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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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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Smoky Mountain Motorcycle Rides – Meadow Fork Rd

Two good motorcycle roads are found along NC 209, a.k.a. “The Rattler“. They make a nice side loop on the popular motorcycle ride from Junaluska to Hot Springs in North Carolina. 

Photo-Meadow-Fork-Rd-View

A section of Meadow Fork Road which demonstrates the character of the curves through much of the ride.

Meadow Fork Road Map

Meadow Fork Road spurs off NC 209 about 7 miles south of Hot Springs. The road follows the twisty banks of a whitewater creek for quite a while climbing gently on the challenging and scenic run. It  leads into the Pisgah National Forest where it becomes one of many unpaved forest roads high in the mountains.

Photo-The-Rattler-Motorcycle-Ride

The 1.7 mile section of NC 209 which crosses the Spring Creek valley is the straightest road I can think of in western North Carolina. View approaching Caldwell Mountain Road

Caldwell Mountain Road meets Meadow Fork Road in 6.9 miles. 2.1 mile long Caldwell Mountain Road will take you over the mountain and down to meet NC 209 near the middle of the long straight stretch across the Spring Creek Valley.

photo-NC209-The-Rattler-motorcycle-ride-campground-sign

Caldwell Mountain Rd is easy to find. Ride to the middle of the long straight stretch of NC 209 in Spring Creek. Look for the sign for Meadow Fork Campground.

Caldwell Mountain Road and Meadow Fork Road form a nice loop on the west side of NC 209 when joined together. It’s a good way to vary the ride to and from Hot Springs and  see a few different sights.

Photo-road-sign

The sign may be a little crooked, but so is Caldwell Mountain Rd .

Both Meadow Fork and Caldwell Mountains Roads are paved, though if you miss turning at their junction you will run out of pavement before long when Meadow Fork Road reaches the National Forest. If you are on a dual-sport or adventure bike, this is one way to access the great unpaved roads that lead up to Max Patch bald and wind into Tennessee and the eastern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (See map OR-1)

Photo-Caldwell-Mountain_rd-motorcycle-ride

One of the few long range views on Caldwell Mountain Rd. You’ll probably be looking at the road instead.

Both of these roads are easy to find from NC 209. Their junctions are well marked. There is a prominent sign for the Meadow Fork Campground which marks the junction and it’s easy to spot Caldwell Mountain Road cutting across the felids in the valley as you approach.

Photo-Motorcycle-Ride-Meadow-Fork

Never far from the edge of the roaring creek, Meadow Fork Road twists through steep rocky hill sides and small valleys and coves.

Caldwell Mountain Road has some nice curves on the climbs and a few brief long range views. The pavement is a little bumpy in places, but generally is pretty good overall.

Photo-motorcycle -ride-meadow-fork-rd

There are some very pleasant views along Meadow Fork Road and lots of places to pause and enjoy it.

Meadow Fork Road follows the Roaring Fork River from NC 209 as it carves through the mountains for 7 miles to reach the junction with Caldwell Mountain Road. The road  traces the bank of the river  making it a nice curvy motorcycle ride for the most part. The pavement is in good shape – a long section near the river washed out and was replaced a few years ago with nice new pavement.

Photo-junction-NC-209-Meadow-fork-rd

The junction of Meadow Fork Rd and NC 209 is easy to spot though it may come up on you quickly as you come around a curve on either side.

Neither road has scenery you’ll be framing on the wall, though in general it’s pretty nice with small remote and isolated coves and valleys, the whitewater river along the road, and lots of hundred year old barns and the like.

Photo-start-of-Meadow-Fork-Rd

Just a peek down Meadow Fork Road shows what lies ahead.

This side loop off NC 209 adds a nice diversion, a little something different, without adding a significant amount of time to the longer motorcycle ride on classic NC 209 – The Rattler.

photo-junction-meadow-fork-caldwell-mountain

The junction of Meadow Fork Rd and Caldwell Mountain Rd is easy to spot, so navigation of this ride is easy and you can focus on enjoying the roads.

Related – Map and info about NC 209 – a.k.a “The Rattler”

America Rides Maps Map #6 – The Best Motorcycle Rides EAST of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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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. 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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North Carolina Motorcycle Rides – Hookers Gap Road

Photo-view-of-Hookers-Gap-Road

View of Hookers Gap Road - uphill section which leads from Newfound Road.

Hookers Gap Road is a secret little motorcycle ride near Asheville, North carolina, only a handful of motorcycle riders know about.  

Excellent pavement, non-stop  back-to-back curves, and an occasional views of the Smoky Mountains and valleys make it a ride any biker would love, but few ever discover. Shame – it’s really useful.

Hookers Gap Road is a useful motorcycle road as it (indirectly) links two well known favorite motorcycle rides – The Blue Ridge Parkway & NC 209 (The Rattler) 

Connecting Roads:

  • NC 151 – (also known as “The Devil’s Drop”) – Descends from the Blue Ridge Parkway through a steep section of tight hairpin curves that is cherished for the challenge. Some people rave about this road, but I can’t give it a red  “best road” rating on my America Rides Maps. The twisty section is good, but too short. Most of NC 151 rolls across open valley with average views. It ends when it meets US 19 and the suburbs.
  • Newfound Road – Newfound Road runs from Canton to Leicester. It’s a popular ride that courses through long open valleys with a short but tight curvy section in the middle. It’s a good ride, views are mostly average. On my America Rides Maps Newfound Road does not get any favorable rating.
Photo-section of Hookers Gap Road

The west end of Hookers Gap Road is the best.

