Your Fall Motorcycle Leaf-peeping trip to the Smokies – Tips

Your Fall Leaf-peeping Motorcycle Trip to the Smokies – Tips

Some of the best views will be from the heights of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Some of the best views will be from the heights of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

 It’s that time of year again, the brief lull before the start of the peak of the tourist season in the Smoky Mountains. It’s a good time to pass along some last minute tips and advice to those planning to come see natures spectacular autumn show.

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Motorcycle

You don’t have to go far to find great scenery

Last minute advice – Get a room! If it’s your first visit to the Smoky Mountains on a fall motorcycle tour for leaf season, you don’t yet know how “last minute” this advice is. The nicest places to stay and most of the motorcycle friendly sites took reservations last year, they are probably booked. You can try calling, but you’re probably relegated to the second tier establishements. If you “wing it” you’ll be looking for adventure in the third tier or bouncing between crowded campgrounds.

Tanassi Creek Road

Tanassi Creek Road – all yours, no traffic!

Tip – you’ll be back. There is no way you can hit all the best roads on one trip, even two trips. Some are worth coming back and riding again. If you really like the experience and find a base camp that treats you well, book ahead for next year.

Last minute advice – when is peak leaf viewing? Depends and varies. Were I to pick one (OK, 2 dates) for the Smokies, it would be Oct 16-17. Leaf color depends on climate conditions over the year. It takes a cold snap to make the leaves snap and the right mix of wet and dry. Who knows?

Becky Mountain Road

Becky Mountain Road

Tip – Leaf season is longer than it seems – That “peak of color” date is misleading. Due to the changes in altitude, the leaf change occurs at different rates at different altitudes. There are several weeks to either side of the announced peak date when the leaves will be spectacular, but limited within the altitude. High areas change early, valleys change later. There is still good leaf color into November at the lower altitudes.

Last minute advice – What will the weather be like? While it’s typically a dryer time of year, it’s also one of those transitional periods where we fluctuate between a couple warm days then a few colder ones. Cold fronts usually come through hard and fast, warm ones kinda drift in with gentle rains. On nice sunny days the temperatures may rise well into the 60’s, even 70’s. But, a damp and cloudy day in the 50’s can feel mighty chilly when the winds pick up atop the mountains. Morning lows will generally be in the 40’s, though a cold snap will bring frost (and help the leaves have good color).

Ellijay Road - beautiful and fun!

Ellijay Road – beautiful and fun!

Tip – Bring warm gloves, a good jacket, and several layers. Mornings are typically foggy, an early start may mean the views are obscured. Don’t be in a rush to get to the mountaintops. As always, throw the rain suit in just in case. If you’ve got an open helmet, consider face protection.

Advice – What about the traffic? While millions will flock to the mountains to see the fall show, their patterns are predictable. Weekends, especially afternoons, will find the popular places like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Chimney Rock, The Dragon, and the Parkways congested. Mornings are the better times to pass through the busier areas.

Photo-motorcycles-on-the-Blue-Ridge-Parkway

View from Waterrock Knob

Tip – try to hit those most popular areas during the week. They are definitely worth visiting, but you will enjoy them more if you can be riding, not idling. On the busiest days, there are still hundreds of great, fun, empty 2 lane back roads for you to enjoy riding, and they are all lined with colorful trees where the leaf-peepers rarely stray.

Advice – What should I watch out for? Be extra cautious when riding. Half the people out there may be tourists paying more attention to the scenery than the road. Be ready for the unexpected (like a car stopped dead in the road to take a photo on a curve). Same goes for you riders – use the numerous overlooks and pull offs to get the best views. Several motorcycles ride off the mountainsides each year when the driver was distracted by gorgeous the views. Pull over!

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Motorcycle

Enjoy the ride but pull over to enjoy the scenery. Don’t ride off into the sunset – it’s a long way down.

Tip – when traffic is heavy, best to avoid it. Get off the main roads, divert around towns, and look for those tiny back roads others bypass. You’ll have much more fun, see things others never do, and discover reasons to come back and ride more during the off season. Just one or two of my pocket maps will insure you have the best motorcycle vacation ever – they show you all the great back roads.

