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Parsons Branch Ford

A ford on Parsons Branch Road

Written By:  Shawn Dunnaway
Exploration Date:  October 9, 2011
Weather:  Partly sunny and 65°
Elevation:  Around 1,800'
GPS:  35.563041, -83.847077

Editor's Note:  As of August 2018, Parsons Branch Road is closed. No word on when the road will reopen. For the latest road and trail closures, follow the GSMNP 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.

Parsons Branch Road Sign

The sign notifying the adventurous trip ahead.

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. 

Parsons Branch Road

The beginning of Parsons Branch Road

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.

Parsons Branch Creek

The end of Parsons Branch Road at US 129.