Date Explored: October 9, 2011
Elevation: Around 1800'
Weather: Partly Sunny, 65°
GPS: 35.563041, -83.847077
Editor's Note: Parsons Branch Road will open, weather permitting, April 11th, 2014 for the season. For the latest road closures, please visit our Alerts page.
Parsons Branch Road is a narrow, one-way, gravel road leading out of Cades Cove and ending at US 129. It is approximately eight miles long and mostly follows a creek throughout the southeastern portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
We wanted to explore this road, as well as Rich Mountain Road, during our latest trip to Cades Cove. We took Parsons Branch first, and, boy, was it interesting.
When we first arrived at the entrance, a couple of park rangers had temporarily blocked off the road. They told us someone had gotten stuck and were in the process of being pulled out by a ranger, but the road should be open at any minute. That little bit of information got us really excited, but nervous.
Only a couple of minutes passed between when we first arrived when the rangers reopened the road. Three trucks and a jeep entered before us, and then we followed. We were in an SUV, but it was front-wheel drive only. I was confident we could make the trip, despite the warning sign at the entrance.
The road was gravel, but very loose, especially on hills. There was one hill in particular that we had trouble getting up. In fact, we tried twice but kept getting rutted in the loose gravel. On the third attempt, I backed the vehicle down the hill, got a running start, and flew up the hill. We made it, but it was a real bumpy ride. Thankfully, I didn't bottom out hitting the ruts and potholes, but we were bouncing around in the SUV pretty good.
The road didn't offer any overlooks, but it was probably more scenic than Rich Mountain Road because of its 18 fords and picturesque creek setting. However, let me stress that you do not want to take a car down this road. It just won't make it. You need at least an SUV or a truck, preferably a 4x4.
Parsons Branch Road ends at US 129, better known as the "Tail of the Dragon" due to the nutty curves (There are supposedly 318 curves on an 11-mile stretch of this highway.).
The road is closed periodically for severe weather and is also closed for a time during the winter months.