The western segment of the Foothills Parkway has 18 miles of scenic views and overlooks, perfect for an afternoon drive, or as a shortcut from Chilhowee to Walland (or vice versa). Look Rock is a natural observation ledge at the halfway point along the parkway, and across from the parking lot is a .9-mile out-and-back paved trail that leads hikers to the observation tower. The highest level of the tower is closed, but you can still enjoy a 360-degree view of the western edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the neighboring cities of Maryville and Alcoa.
What Makes It Great
Look Rock is the highest elevation point along the parkway so it’s easy to get the 360-degree vantage point—it’s not as easy to get these views in other parts of the national park. Unless the parkway is closed for ice or rockslide, it’s open year-round, which makes it ideal for a relaxed afternoon hike. Foothills Parkway is less visited than other areas, so you’ll be able to get away from the crowds a bit and enjoy the scenery. It’s an especially great spot for viewing fall foliage.
Campers will enjoy Look Rock’s proximity to Abrams Creek Campground in Happy Valley (4.5 miles off of Foothills Parkway) and its surrounding moderate-to-difficult hiking trails, such as Little Bottoms Trail, Pine Mountain Loop Trail, and Cooper Road Trail.
For those feeling adventurous, Look Rock is also home to excellent bouldering and rock climbing, located just below the observation tower. The crag is accessible by following a variety of well-worn trails that fork southward from the paved path. Without going deep into the Great Smoky Mountains, visitors can skirt a small portion of the outside rim and still have the full outdoor experience.
The wall around the tower is low, and it gets super windy at the top, so keep an eye on kids while up there.
Who is Going to Love It
While experienced hikers might find this particular trail too short, novice hikers, as well as parents with young children, will enjoy the slow climb to the observation tower under a canopy of trees. It’s short enough when you’re low on time and easy enough when you’re not up for a big hike. Because the view is what you’re hiking for, people of all ages and abilities can make the trek.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To enter from the north side, take Hwy 321 to the Foothills Parkway entrance and drive approximately ten miles southwest. From the south end, take Hwy 129 (The Dragon) to the Foothills Parkway entrance, across from Chilhowee Lake, and drive approximately eight miles northeast. Both entrances are well-marked.