Charlies Creek Road

Charlie’s Creek Road – Not only will you find some of the best hidden pockets of leaf color, but you’ll  have one of the best rides of your life.

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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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Learn Total Control

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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Best Motorcycle Rides – A Mt. Mitchell Loop Ride

Photo-mt-mitchell-highest-in-east

The observation tower atop Mt. Mitchell. Pick a sunny clear day. Clouds will hang on the peak.

Best Motorcycle Rides – A Mt. Mitchell Loop Ride

A lot of bikers ask about riding to the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. This loop will spice up the ride with a fun run by Chimney Rock.

Who wouldn’t want to ride their motorcycle to the peak of the highest mountain in the eastern United States? At 6,684 feet, the views from the top are worth the trip, as is the enjoyable ride to get there. Located on NC 128, a spur road off a remote section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s just a short walk to reach the observation tower the crowns the crest.

blue-ridge-parkway-craggy-gardens-visitor-center

Blue Ridge Parkway – Craggy Gardens Visitor Center is a popular rest stop north of Asheville with nice views.

While a ride up this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a satisfying experience, why not kill two birds with one stone and come back on a different route? For those looking for a more challenging ride than the park road, this loop will give you some classic curves and outstanding scenery. You’ll pass through dramatic Hickory Nut Gorge, home to beautiful Lake Lure and Chimney Rock, and wind your way home through some of the nicest curves  in the Pisgah Forest.

While there are some challenging sections, this is a great route for cruisers as most of it is pretty laid back and you can take your time.

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Great Motorcycle Rides in North Carolina - Pisgah Triangles

Great Motorcycle Rides in North Carolina – Pisgah Triangles – Looking Glass Falls on US 276 is one of the most visited roadside waterfalls in North Carolina

Distance: 205+ miles with side trips

Duration: All day ride

Difficulty: Easy to moderate ride

Before you go:

  • Fill up first – Long stretches with no gas stations.
  • Watch the weather – High elevations will have the most extremes. Bring extra clothing. Pick a nice day to visit Mt. Mitchell, the clouds will come in here first.

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Turn-by-turn route:

Start in Waynesville. Follow US 276 to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

6.3 mi Traffic light in Bethel. Last chance to fill up before the long ride.

20.8 mi Turn left @ junction US 276 and ramp to Blue Ridge Parkway.

21 mi Turn right @ stop sign onto Blue Ridge Parkway (towards Asheville).

77.1 mi Turn left @ junction Blue Ridge Parkway and NC 128. Follow to top of Mt. Mitchell – 4.8 mi one way.

88.3 mi Exit and follow ramp to NC 80. Blue Ridge Parkway exit at NC 80.

blue-ridge-parkway-motorcycles

The Blue Ridge Parkway section north of Asheville

88.4 mi Turn right @ stop sign. Junction ramp and NC 80.

100 mi Turn right @ traffic light. Junction NC 80 and NC 70.  Follow NC 70 into Old Fort.

109 mi Turn left @ traffic light. Junction US 70 and Catawba Avenue in Old Fort. Pass through town. Follow Bat Cave Road south.

121 mi Turn left  @ stop sign. Junction Bat Cave Road and NC 9.

128 mi Turn left @ stop sign. Junction NC 9 and US 74A (Gerton Highway). 

128.3 mi Traffic Light. Junction US 74A and US 64. Go through traffic light to see Chimney Rock in 2 miles. Explore Lake lure. Turn right to leave the area on US 64 (left turn when leaving).

Photo - Lake Lure

Scenic Lake Lure, south of Asheville, in the Hickory Nut Gorge is worth the side trip

140 mi Cross over I-26 on US 64. Continue into Hendersonville.

143 mi Turn left, then right @ traffic lights downtown to continue west on US 64.

160 mi Pass straight through traffic light @ Junction US 64 / US 276 / NC 280. onto US 276. Good place add some gas to your tank. 

175 mi Pass under Blue Ridge Parkway and continue on US 276.

195 mi Return to start in Waynesville via US 276.

