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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 Busch – Cartographer