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.

———————————————————————————————-

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 –

____________________________________________________________________

Share

Feb 9, 2013 – Fresh photos of the landslide on the Cherohala Skyway

Feb 9, 2013 – Fresh photos of the landslide on the Cherohala Skyway

With temps nearing 60, I took the opportunity to ride out and see the landslide up close.

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway - Temporary stoplights

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway – Temporary stoplights regulate the flow through the area where one lane of this outstanding motorcycle ride is closed.

A few weeks ago the Smoky Mountain area was hit with drenching rains which caused a number of landslides. The most significant of them is on US 441 in the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many of these situations have already been addressed, but some will have effects into the early motorcycle riding season.

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway  - one lane is closed.

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway – fortunately there was enough room for a detour, only one lane is closed.

We hope the worst is behind us, but realize we’re only half way through winter. There is still the potential for more slides as the freeze / thaw cycles break rock and this is the time of year when most of them happen. Heavy rain is unusual and this slide is quite extensive. I suspect a retaining wall will eventually be constructed, but I wouldn’t count on a quick fix on this remote section of road.

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway - The guardrail hangs dramatically

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway – The guardrail hangs dramatically over the abyss

The slide happened on the North Carolina section of the road about a mile from the border with Tennessee. There are big overlooks on this scenic road located on each side of the slide. It at about 4800 feet elevation though the highest parts of the road are well above 5000 feet high. Views are gorgeous.

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway - The pavement is undercut

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway – The pavement is undercut here, getting near the edge made me nervous lest it give way! You can see how extensive and deep the chasm is in this photo.

A lot of soil was lost. It doesn’t seem practical to try to fill it in, the area seems to go 800 – 1000 feet down the mountainside. It has undercut the pavement, getting close to the edge made me a little nervous!

Landslide on the Cherohala  Skyway - remaining slope at the edges.

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway – This photo shows just how much soil moved. You can see the difference compared to the remaining slope at the edges.

No telling why this section off the road let loose while others remain intact. It doesn’t appear much different or more steep than many other sections. It’s at one of the higher elevations so you wouldn’t think there was a lot of subterranean water flow, yet it happened.

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway - - A view from the other side

Landslide on the Cherohala Skyway – A view from the other side helps you realize just how big this slide is.

I don’t expect a quick fix. While this is a popular and scenic road, it is not a vital through-way. It’s about as far away from civilization as you can get in this area of the mountains. The North Carolina county in which it occurred is one of the poorest in the state, and there is far more impact on tourism related to the major landslide on US 441 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Landslide on the Cherohala Skywway  For all the hype it's a minor inconvenience

Landslide on the Cherohala Skywway – For all the hype it’s a minor inconvenience on this outstanding motorcycle ride!

It’s not so bad! The traffic lights are quick. There is rarely much traffic on this outstanding motorcycle ride, its still one of the top 10 motorcycle rides in the US despite this minor inconvenience. I would not change my plans, heck, there’s one more unique thing to see on this ride. The overlook closest to the North Carolina side has bathrooms, so it’s a popular place for a break. DO IT!

____________________________________________________________________

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

____________________________________________________________________

Share

How to Make a good Deals Gap Motorcycle Ride Better –

Adding these two roads to one of the four most popular Smoky Mountain motorcycle loop rides near the The Dragon at Deals Gap makes the least of them measure up to the others.

Photo - morning on the Cherohala Skway

Morning on the Cherohala Skyway. I'm parked on the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee.

Smoky Mountain / Blue Ridge motorcycle riders who flock to ride The Dragon at Deals Gap typically take in other rides when in the area. One of the best Smoky Mountain motorcycle rides is a loop through Vonore and Tellico Plains, TN to take in the Cherohala Skyway. Another popular circuit is to loop around Great Smoky Mountains National Park crossing through the heart of the Smoky Mountains on US 441. A third great loop ride links NC 28 at Franklin, NC to Nantahala Gorge via Wayah Road. All of these are great loop rides in the Blue Ridge with unique characters.

The fourth most popular ride is to take the Cherohala Skyway west to Tellico Plains, then go south on TN 68. You then use TN 123 / NC 294 to head east, and follow US 74 / 129 north through the Nantahala Gorge to return to The Dragon at Deals Gap. This loop ride starts out with the outstanding scenery and enjoyable sweeping curves of the 50 mile long Cherohala Skyway as it crosses the Snowbird Mountain Range of the Blue Ridge. It gets nice again once you enter the curvy sections a few miles south of Tellico Plains on NC 68. It’s gets better and better the further south you go, though NC 68 can carry a bit of traffic on weekends.

Photo - Field of the Woods

The 10 Commandments at Fields of the Wood - big enough God can read them

Once you turn east on TN 123 / NC 294, the ride is still pretty good, but the road opens up and the ride is not as scenic and challenging as you progress. Here’s how to punch it back up to outstanding.

Watch for Fields of the Wood, it’s the closest landmark to the turn off onto Hiawassee Dam Access Road. Fields of the Wood is worth a stop to see and a nice place for a break. Those with devout religious leanings will be inspired by the hillside with the ten commandments written out in stone, as well as numerous other Biblical icons and monuments. For those inspired more by hellacious and challenging roads, Hiawassee Dam Access Road is next leading to devilish twists and curves.

Photo - Hiawassee Dam

The Hiawassee Dam is a nice spot for a break.

Turn onto Hiawassee Dam Access Road to start the fun. You may encounter a little traffic approaching the dam on weekends as many come for boat access to the lake and river. Once past the dam, the excellent and challenging road continues a course around the west side of the lake. Turn right onto Joe Brown Highway when you reach the end of Hiawassee Dam Access Road.

Joe Brown Highway is hardly what any of us think of when the word “highway” comes to mind. This isolated and remote twisty two lane back road is packed with curve after curve and some pretty decent Smoky Mountain scenery, though you’ll be paying more attention to the road than the horizons. It’s a whole lot of fun, usually carries very little traffic, and may be the best section of the entire loop, a nice contrast to the sweeping curves of the Cherohala Skyway.

Photo - Nantahala Outdoor Center

The Nantahala Outdoor Center on the river is another great break spot with bathrooms, good food, nice views, and the place to arrange a river trip.

Joe Brown Highway runs you right through downtown Murphy, NC to intersect US 129 / 74 at the junction with US 64 East. Turn north to follow the four lane to Andrews where it funnels down to two lanes again for the ride through scenic Nantahala Gorge. You’re bound to run into traffic in Nantahala Gorge, but the scenery along the popular whitewater river makes up for it. Avoid the gorge on weekends when possible as the buses hauling rafters and kayakers tend to bottle things up.

Once through Nantahala Gorge, turn left onto NC 28 and back into the twists and curves to return to The Dragon at Deals Gap.

Photo - View from Hiawassee Dam Overlook

There are nice spots for a break both atop and below the Hiawassee Dam. The road runs across it then continues around the lake.

_______________________________________________________________________________

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 
Share

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 
Share

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.

Share