Stay Near the Best Mountain Motorcycle Rides

Stay Near the Best Mountain Motorcycle Rides – 

Great Motorcycle Rides in North Carolina - NC 209, a.k.a. "The Rattler" This is some of the best motorcycle riding you'll find in the world. These riders are looping back to NC 209 on NC 63.This is some of the best motorcycle riding you'll find in the world. These riders are looping back to NC 209 on NC 63.

Great Motorcycle Rides in North Carolina – NC 209, a.k.a. “The Rattler” – This is some of the best motorcycle riding you’ll find in the world. These riders are looping back to NC 209 on NC 63.

So you’ve heard about the amazing motorcycle riding in the Blue Ridge Mountains and you want to come see the best of it it.

Where should you stay to have the best opportunity to ride the greatest number of classic motorcycle rides?

To figure out where the geographic center of the best motorcycle riding was,  I first looked at where all the classic roads were, roads that have been around long enough to have names like “The Dragon”, the “Moonshiner” and “The Gauntlet”. Some of these might be on your bucket list so it’s nice to have them close. I determined the center point between them.

Map of Classic Motorcycle Rides in the Smoky Mountains

Surround yourself with classic rides.

Next I moved a large circle around the center point of the classic rides to figure out when it contained the most good motorcycle rides overall. I made rings at 10 mile intervals, made a few adjustments, and came up with the answer;

Bullseye on the test place to stay

Bullseye on the best place to stay

The target falls on Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Cherokee.

Geographically, Maggie Valley sits at the hub of it all, but any of the towns along the south side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is going to put you near some outstanding riding.

Here are some pros and cons to help you sort out which of the three places works best for you;

Maggie Valley 

 

Photo - fall colors at Soco Gap

View heading down from the Blue Ridge Parkway at Soco Gap on US 19 towards Maggie Valley.

Maggie Valley Pros –

  • There are lots of motel rooms, cabins, and campgrounds in the one road town, it caters well to the motorcycle visitor.
  • The best section of the Blue Ridge Parkway is just 10 minutes up the road.
  • The are several good places to eat.
  • Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum is there.
  • The small town hosts several biker events each year, including spring and fall rallies.
  • The town is spread along a 4 lane stretch of US 19 with high mountains on looming on every horizon, you really feel like you’re in the mountains.
  • There are liquor stores in town.

Maggie Valley Cons

  • 15 min ride to Waynesville for groceries.
  • If you stay close to the middle of town you can walk to some of the restaurants and pubs, but the town is long and narrow so you’ll probably hop on the bike.

Waynesville

Main Street, downtown Waynesville

Main Street, downtown Waynesville

Waynesville Pros –

  • known for it’s good food and picturesque downtown and atmosphere.
  • There are mountains on every horizon.
  • US 276 leaves from the south end of town and leads to some great rides and the Blue Ridge Parkway

Waynesville Cons –

  • There’s only one motel in the downtown and a couple B&B’s where you can walk to the restaurants, pubs, and stores and galleries.
  • I usually tell visitors – eat in Waynesville, sleep in Maggie Valley unless you can snag one of the few rooms available in town.

Cherokee

One of the many painted bears in Cherokee

One of the many painted bears in Cherokee

Cherokee pros –

  • Strategically located at the south end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the south entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee is obviously worth consideration.
  • There are lots of motels and campgrounds. No outstanding restaurants come to mind, though I don’t pass through Cherokee often.

Cherokee cons –

  • Because Cherokee is a hub of tourist activity it is often congested with traffic. The roads leading in to it are busy, there are few of them, and you’ll end up on riding 4 lane roads like US 441 and US 74 more often.
  • You’re on the Cherokee Reservation, if you want drinks you’ll need to go to Harrah’s Casino.

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100 Great Motorcycle Rides mapin the Smoky MountainsYou can get a map of more than 100 Great Motorcycle Rides near the Smoky Mountains that will show you where the roads are hiding and how they link together into endless wonderful wanderings through the mountains.

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wayne busch - Smoky Mountain Motorcycle Rider.com

Wayne Busch

– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com

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Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks by Motorcycle

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks by Motorcycle – Highest Point

Richland Balsam Overlook
Elevation – 6053 feet
Milepost – 431.4 

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks - highest point

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks – highest point. The long sweeping overlook  provides expansive views of the mountains which comprise ‘The Land of the Waterfalls”

The highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway is in North Carolina at milepost 431.4. Here, the nations top motorcycle ride reaches an elevation of 6053 feet as it carves it’s way along  the southern exposure of the Balsam mountain range.

