OFF THE BEATEN PATH DRIVING TOUR
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding towns welcome millions of visitors each year. Most of these visitors rarely venture off the primary roads that take them through the three cities and to the Smokies. While there is ample entertainment along these thoroughfares, sometimes it is a treat to travel some of the unhurried, scenic backroads that meander through valleys, foothills, hollows, and farmland. In some areas the diversity of flora and fauna rivals that of the neighboring national park. For an opportunity to experience one of the least traveled sections of Sevier County, pack a picnic and take a trip through Jones Cove and Rocky Flats, areas rich in history, tradition, and scenic views. To view a printer-friendly map of the Off the Beaten Path Driving Tour, click here
Start the tour at the iconic Dolly Parton Statue located on the lawn of the historic 1896 Sevier County Courthouse at 126 Court Avenue. If you have plenty of time, take a “Discover Sevierville Historic Walking Tour” brochure from the kiosk in front of the statue, and take a few minutes to see some of the points of interest in downtown Sevierville.
Leave Court Avenue traveling north to East Main Street. Turn right at the traffic light. In two blocks the street becomes Dolly Parton Parkway (Highway 411). Continue to the junction of Long Springs Road (Highway 339).
In approximately 0.9 miles, turn right onto Harrisburg Road. Continue for 0.2 miles to a Sevier County landmark, the Harrisburg Covered Bridge, which was built in 1875 by Elbert Early and his brothers. Stop long enough for a photo op and to hear the clopping of the old planks as cars drive through the narrow passageway over the east fork of the Little Pigeon River. Once you are back in your car, follow the road to your left (Old Covered Bridge Road) that will bring you back to Old Newport Highway.
Turn right onto Old Newport Highway, travel .4 miles, and turn right onto Jones Cove Road. Travel 2.3 miles and turn right onto Bethel Church Road. Just ahead, pull into the parking lot of Bethel Baptist Church. Organized in 1804, the congregation is one of the oldest in Sevier County. Today, the handsome red-brick building, surrounded by historic Bethel Cemetery, is the epitome of a country church. Take time to stretch your legs and see the beautiful black granite markers honoring the soldiers representing most every war in U.S. history who are buried there.
Turn around in the parking lot and backtrack to Jones Cove Road. Turn right and travel 0.2 miles to Cedar Bluff Road. Cedar Bluff United Methodist Church is located just ahead on the left. Originally called Cummings Chapel, this church was founded in 1858 and first met in a wooden building that still stands next to Cummings Chapel Cemetery. The present church was built about 100 years ago. This is a wonderful opportunity to take a photograph of a classic white clapboard country church.
Travel back to Jones Cove Road and turn left. In 3.5 miles you will pass Bethany Baptist Church and Eledge Cemetery. Continue approximately 2.9 miles and look for the Bachelor Rolen Cemetery on the left. Turn and take the drive to the top of the hill. This little country graveyard contains about 35 graves and is named for the first person buried there, Archibald Rolen. He was called Bachelor most of his life because he never married. Interestingly his grave is positioned north-south, while all others are east-west. According to oral tradition Rolen was buried with his money. A few years after his interment, relatives discovered his grave had been disturbed and an empty iron kettle where someone had been digging. The mystery as to who stole the money has never been solved.
Back on Jones Cove Road, travel 2.5 miles to the old Baxter Grocery Store on the right. No longer in business, this old country store served as a community gathering place. You can imagine, a group of farmers gathered around a stove talking about their crops or on the front porch bench spitting tobacco juice.
At the store, turn right onto Henry Town Road. Immediately, you will see New Salem Baptist Church just before you cross the bridge over Yellow Britches Creek. In 1845, the church was organized in a log schoolhouse. Before the Civil War, three enslaved African Americans worshiped there alongside the white congregation. The present church building was constructed in 1922 after a windstorm destroyed a similar 1914 building.
Continue on Henry Town Road for 1 mile and take a left onto Rocky Flats Road. As you travel the length of Rocky Flats Road, roll down your windows and listen to the tranquil sound of Dunn’s Creek, which you will cross several times. The rhododendron, dogwoods, spruce, and hemlocks along this road are similar to the foliage in the national park. Soon historic rock walls will be visible on both sides of the road. Some of the stones weigh several hundred pounds. They were drug by mules and early settlers stacked them by hand. Originally used to mark property lines, the ancient moss and lichen- covered walls are both scenic and a reminder of the hard work inherent to mountain living.
In 4.4 miles, Shults Grove United Methodist Church is located on the left at the junction of East Balls Hollow Road. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this church was established in 1914. Jack Rouse Associates of Cincinnati, Ohio chose the unique church as a setting in the production of “Heartsong,” a Dollywood film about the beauty and wonders of the Great Smoky Mountains and its people. The film is seen by thousands of people at Dollywood every day. If you brought along a picnic, the pavilion in front of the church is an excellent place for a repast while enjoying the splashing sound from nearby Dunn’s Creek.
Continue on Rocky Flats Road for 1.3 miles to Highway 321 and turn right towards Gatlinburg.
If you prefer another scenic route on your return, turn right onto Pittman Center Road (Highway 416) in approximately 8 miles. Take this road along the banks of the middle prong of the Little Pigeon River back to Sevierville.