Top 10 Motorcycle Rides – The Cherohala Skyway

“One of the finest motorcycle rides you’ll ever enjoy”  –

Fall color on the North Carolina end of the Cherohala Skyway

Fall color on the North Carolina end of the Cherohala Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway takes the motorcycle rider on a long and sweeping romp through the mile high ridge lines of remote national forests just west of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stunning long range views can be enjoyed from overlooks and rest areas along the park-like road. Traffic is typically light and the curves are challenging and consistent for the 50 mile town-to-town ride through some of the most wild and scenic areas in the Blue Ridge mountains.

The Cherohala Skyway is near The Dragon at Deals Gap. It runs from Robbinsville, NC to Tellico Plains, TN.

The Cherohala Skyway is near The Dragon at Deals Gap. It runs from Robbinsville, NC to Tellico Plains, TN. Click on map for larger view.  Source – America Rides Maps Motorcycle Pocket maps – AmericaRidesMaps.com

Enjoying a summer motorcycle ride on the Cherohala Skyway

Enjoying a summer motorcycle ride on the Cherohala Skyway

The majority of motorcycle riders are drawn to this remote mountainous area to experience the thrill of riding US 129 a.k.a. “The Dragon” which skirts the western border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park nearby. A good number of them find the ride on the Cherohala Skyway far more enjoyable. It’s a relaxing contrast to the commotion and crowds that race back and forth through the Dragon’s legendary curves.

The Cherohala Skyway runs east to west connecting the small towns of Robbinsville, NC, and Tellico Plains, TN. Between them lies a large undeveloped mountainous section of the Cherokee (TN) and Nantahala (NC) National Forests. The made-up name “Cherohala” comes from a combination of the names of the remote forests it runs through.

Motorcycle flying through the mile high curves on the Cherohala Skyway

Flying through the mile high curves near the middle of the long wonderful ride

From either end the road makes a gradual climb to reach the 5000 ft heights near the middle section. Two broad lanes with sweeping curves arc through the mountain passes. Scenic overlooks, some with rest areas, yield views of a vast forests often free of visible human impact to the horizon. While the towns at either end have food, gas, and lodging, there is nothing but empty pavement on the 40 or so miles between them.

Springtime motorcycle ride on the Cherohala Skyway

Springtime on the Tennessee end of the Cherohala Skyway – nice long view of road, click to enlarge

Riding the Cherohala Skyway on a motorcycle you’ll find smooth pavement with good traction save a few bumpy patches here and there and the occasional bit of gravel dragged into turns by cars that run wide. The speed limit is 45 mph though there are many turns where a prudent rider will carry a bit less and the experienced rider will find satisfaction at speed. The overlooks and pull outs are well marked, paved, and have ample parking. Elevation signs along the road signal each 1000 ft change. It’s very much an experience like riding through a national park – similar to riding the the Blue Ridge Parkway (less than an hour east).

Stop to enjoy the views from the nice overlooks on the Cherohala Skyway

Stop to enjoy the views from the nice overlooks on the Cherohala Skyway

As relaxing as that “park-like” experience sounds, the road challenges the motorcycle riders’ skill. The Cherohala Skyway is  “big brother” to the nearby Dragon with it’s back-to-back tight turns. The Cherohala Skyway is a ‘super-sized” version of it. The curves open up and relax a bit but they keep coming one after another with the added dimension of long winding climbs and descents.

The Cherohala Skyway and the Dragon are often ridden together in a 123 mile long loop ride which runs north on US 129 to via TN 72, then to Vonore, TN, then south via TN 360 to Tellico Plains, TN, then across the Cherohala Skyway to Robbinsville.  When you ride both roads , the contrast is obvious -the need to be hyper alert and vigilant in the parade of bikes on the Dragon is relieved on the Cherohala Skyway. It seems empty by comparison, you can relax and it has all this gorgeous scenery too!

Great views, nice pavement, low traffic, and miles and miles of sweeping curves make the Cherohala Skyway a top motorcycle ride.

Great views, nice pavement, low traffic, and miles and miles of sweeping curves make the Cherohala Skyway a top motorcycle ride.

The best time for a visit is fall when the leaves are changing. Staying at the eastern (NC) end of the road places you near several other great motorcycle rides like the Dragon and NC 28. Robbinsville, NC is the larger town with more food / lodging options though many like the west end in Tellico Plains, TN for the camping.

The Cherohala Skyway is open all year (except when snow blocks) making it one of the first destinations for southern riders in the spring and a winter play spot for the hardcore adventurer.

Motorcycles starting up the grade from the North Carolina end of the road on the Cherohala Skyway.

Starting up the grade from the North Carolina end of the road on the Cherohala Skyway.

Tips and Advice – 

  • It’s about 50 miles with no gas. Fuel at either end. Be safe – top off.
  • 3000 foot elevation change – it will be cooler, more windy, and wetter at the higher altitudes. Dress for it.
  • It’s a long, long way if you need help. Ride with that in mind.
It takes a little effort, but visiting Bald River Falls on your Cherohala Skyway ride is worth it

It takes a little effort, but Bald River Falls is worth the trip

Make a side trip to Bald River Falls –

You’ll see a sign for Bald River Falls near the start of the Tennessee end of the Cherohala Skyway. Follow barely paved River Road for several miles, it’s obvious.

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wayne busch - Smoky Mountain Motorcycle Rider.com

Wayne Busch

– Wayne Busch produces the most detailed and comprehensive motorcycle pocket maps of the hundreds of great roads in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains so you know where the best roads are and how to spend the bulk of your riding time on them.