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks by Motorcycle - highest point

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks by Motorcycle – Getting your picture with the sign at the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of those “must have” photos from your trip to reach the long paved overlook which spans the radius of the curve around the mountain.

There is no dramatic climb to reach the long paved overlook which spans the radius of the broad curve around the mountain. The Blue Ridge Parkway maintains a steady altitude through this long remote and isolated section of the national park rarely dipping below 5000 feet. While the grades are gentle, the curves are full of surprises and the drop-offs along the roadside inspire a real respect for the altitude on this best motorcycle ride in the USA.

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks by Motorcycle - high point

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks by Motorcycle – peer into several states from the highest point on clear days, but it not place to be in bad weather

Only 37.7 miles from the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, NC, a ride to the high point is an easy one to squeeze in even if you’re not on an end-to-end parkway ride on your motorcycle. From Asheville, Waynesville and Maggie Valley, it’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours riding a motorcycle on one of the the best scenic motorcycle rides you’ll find anywhere.

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks by Motorcycle - high point

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks by Motorcycle – Few can resist a stop at the high point. The large parking area is able to handle the crowds, and it’s a great lace to get shots of large groups of riders.

As you might suspect, this spot is one of the most remote and isolated on your Blue Ridge Parkway motorcycle ride. It’s a long ride for gas, tank up before you go. The high parts get the wet weather first – if it looks cloudy from the valley, you may not see much when you get up high. It will be a lot cooler than down in the valley and more windy, be prepared.

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks by Motorcycle - high point

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks by Motorcycle – A fall view from the high point overlook. Clear days are just spectacular!

Map of the best section of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway Map best

Map of the best 50 mile section of the Blue Ridge Parkway shows the location of the high point and the ways to reach it from nearby towns. Click for larger image –

See a 360 degree panoramic view at Virtual Blue Ridge – http://www.virtualblueridge.com/parkway_tour/overlooks/00431b.asp

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You’ll find the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway on America Rides Maps motorcycle pocket map

#6 The Best Motorcycle Rides Near Smoky Mountains National Park – EAST http://shop.americaridesmaps.com/6-The-Best-Motorcycle-Rides-Near-Smoky-Mountains-Park-EAST-NC017.htm

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wayne busch - Smoky Mountain Motorcycle Rider.com

Wayne Busch

– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com

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Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. Isn’t it time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely? It can transform your mountain riding experience.  Total Rider Tech

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Good Motorcycle Rides near Waynesville and Maggie Valley, NC

The last place I want to be riding a motorcycle is the 4-lane highway when there are so many good 2 lane back roads in North Carolina.

photo-turn-onto-candlestick-lane

Turn off the highway onto Candlestick Lane

For most motorcycle riders, covering the distance between Waynesville and Sylva means a relatively pleasant ride on four lane divided NC Highway 74 (The Great Smoky Mountains Expressway). As far as highways go, it is a nice ride winding down from Balsam Mountain and it rarely gets enough traffic to be annoying.

Lately though, I’ve been covering the relatively short distance on a few nice little back roads which I’ve grown very fond of. Since so many motorcycle touring riders pass through and stay in this area, I think they should know about them. If you’re riding near Cherokee, Maggie Valley, Waynesville, or Sylva, these roads may come in handy.

photo-turn-onto-cabin-flats

Next turn onto Cabin Flats Road.

Both ends meet the Highway (US 74). The Waynesville end starts near the Blue Ridge Parkway Exit for Waynesville (MP 443.1) where it intersects US 74. Pass under the parkway then exit left onto Candlestick Lane. It’s an obvious intersection, well marked, look for the signs to Balsam, Balsam Mountain Inn, Moonshine Creek Campground.

Candlestick Circle is just a short loop off the highway, turn right onto Cabin Flats Rd. Cabin Flats Road winds along the railroad tracks a short distance, then makes a hairpin turn across them.  Balsam Mountain Inn sits on the hill above.

photo-balsam-mountain-inn

The Balsam Mountain Inn – historic, good food

It’s been a long while side I last visited, but the historic inn (1905) is both scenic and the food used to be very, very, good. You can imagine it’s heyday when it was a stop on the tracks in the middle of nowhere.

Cabin Flats Road will morph into Dark Ridge Road and start a twisting course alongside a stream through the mountain passes. The railroad also follows this narrow valley and you’ll often see it off in the woods crossing the stream on bridges and trestles.

photo-Dark-Ridge-Rd

Dark Ridge Road – more fun than the 4 lane

Dark Ridge Road, the railroad, the highway, and the stream cross each other several times on the way to Sylva in a twisted mountain mess. You go under the highway, under the railroad, over the stream several times on the ride.