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There is a restaurant at Mt. Mitchell. You’ll also find food in Chimney Rock / Lake Lure, as well as Hendersonville and Brevard.

Hendersonville is a bit congested with some traffic.

Map of Mt. Mitchell / Chimney Rock loop ride

Click to enlarge

This ride and all the surrounding roads are detailed on –

Map #5 – The Best Roads North & South of Asheville, NC

Map #6 – The Best Motorcycle Rides Near Smoky Park – EAST

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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

Total Rider Tech Logo

Learn Total Control

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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Tail of the Dragon Closed? More Motorcycle Rides Nearby – Asheville

Asheville, sometimes locally referred to as “AsheVegas” has long been a destination for those seeking refuge from the lowlands in a beautiful mountain setting. Great scenery, a thriving cosmopolitan culture, historic buildings, a wonderfully diverse menu of great eateries, the plethora of microbreweries that have earned it the “Beer City” award, and an artsy / musical / film undercurrent have endeared this “Portland of the South” to visitors for generations. Small enough too be easy to get around yet large enough to still be truly called a city, it has something to offer most every visitor, but none so much as the motorcycle traveller.

Photo - Dining at the Grove Park Inn

Fine dining at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, one of many great places to visit and eat.

Pivotal in the historic creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway which wraps the border of town, it sits in the French Broad River Valley cradled by mountains on every horizon. The tallest mountain in the east, Mt. Mitchell, is close enough that bicycle races are held to it from town and you can find enjoyably steep and serpentine roads climbing from the very heart of the city.

While the city itself is an attraction, it’s the grand mountains which surround it that make it a worthy destination for those seeking great motorcycle rides. Too many are satiated with a relaxing cruise along the Blue Ridge Parkway and miss out on the fabulous and challenging rides found on every point of the compass. I’ve already hinted at those to the northwest near Hot Springs and the “Land of the Waterfalls” to the southwest in earlier posts.

Photo - Lake Lure

Scenic Lake Lure, south of Asheville, in the Hickory Nut Gorge

One of the most popular areas to visit is south of the city, the Hickory Nut Gorge area. Home to Bat Cave, Lake Lure, and Chimney Rock, it’s a Mecca for tourists and sightseers with it’s stunning scenery and attractions. Don’t be lulled into complacency as you make the approach on the long flowing valley roads – once you hit the mountains the curves, climbs, and descents begin as does the fun. While the main roads may be choked with traffic at times, those who venture off them onto the back roads will discover some amazing rides and the company of local motorcycle riders who flock to enjoy them.

Photo - View from NC 80

Early winter view from NC 80, one of the most challenging rides east of Asheville

Looking west, still more great rides present, many of which are worth the time and travel to enjoy them. Recently dubbed ‘The Diamondback” (you’ll be hearing more about these rides soon), a combination of loops using NC 80, US 226, US 226A, NC 180, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other roads will give the motorcycle tourer everything he’s come for whether you’re cruising along enjoying the sights or looking to to get a knee down and drag some pegs.

Photo - Winter View from atop Roan Mountain looking into Tennessee

Winter View from atop Roan Mountain looking into Tennessee, north of Asheville

My personal favorite area though lies north of the city. It’s a vast region, crossing the border into Tennessee and will give you some of the longest and most enjoyable rides through the highest peaks and deepest valleys in the east. Sparsely populated, dotted with small towns, the twisting two lane back roads which lace through this area are mostly devoid of traffic and waiting for you to enjoy in solitude. Because most choose to take the Interstates which bypass this rugged region, it’s a hidden gem which gets bypassed and lies mostly undiscovered.

From the city, the Blue Ridge Parkway courses northwest towards Virginia. The roads which intersect it lead out into the surroundings and make it an avenue for including on great long loop rides all along it’s course.

Photo - Bike riding north of Asheville

Long winding rides through lush mountain scenery devoid of traffic lie north of Asheville

Long rides, short rides, nice cruises or challenging curves, stunning sights, great scenery, and a motorcycle friendly city at the hub, the mountains surrounding Asheville should be on your motorcycle radar. Home to the Asheville Bikefest May 13 – 16, it’s one more place to add to your list of great motorcycle destinations.

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