You’ll find the Cherohala Skyway on America Rides Maps –

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Motorcycle Friendly – Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge in Deals Gap

Photo - Iron Horse Lodge Sign

Ok, so the flash washed out the sign lettering - it's really easy to see, evidently reflective, so also at night.

I found myself back in Deals Gap today making another run on The Dragon. For the first time in a long time I did not see any troopers on the road, though I behaved myself nonetheless. It was a nice day for it, hot, dry, and the road was clean making for some nice carving. Stopping at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, I ran into Bill Kneigge leading a group for Edelweiss Tours – that guy gets around.

Photo - The Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge

The Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge

On the way home I stopped in at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge near Stecoah. As I live so close, I’ve never had the need to take a campsite on my motorcycle vacation to ride the Dragon, and I’ve always ridden by in the past. It was mid afternoon and I had time to spare so I decided to check it out for myself.

Photo - Grounds at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge

The stream in back of the lodge building.

The turn off NC 28 is well marked and it’s easy to find the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge on Lower Stecoah Road. First impression as you enter is the place is it’s really nice. I pulled up in front of the main building and found it to be even nicer inside. Large open comfortable roomy lodge building to hang out in. Well manicured grounds with a rushing creek through the heart of it. Everything is in top condition, looks new, and it’s a very pleasant atmosphere. I found the bathrooms clean, the showers looked nice, nothing out of place. It appears to be a very well run motorcycle resort and campground.

Photo - inside view of the Lodge building

A view of the Lodge interior. It's huge with several rooms you can group into.

Yet it’ so much more than that – there are some really nice cabins and rooms available, RV hookups, a store and cantina, and breakfast and dinner meals available for the campers with something special like prime rib on Saturday nights. I met Charlene Powell, one of the owners, and spoke to a few patrons. Everyone was very happy regardless who I ran into, even what must have been the hired help were smiling.

Photo - Check in and store at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge

Check in and gift store at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge

While I’ve not actually stayed there, I’m impressed enough from a quick visit to recommend the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge as a good place to stay near Robbinsville and base out of to ride the Dragon or any of the hundreds and hundreds of miles of great motorcycle rides in the area. Icing on the cake was discovered when I turned left out of the driveway instead of right (back to NC 28) and enjoyed a really nice little loop ride that returns to NC 28 a couple miles north of NC 143.

Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge – http://www.ironhorsenc.com/
Phone: 828-479-4589

John and Charlene Powell
1755 Lower Stecoah Road
Robbinsville, NC 28771

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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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New Rock Slide Affects Motorcycle Vacation Plans to Smokies

Add yet another rock slide to the long list of road closures in the mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. This one in particular will affect many motorcycle vacation plans to visit one of the most popular and well known rides in the region, the infamous Tail of the Dragon on US 129 at Deals Gap. Located along the western border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the 13 mile stretch of US 129 with it’s 311 curves draws hundreds of thousands of motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts each year who come to experience the challenging stretch of road.

It’s been an exceptional year for rock slides in the Smokies, the most notable being the massive slide along the eastern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park which has closed Interstate 40 for months. With both the east and west routes around the park closed, the only route allowing north-south travel from Tennessee to North Carolina is US 411 which cuts through the heart of the park and it too has been the scene of slides. US 441 is presently open, though cleanup continues on the northern spur road.

The Tail of the Dragon is still accessible from the North Carolina side. From Tennessee, the best route is through Tellico Plains and onto the Cherohala Skyway. Expect increased traffic loads on TN 68 approaching Tellico Plains due to yet another rock slide on US 64-74 in the Ocoee River Gorge which has shifted traffic onto it. As far as I can tell, it is still possible to reach Pumpkin Center from Vonure on the north end of the Dragon via the popular Dragon – Cherohala loop ride. Still, even more traffic will now be using these roads and you may want to reconsider visiting the area until things improve.

I’ve been reporting on the status of all the rock slides and road closures in my newsletter which you’ll find archived here – http://budurl.com/3smm. As there are so many, so widely scattered, it may be the easiest place to find all the information without bouncing around to various DOT sites (they are rarely as up to date). With so much going on, I’ll probably post an extra edition or two to keep you apprised of the situation and help with your motorcycle vacation plans. There is a lot going on you need to be aware of including the progress on the clean up to the Blue Ridge Parkway after severe winter storm damage, the closed section there, and all the roads which have been closed in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for paving.

If you have early year travel plans to Robbinsville, Townsend, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or Franklin, I suggest you consider them carefully. Better alternative destinations for motorcycle touring would include Maggie Valley and Asheville. I’m am working with local lodgers to find you the best deals and affordable as well as luxury motorcycle friendly accommodations. I’ll be stepping up those efforts. Please email me for help. The changes in traffic patterns have severely impacted their business and there are some deals to be had. Watch the blog as I review them.

Finally, for America Rides Maps patrons, I want you to be aware these rock slides have impacted 3 of the 4 loop rides on the most popular map “Maggie Valley to Deals Gap and the Cherohala Skyway”. I strongly urge you to look at the “Waterfall Package” for the best alternative. These two maps will lead you into some of my favorite areas unaffected by the changing traffic patterns and open up a wealth of fantastic rides which are too often overlooked. These roads are the first place I head when looking for great riding, the first place I take tour groups, and hold everything you’ve come to expect from a motorcycle vacation in the Smokies.

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