Dark Ridge Road meets Skyland Road at a stop sign just after you cross the railroad tracks. Turn left (the road quickly peters out if you go right).

photo-trestle-on-skyland-rd

Under the tracks on Skyland Rd

The first part of Skyland Road is nice and there are several good spots to stop and get a look at the now rushing whitewater stream.

The second half looses it’s appeal as it draws near Sylva and the suburbs of the town. You can follow the road all the way into Sylva. You may note the prominent fork right onto Chipper Curve Rd – it will bring you closer to downtown.

photo-creek

Whitewater Creek along Skyland Rd

You can hop on-off this ride at 2 points and get back on the highway. One of them is obvious, a mile or so after you get on Skyland Rd. The other, Steeple Road, is closer to Sylva and is the best way to get back on the highway without going into town. Precision Cycles and a BP station mark it at the highway.

map

Click on photos and map for larger views

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch – Cartographer

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Learn Total Control

– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com

Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. Isn’t it time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely? It can transform your mountain riding experience.  Total Rider Tech

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First Day of Winter – Let’s Ride the Blue Ridge Parkway!

So here it is, winter is officially upon us today and I spent the best of it on my motorcycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I couldn’t stand it any longer. It was so warm when I took the dog out this morning I knew I was going to HAVE to get on the bike. The weatherman says rain is coming to the Smoky Mountains so I knew I’d need an early start.

photo-wayne-at-lake-junaluska-dam

I would have settled for a nice short ride - (if you believe that, you don't know me very well)

“Just a short ride” I told my wife.

If nothing else I’d top up the near-empty tank and make a short spin of it. Thinking of someplace close I could get a photo, I headed to the dam at Lake Junaluska. Sure looked like rain was coming. Got my photo, then where?

It’s been so unusually warm lately, I decided to ride over to Maggie Valley and see if the Blue Ridge Parkway was open. Slim chance of it, but just maybe….

Photo-Wayne-celebrates-at Waterrock-Knob

Made it to Waterrock Knob! Enveloped in clouds, raining, but totally unexpected at this time of year. That would have been enough for most riders - it just goaded me to push on.

Passing the man made snow at Tony’s Tube World as I left the valley, I started to consider alternatives. If snow could linger down low, it would sure be too cold up high for the parkway to be open. If it wasn’t, I could always cruise over to Cherokee.

I turned onto the ramp to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Soco Gap, and sure enough, the gates towards Cherokee were closed when I reached the top. Oh well.

motorcycle-at-fork-ridge-overlook-1st-day-of-winter

I stopped for a photo when I came down to the mile-high Fork Ridge overlook. You can see the cloud ceiling a few hundred feet above me and the clouds in the valleys below.

As long as I was here, might as well ride over to see if the gates were closed heading south though the chances were even slimmer as the parkway climbs to some of the highest parts in that direction.

Surprise, surprise, the gates were open and I rolled on the throttle!

I didn’t think I’d get far, but I might at least get a photo from one of the lower overlooks. As I climbed, I came nearer and nearer to the cloud bank that socked in the mountain tops. Still, the road was clear.

Photo-first-day-of-winter-on-blue-ridge-parkway

It was a good day for riding so long as you stayed down low. At 4000 feet, the Woodfin Valley overlook shows it's fine at the lower elevations. I couldn't resist going higher.

I was stoked when I reached Waterrock Knob. Totally enveloped in thick clouds and peppering light rain, I stopped for another photo. This was awesome and a rare occasion this far into the cold season.

I was happy as I continued towards the next exit at US 74 in Waynesville, dropping back below the ceiling of clouds and out of the rain.

I almost left the parkway at Waynesville (see my video of Waynesville), as the next section of the Blue Ridge Parkway leads to the highest point on the road. No way it would be open. Still, I was curious as to how far I would get and amazed to find the gates open as I crossed over the highway.

photo-wayne-rides-his-motorcycle-to-the highest-point-on-the-parkway

Can't believe it! I rode to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway on the first day of winter. Same day last year we got a snow that covered the yard until well into march.

I began climbing again, and before long was back in the wet cloud bank. Except for a few stray cars, I had the road to myself and enjoyed it with enthusiasm.

It was windy and poor visibility when I reached the high point, but it was another unexpected treat. Took another photo to remember it by.

I rode the rest of the way to Beech Gap and NC 215 in heavy wet fog (here’s a wicked ride nearby). No views to speak of, and lots of rocks and debris from the small slides that occur where rocky faces run close to the road. Winter thaws and freezes cause a lot of little slides during this season but it’s not much of a problem as no one is there to be affected by them.

photo-fall-on-nc215-great-motorcycle-ride

Road condition has improved marginally since this fall photo of NC 215 following the resurfacing. Still plenty of loose gravel and slippery corners to negotiate. Not for the faint-of-heart. It will improve, but how much?

