Primitive and ‘desolate’ road from 1800s reopens in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

·2 min read
Kristina Plaas

A 184-year-old mountain road once deemed too dangerous for tourists has reopened deep inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The one-way Parson Branch Road is considered an artifact of what the Smoky Mountains were prior to the Civil War. It’s primitive, shadowy, narrow and unpaved.

It has been closed since 2016, due to a threat that came to light only after crews noticed a suspicious number of dead trees loomed over the route, the National Park Service said in a news release.

A final count discovered more than 1,700 dead trees, each one perhaps destined to fall on the road.

The threat was so severe, the National Park Service closed Parson Branch Road indefinitely and invested $300,000 in removing the trees, adding gravel and replacing culverts.

“The trees died due to a widespread infestation of the non-native forest pest, hemlock woolly adelgid,” the National Park Service reported. “Over the last six years, more than half the dead trees fell due to natural deterioration and multiple large wind events, making it feasible to remove the remaining damaged trees.”

Parson Branch Road, which leads to US 129, is described by TripAdvisor as both “desolate” and “a real adventure,” including 18 spots where drivers must ford creeks.

It was originally created as a commerce route for people living in Cades Cove, giving them “direct access to the Little Tennessee River for trading goods,” the park says. The Cades Cove settlement is also now part of the park.

“The eight-mile road now provides motorists a trail-like experience through a mature forest canopy with nearly 20 stream crossings,” the park says.

It remains challenging, however, and will only be open from April to November, the park says. It’s also recommended that only high-clearance vehicles attempt to drive it.

“Motorhomes, buses, vans longer than 25 feet, and passenger vehicles towing trailers are prohibited,” the park says.

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