Newfound Road gets a lot of  motorcycle traffic as it connects to NC 63 in Leicester. To the east, NC 63 leads into Asheville,  but many riders go west on NC 63. Within a few miles, the road starts a climb to the top of a mountain that winds through a tight series of switchback curves. The long descent down the west side of the mountain leads to a junction with NC 209 (a.k.a. “The Rattler”) near the midpoint of it’s run to Hot Springs or Junaluska at Trust.

Description:

A motorcycle ride on Hookers Gap Road is most easily navigated from the south end. Come down NC 151 from the Blue Ridge Parkway to the traffic light at the junction with US 19. Continue through the traffic light on Dogwood Road. Follow west then veer left onto Pole Creek Road. It will become Hookers Gap Road. It ends at Newfound Road. Distance: 7.4 miles.

To find Hookers Gap Road from Newfound Road,  watch for the “+” (crossroad) sign on the north side of the curvy section of Newfound Road. There is no sign for Hookers Gap Road, but there is one across the street for Morgan Branch Road, the western continuation of Hookers Gap Road from Newfound Road.

Image - Section of America Rides Maps shows Hookers Gap Rd.

Section of America Rides Maps shows Hookers Gap Rd.

Hookers Gap Road keeps you out of the congestion and traffic on I-40 and busy US 19 and it’s one of the most challenging rides in the area.

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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. 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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You’ll find Hookers Gap Rd and some of the best motorcycle rides in this outstanding area along with a guide to more than a dozen roadside waterfalls on America Rides Maps “The Best Motorcycle Rides EAST of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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North Carolina + Motorcycle + Camera + Rain = Waterfalls!

Photo-clouds-move-in-on-the-Blue-ridge-Parkway

As the clouds moved in, I left the Blue Ridge Parkway color behind.

I’ve been taking every opportunity to get out on the motorcycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway and photograph one of the best years for fall leaf color in a long time. I’ve captured some great shots so far. Yesterday though, the weather changed and the high places were quickly enveloped in cloudy wetness so thick I could barely see. Resigned to give up the day to the weather, I stowed the camera and left the Blue Ridge Parkway at Beech Gap (map) to return home to Waynesville via NC 215.

photo-Flat-Laurel-Creek-on-NC 215

Easy to miss, Flat Laurel Creek cascades down the rock faces - 3rd pull out on right, first long straight section of road from top

Currently, a ride on NC 215 is a Jekyll & Hyde experience.  South of the Blue Ridge Parkway, this popular motorcycle ride is an exquisite pleasure as it plunges down from the heights to reach US 64 near Rosman. Recently paved, this southern section of  the road courses through the  Pisgah National Forest, with stunning views from the high parts and challenging curves and bends that thrill.

Photo-Bubbling-Springs-Branch-on-NC 215

Easy to find Bubbling Springs Branch is on a sharp curve where it flows under NC 215.

In contrast, the north end of NC 215 is a nightmare for the motorcyclist and I’ve heard many bikers cursing the experience of surviving the twisty descent on a road now strewn with loose gravel after recent road “improvements”.  It got a “tar & chip” repair job a few weeks back which addressed the breaks in the pavement, but left a slippery legacy to negotiate turns that are a handful on a road with ideal conditions. Riding it on a motorcycle now is an experience that brings dread to the minds of most.

Coming down in the rain, already wet, I took my time and paused along the route to capture some shots of the scenery most motorcyclists will miss as all their attention is focused on staying upright on this challenging road.

Photo-East-Fork-Pigeon-River

The river calms briefly near the Sunburst Campground with an easy to find pull off along this section.

There are many hidden secrets along this stretch of NC 215 as it traces the course of the Little East Fork of the Pigeon River though most blast right by them. It’s worth taking a little time to pause and explore.

The river is never far from the road, and several small streams add to the torrent along the way. For those who enjoy hiking, the trails through this area are ripe with outstanding scenery.

The Little East Fork eventually reaches Lake Logan where it is captured by a dam. It then continues on to join the Big East Fork before it continues it’s run on through Canton, NC then on into Tennessee where I-40 cuts through a dramatic gorge at the state lines. Eventually it flows through Pigeon Forge, TN, then on to join the great rivers beyond.

Photo-Lake-Logan-North-Carolina

The river pools behind the dam at Lake Logan, then continues on.

Forced to slow down by the road, the rain, and the rocks, I enjoyed a ride most others despise. NC 215 will always be one of our favorite local North Carolina motorcycle rides. I’m hopeful it will see a proper paving in the future, but if not, it will still be a road I visit often and recommend to others. The gravel will eventually be cast along the roadside by traffic.

Don’t be put off by the condition of NC 215. Take your time, go easy, and you’ll be rewarded with some outstanding sights along this classic North Carolina motorcycle ride. It will only get better with time.

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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

_______________________________________________________________________________

You’ll find NC 215 and some of the best motorcycle rides in this outstanding area along with a guide to more than a dozen roadside waterfalls on America Rides Maps “The Best Motorcycle Rides EAST of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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