The ride home via NC 215 (see my video of NC 215)is unchanged from my last visit – the road is till a mess. If riding sharp turns on loose gravel isn’t your thing, you will want to avoid it a while longer until things clean up.

Same day last year, we got snow so deep it laid in my yard for 3 months. This year I’m riding. I think I like this year better!

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

Total Rider Tech Logo

Learn Total Control

– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com

Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. It’s time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely, it will change your mountain riding experience. It worked so well for me I became an instructor! Total Rider Tech

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Motorcycle Friendly Lodging – Gear Head Inn near Bryson City, NC

photo-blue-ridge-parkway-view-big-witch

View form the Blue Ridge Parkway this afternoon - Big Witch Overlook near Cherokee

Another great motorcycle friendly place to stay in the Smokies and I got you another discount! Read on…

A gorgeous afternoon on the Blue Ridge Parkway with clear blue skies, amazing long range views, and those wonderful, wonderful curves, provided a stark contrast to the touristy mess that is Cherokee as I came off the parkway, passed through town, then pointed my wheel west on US 19 towards Bryson City, NC.

As soon as you’re out of town the pleasant green returns and two lane US 19 winds its way along the pretty Oconoluftee River for several miles as you leave the Reservation. It was easy to spot the Gear Head Inn sign and I pulled into the quiet spot cradled in the hillside along the road.

photo-sign-gear-head-inn

The Gear Head in Near Bryson City, NC

The first thing that struck me was how fresh everything looked. The green metal roofs looked new, as did the paint, in fact everything showed it had been resurrected and restored to a standard that exceeds anything I’d seen in the surrounding properties. The lawns were well tended, the pool sparkled, and the first impression is that the owners have put a lot of time and effort into this making this motel a labor of love. It shows.

Jim was finishing up the last of the renovations to the spacious lobby and the room was both inviting and welcoming. Mary met me at the door and invited me in.

photo-room-gear-head-inn

The rooms are huge at the Gear Head Inn

The cold glass of spring water she brought me was welcome on this hot late summer afternoon, and I spent some time getting to know them and finding out what they had to offer the motorcycle vacationer.

The motif reflects Jim’s passion for performance automobiles, and while he’s primarily a car guy at heart, I think any performance vehicle gets his motor running and he loves the motorcycle visitors. They’ve designed this place for people who love their rides, two wheels or four, and want a place where car and motorcycle enthusiasts feel at home. It’s a great place for people who frequent the numerous custom car and motorcycle shows in the area.

photo-pool-gear-head-inn

The pool - note the lights

Was I surprised when Mary showed me a room! Jeez, they are huge! Totally out of character from what you typically find in these smaller roadside motels. Must say I’m impressed.

They’ve got a bike cleaning station waiting, a nice fire pit centrally located for sharing those stories about the days ride in the evening, and nice level paved parking set well back from the road. Mary even knew of a roadside waterfall I’d yet to discover and she shared its secret location with me – sorry Mary, that was a mistake, I’m a blabbermouth and I’ll be checking it out ASAP (ask her about it).

They’ve got a few motorcycle groups coming in over the next couple weeks, but would love to see a few more. As an incentive, they’re offering a 10% discount through December if you tell them I sent you or bring in one of their cards I’ll be sending out with all America Rides Maps orders this fall.

PS – take a look at the lights by the pool – (They’re giant gear shift levers – how cool!)

Gear Head Inn

 

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

Total Rider Tech Logo

Learn Total Control

– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com

Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. It’s time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely, it will change your mountain riding experience. It worked so well for me I became an instructor! Total Rider Tech

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Motorcycling in the Land of the Waterfalls – Shouldn’t You be in these Photos?

Photo - Soco Road Exit Blue Ridge Parkway

We started from the Soco Rd Exit (US 19) on the Blue Ridge Parkway @ MP 455.7

Absolutely gorgeous weather over the holiday weekend did not go to waste. We took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy riding a “tourist” loop we typically avoid. While the good folks were in church, we knew the traffic would be light and the timing would be right to get out for a Smoky Mountain motorcycle ride that would take us by some of the best scenery the area has to offer and a trip through the Land of the Waterfalls.

Photo - Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Museum of the Cherokee Indian

We made our way to Maggie Valley and started the loop from the Soco Gap exit on the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 455.7. Careening down through the curves towards Cherokee, we had the road to ourselves and got the rare chance to enjoy this twisty section of two lane which is normally crowded with travelers and commuters.

