cabins, Pigeon Forge cabins or our Wears Valley cabins. Each cabin comes with a deal that no one else can match – a free book of Pigeon Forge coupons and Gatlinburg coupons for free tickets to many of the area’s best attractions, worth over $700!