Photo - Bear in Cherokee

Cherokee is full of these bears

Cherokee was quiet as we sneaked into town for a quick photo then continued on US 19 into Bryson City on the south side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  On Easter Sunday, the trains of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad sat in reverence as we passed through the back side of town to check out a road I’d been curious about – (I never stop looking for new roads for America Rides Maps).

Photo - Great Smoky Mountains Railway Train

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train in Bryson City

After 10 minutes on the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway (US 74 /19/23/28), we forked south into the Nantahala Gorge and paused for a break at the Nantahala Outdoor Center on the river.  From now on, this beautiful road which follows the course of one of the most popular whitewater rivers in the east will be filled with lumbering buses hauling rafters and kayakers upstream for the chilly and thrilly ride through the rapids. Thanks to the holiday, there was no commercial traffic, though plenty of others were here to enjoy the hiking, biking, and other pursuits in this hub of outdoor activity.

Photo - Rivers End Restaurant

The Rivers End Restaurant sits on the Natahala River at NOC.

Enduring 10 miles of relatively light traffic, we turned off for the climb over Wayah Bald. Snaking up along the cascading river, we passed fishermen gracefully floating their flies in the quiet pools beneath the numerous falls, then paused for a picnic lunch on the shore of crystal clear alpine Nantahala Lake.

Photo - motorcycle on Wayah Road

Jackie cruises Wayah Road

The ride across the top of the mountain is more challenging than it is scenic filled with curves and twists that attract riders to this favorite motorcycle route. Easing down through the hairpin curves on the back side of the hump, the road traces the course of another stream which builds to flow into the Little Tennessee River once you reach Franklin.  We passed through town then headed south again on US 64 / NC 28 to enter the Cullasaja River Gorge.

Waterfall along Wayah Road

The ride along the river on Wayah Road is spectacular!

It looked like our luck was changing as we found ourselves behind several cars, but each peeled off on side roads before we reached the outstanding curves that carve through the rugged canyon and we actually got to enjoy the ride at speed. That is a rare treat and we appreciated it. Good rains this spring have the waterfalls roaring and they were spectacular.

Photo - motorcycles at Nantahala Lake

Picnic lunch at alpine Nantahala Lake

There are four easy to spot major waterfalls along this stretch of US 64 leading into Highlands, Cullasaja Falls (the largest), Dry Falls, Quarry Falls, and delicate Bridal Veil Falls. We stopped for a unique photo at Bridal Veil Falls where a small paved loop runs behind the cascade.

Photo - Cullasaja Falls

Cullasaja Falls on US 64 / NC 28

The remainder of the ride on US 64 is outstanding for scenery but by mid afternoon the tourist traffic was picking up and we did not always get to exploit the wonderful curves as much as we would have liked. The horizons are flanked with glimpses of the highest naked cliffs in North Carolina, some more than 1000 feet tall, and you cruise through some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

We completed the loop by heading north again on US 215 from Rosman climbing to reach the highest section of the Blue Ridge Parkway on a freshly paved road that snakes through outstanding turns and scenery that make it one of the locals favorite rides.

Photo - Motorcycle behind Bridal Veil Falls

Jackie poses for a photo on her motorcycle behind Bridal Veil Falls just outside Highlands, NC on US 64 / NC 28. How cool is that?

Click on photos for larger view

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Wayne Busch
Wayne Busch – Cartographer
– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com 
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Smoky Mountains Adventurous Spring Motorcycle Ride Photos

Photo - Soco view

Morning view on Soco Rd - Click on pics for LG view

15 minutes from home and already I was fighting the urge to jump off the motorcycle and start snapping pictures. It was a beautiful Smoky Mountain spring morning. Rounding every curve the canvas repainted another fabulous scene as I droned down from the Blue Ridge Parkway at Soco Gap towards Cherokee.

Photo - view from Clingman's Dome

Clingman's Dome view

Not a car on the road ahead of me, I let the bike stretch it’s legs through the curves effortlessly riding every last inch of rubber as my Triumph Tiger charged down the incline in pursuit of it’s prey.

Photo - view from Roaring Fork Rd

Roaring Fork Road - must be Roaring Fork!

It felt so good, all is right with the world when you’re on your motorcycle in the mountains. Wrapping around a rock face with the mellow grace of a cat arching it’s back, I flicked left to begin my plunge to the valley floor on the first of the new roads I’d see today.

Photo - hairpin curve on Alpine Rd

Alpine Rd - one of my newest favorites

How had I missed this road? I’ve bypassed it many times on my passages to Cherokee. It’s not like I haven’t studied the area and it’s so close to home. Yet when we came through on a motorcycle ride Saturday, a road I was vaguely familiar with suddenly jumped out at me and said, “Come back and take a closer look”.

Photo - Cherokee Orchard Rd

Cherokee Orchard Road Overlook

The clue  that tipped me off  was the name – “Old Soco Road”. It suggested I was riding the “new” Soco Rd (US 19). “Old” Soco Rd was the way things used to be. Sometimes these “old” roads are gems.

It was like riding off a cliff and I had to quickly adapt to the more primitive road surface. Gliding through turn after turn I delicately parachuted through the  loose gravel and the windblown debris that had rained down on the switchbacks on this third day of roaring mountain wind. April was coming in with a bang.

Photo - Old mill

I passed this old mill again today

So began a day that took me across Great Smoky Mountains National Park and out into the wilds to the north as I clicked off road after road on my search for the best motorcycle rides. The afternoon would bring me into a violent storm navigated on what were now familiar byways through seemingly remote and isolated hidden valleys where angry streams threatened to crest their banks and wash across the pavement.

Photo - Tapoco Dam

The Dam at Tapoco

Looping around the west side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the end of the day, I’d arrive at Deals Gap to find the motorcycle resort closed due to the lack of electricity as a wind blown forest fire raged up a flank of the park consuming the lines and felling trees in it’s path. I’d squeeze through a gap between the fire trucks parked on a back road to ride through the smoke and smolder where crews fought the flames and mended the wires.

As the day drew to an end the lightening and rains caught up to me again, followed me home bringing the fury of the storm with them, and toppled trees that would have me without power for the next few days.

I’ve lost a couple days of work and will now double-down to make it up. With each new day the grays and browns of winter give way to the soft pastel greens of emerging leaves as spring wrestles the cold grip from the old season to bring the warm blooms of the new.  The fuse is lit for the explosion of color. It’s time to point your wheels towards the high country, its ready for you.

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Wayne Busch
Wayne Busch – Cartographer
– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com 
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The Birthplace of Tennessee – Best Seen on a Motorcycle

Photo - marble campfire

Who knows where this is?

It was the middle of nowhere yet it was the center of everything. I’d stumbled upon the birthplace of Tennessee.

I had low expectations. My research told me most of the roads I’d be riding today would hold little interest to the typical motorcycle rider who had come to ride The Dragon at Deals Gap and the Cherohala Skyway. None of the roads I’d ride on my 450+ mile travels would come anywhere close to those legends. Still, the morning held a surprise I never expected and made the efforts worthwhile.

Photo - Cherokee National Forest Road

Parked along Pleasant Mountain Road. It's typical of other roads nearby - of little interest to most. Still I check them all.

Arriving in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, after an early morning motorcycle ride where I’d had the whole of the Cherohala Skyway to myself, I pointed my wheel north onto TN 360 and my workday began. Within a few miles I’d reach the point where I’d previously abandoned my search for great motorcycle rides and the explorations would resume. Rounding a curve a green street sign flashed past with a name I recognized and I clamped on the brakes to swing around.

I could rule this road out as soon as I saw it, it was doubtful it would be of any interest. Consulting my map, I saw it connected to another I wanted to investigate, so I snicked into first gear determined to make quick work of White Plains Road and move on.

Photo - Tanasi Monument

The Tansi Monument - Tennessee gets it's name from here

It met Smoky Branch Road in a few miles where they both intersected Citico Road. I’d eventually loop back through Smoky Branch Road, also of little interest. Obviously Citico Road was the daddy in this area, the main thoroughfare of better quality, decent pavement, and sporting a faded double yellow line, a proper road.

I expected it would quickly peter out, but after several miles it continued to wind and snake through the mostly bland countryside and I started to wonder if it actually went somewhere in the big empty white space on the map. Curiosity aroused, I couldn’t resist investigating the Tanasi Memorial Site when the sign appeared.

Photo - Tanasi Monument

The empty and isolated setting quickly fills with visions of what must have been

Never heard of it. Turning the motorcycle onto Bacon Ferry Road I ventured out into the nothingness on the barely paved bumpy and potholed  single lane that led out onto a low finger of land surrounded by Tellico Lake. I rode past the pull-off, but a quick glance towards the lake had me circling back when I saw the shoreside monument.

Photo - Tanasi inscription

Inscription transcribed below

Tanasi

Capital of the Cherokee Nation

1721-1730

Origin of the Name for the State of Tennessee

The site of the former town of Tanasi, now underwater, is located about 300 yards west of this marker. Tanasi attained political prominence in 1721 when its civil chief was elected the first “Emperor of the Cherokee Nation”. About the same time, the town name was also applied to the river on which it was located. During the mid 18th century, Tansi became overshadowed and eventually absorbed by the adjacent town of Chota, which was to the immediate north. The first recorded spelling of Tennessee as it is today occured on Henry Timberlakes map of 1762. In 1796, the name Tennessee was selected from among several as most appropriate for the nation’s 16th state. Therfore, symbolized by this monument, those who reside in this beautiful state are forever linked to its Cherokee heritage.

Pho

Cherokee Tanasi to Tennessee - State. A heritage preserved and honored.

I don’t much adhere to theories of “vortexes” or spirituality, but there’s something about this site that is powerful enough to make it worth a visit, it will be on the new map. It’s worth the ride out to it. See it if you have the chance.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Wayne Busch
Wayne Busch – Cartographer
– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com 
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Motorcycle Touring the Blue Ridge Parkway in One Day – What was it Like?

On Thursday I rode the Blue Ridge Parkway on my motorcycle from the start at Waynesboro, Virginia, 469 miles to the southern end at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. As I progressed I paused to snap photos and posted them on Facebook and Twitter. Here’s a recap of the experience;

Photo - sign at start of Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway starts where the Skyline Drive ends near Waynesboro, Virginia.

I chose to start at the north end as I knew I’d need to leave at daybreak. The morning fog has been so heavy at the southern end I didn’t want to chance it slowing me down or making for pictures of nothing but white mist. I spent the previous night in Richmond and left before 5 AM to make the 1 1/2 hour ride to Waynesboro in the darkness.

Photo - sign at the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia

I took these photos the previous day as I expected it would be too dark to take them on the actual trip. I was right.

I fueled up in Waynesboro, grabbed a cup of coffee and a pack of doughnuts to sustain me, and headed on my way. It would be the last time I stopped to eat or drink. 469 miles is a long way at the 45 mph speed limit. I had no time to waste. At least that was my attitude early on.

Photo - morning at the lake on Otter Creek

The sun comes up at the lake on Otter Creek. Easy ride so far.

I had the road to myself in the early morning twilight. Within a few minutes I’d seen both deer and turkey. The road starts a gradual climb to elevation here though nothing like the heights reached further south. With no other traffic on the road, my speed crept up a bit, something I’d fight the remainder of the trip. As you get comfortable and into the rhythm of the road, the temptation to take things at your more comfortable pace is always there taunting you. Knowing how far I had left to go didn’t help.

Photo - Above the clouds approaching Roanoke

I paused at this overlook to top up on oil, lube what was left of the chain, and take a few moments to savor the views I was rushing by.

I was also facing the challenge of not knowing if my chain would last the trip. It was already shot before I left, adjusted to the end of the swingarm, far beyond the normal limit. It now sagged precariously and was making noises that had me wondering when it would snap. I’d never seen a chain smoke when lubed before, and I took advantage of opportunities to slather it with lubricant whenever my concerns peaked. I prayed it would not jump the sprockets when carving through a turn and catapult me into a rock face or over a precipice.

Photo - me and my bike along the Blue Ridge Parkway

A fellow biker snapped this photo of me at a rest stop. Riding from Florida to Maine and back, he and his wife were enjoying the parkway on their return.

Traffic remained surprisingly light through the morning with few holdups to pass slower vehicles. I watched the parkway wake up, the rangers and maintenance crews come to work and start their labors. Finding cell phone coverage to post my photos was always a challenge. You never know when it will be available, sometimes there in what looks like the most unlikely spots, other times absent where you think it should be a strong signal.

Photo - near Doughton Park

By mid morning there were plenty of other motorcycles on the road. This photo was taken somewhere near Doughton Park.

My first stop for gas necessitated a detour into Floyd, VA. Knowing where the nearest gas stations are is one reason I map the area so throughly. You can waste a lot of time looking for them if you don’t know which way to go. While in Floyd I popped in for a minute to see Derek at the Hotel Floyd, one of my favorite places to stay.

Photo - Historic cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway

There are a few historic cabins along the road in southern Virginia.

As I crossed into North Carolina and entered the high mountains I knew cell phone coverage would be much more limited. The curves tightened up bit and the road was often wet from spotty showers. It would be another day with temps approaching near 100 in the valleys, but at elevation things remained tolerable so long as I was moving. I somehow avoided all but a slight peppering of rain which felt wonderful at the time.

Photo - Grandfather Mountain

Passing Grandfather Mountain I felt I was back on home turf though still a long, long way to go.

Delays had been brief so far, and I planned my next fuel stop to coincide with a quick stop to say hello at the Switzerland Inn in Little Switzerland, one of my favorite places to eat or overnight. I fueled up in Spruce Pine. It was tempting to get a good meal, but I forced myself to press on. The real hold ups came as I approached Asheville. Tree crews and road construction caused significant delays and I hit the “commuter section” during evening rush hour.

Photo - French Broad River Overlook

It was a great relief to finally cross the French Broad River southwest of Asheville and begin the climb to the highest and most scenic section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The sun was drawing near the horizon as I carved my way along the high ridge tops of the section of the Blue Ridge Parkway I consider my back yard. Thunderheads lurked and the road was wet in places, but my luck continued.

Photo - at the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Reaching the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I knew there was less than 40 miles to go to reach my goal.

I reached the southern end of the 469 mile ride with daylight to spare and took a pause at the Oconoluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I grabbed a few photos but found the battery was now dead on my cell phone. Here they are now –

Photo - start of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

The Southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Oconoluftee Visitor Center.

While my Blue Ridge Parkway in a day adventure was completed, I still needed to get home. Noting the evening traffic, I chose to avoid going into Cherokee and got back on the Blue Ridge Parkway now headed in the opposite direction. I rode through to Soco Gap, then passed through Maggie Valley to finally get to my home in Waynesville.

Photo - sign at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Go through Cherokee or back the way I'd come? I chose to return home via the Blue Ridge Parkway of course.

My chain lasted the trip. My rear tire is bald. It’s time for some service on the engine. New parts are on order and it will take this week to get the bike roadworthy again. Next week? I might just poke into east Tennessee. I’ve too long ignored the area between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville. If I can locate at least a dozen good rides there it will warrant a new motorcycle pocket map. I discovered some great roads along the Virginia / West Virginia border on this trip, several of which will be added to existing America Rides Maps. It will take a few more trips north to determine how the map of that region will lay out but it will come. For now, it’s catch up on the work I left, update the existing maps with the new rides I discovered, and make preparations for the roads ahead.

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_______________________________________________________________________________

Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

 

– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com

 

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A Good Tip Leads to More Great Motorcycle Rides Near the Dragon

Droning west on the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway this morning, my mind tends to wander. The greatest challenge of the highway is simply maintaining the legal limit leaving plenty of brain cells free to engage in other things. My wife rides alongside on her Beemer so I have something to look at every once and a while and count my blessings of how fortunate I am to have someone like her to come along with me today. The thought that comes to the forefront is “Just how many motorcycles are there on the road?”

It was far easier to snap a photo on the rare straight stretches - overall the roads were wonderfully curvy.

As the main artery between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Dragon at Deals Gap, it’s no wonder there are a lot of motorcycle riders on this stretch of highway 23 / 74. Both the Parkway and the Dragon draw millions of two wheeled vacationers to the area every year. Still, we’re a good bit east of Cherokee, the southern endpoint of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and within minutes we’ve passed scores of bikes headed in the opposite direction.

Photo-motorcycle-follows-nice-views

The roads we explored followed winding streams and creeks through rolling farm lands in a broad mountain valley. Plenty of great long range views.

We’re only going as far as NC 28 south today, about 45 minutes ride time to reach Lauada, and early on I wonder if we’ll pass 100 riders. I start to keep a loose count, but within 20 minutes or so it’s obvious the number will easily exceed that, and question answered, my mind drifts to other things. Turning off the highway onto two lane NC 28 we plunge south into the twisties and the bikes keep sweeping past us in the other direction.

Photo - Jackie rounds a curve

The pavement is generally excellent for back roads, and you can enjoy the ride with gusto. Just be wary for a little gravel now and then.

I’m following up on a tip from Brad at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort. I spent some time with him Friday and he suggested I revisit an area I’d previously sketched over. I knew there were a couple of nice rides hidden away around Franklin, but he hinted they could be linked together to make a nice route. I’d done some scouting on the way home that day, and I saw promise. Today was the day we’d put it all together and see if it added up to getting a place on my America Rides Maps.

Photo - Jackie leads

The only traffic we found was when we approached the main road. If you stick to the perimeter route you'll see very little if any and it's more curvy and fun.

It took about four hours for a thorough assessment. We checked out every one of the roads in the area, confirmed the unpaved areas remained so (I only focus on paved roads), the dead ends were still dead, and the links that joined the roads together followed a more or less natural flow or the turn points were easy enough to locate. When we completed our task, I had assembled an outstanding ride that will certainly be the next addition to America Rides Maps. I’ll add it tomorrow morning.

Photo - a day meant for riding a motorcycle

I highly recommend NC 28. These roads make it even better. Great to know when there's traffic. You can jump off and enjoy the ride again.

I make a claim to know almost every great motorcycle ride from North Georgia to North Virginia. While I can’t claim I know them all, I’ve just learned another, and we saw only one other bike the whole time we were exploring the area. Now that’s what I’m looking for.

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