Biking and Car Rides
From heights nearing 6,000-feet are views of the rugged rolling mountaintops of the Unaka Mountains with the Great Smoky Mountains to the northeast and the Tennessee River Valley to the west. What you will find along the route are lots of great mountain overlooks, camping areas and numerous hiking trails leading off from the scenic byway. The mountain and valley views along the 36-mile stretch are spectacular. Mountain balds, as they are called, crown the Unicoi Crest at the pinnacle of the Cherohala Skyway. The Cherohala Skyway scenic overlooks have rightfully been compared to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Newfound Gap Road through the Great Smoky Mountains.
Although the Cherohala Skyway is exceptional in itself there are also two outstanding site locations at either end of this scenic byway.
In Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest, where highway 68 begins the Cherohala Skyway, is a paved forestry road to a great destination. FR 210 travels along the Tellico River below the scenic skyway, following it’s own scenic highway to Bald River Falls. The upper reaches of the Tellico River is known as the Tellico River Gorge, its steep narrow rock walls and lush foliage are a beautiful and mysterious example of nature’s handy work. Winding your way along the narrow river gorge you’ll reach Bald River Falls. This waterfall is one of finest examples of the wonders of Tennessee’s mountain country’s precious watershed, a great and convenient photo opportunity due to the fact the 100-foot waterfall is alongside the roadway. Additional waterfalls are located just up the Tellico River from Bald River Falls.
Tellico River is famous for its trout fishing due the fish hatchery located along the river just past the falls. Camping and hiking are also very popular in this area. The headquarters of the Tellico Ranger District is located along the upper Tellico River Gorge for more information on the area.
On the eastern side of the skyway in North Carolina, at entrance where highway NC 143 becomes the Cherohala Skyway, you can access Joyce Kilmer Road. A two-mile drive along this side-road will take you to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and Slickrock Wilderness Area. The memorial forest is named after the poet and American patriot Joyce Kilmer who wrote the famous poem “Trees,” in 1913. Joyce Kilmer, while serving in France during World War I was killed in action and highly decorated for his heroism by the French government. The memorial forest is an old-growth forest of giant trees, some ranging over 100-feet tall, over 20-feet in circumference and estimated to be over 400-years old. The memorial forest remains isolated deep within a large mountainous cove, unspoiled and preserved for posterity’s sake.
The Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway crosses through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests, thus the name “Chero-hala.” Drive above the clouds at 5,400-foot elevations and get a glimpse into the unspoiled environment along the Tellico River where Cherokee tribes and early pioneers traveled and settled in the Appalachian Mountains.
The Skyway is well known in motorcycling circles for its long, sweeping corners, but everyone can enjoy its mile-high vistas and brilliant seasonal foliage. See the 100-foot Bald River Falls from your car, or venture out for hiking opportunities and picnic spots that await you in these magnificent and seldom-seen portions of Tennessee.
Time to Allow:2 HOURS
The Skyway offers the cultural heritage of the Cherokee tribe and early settlers in a grand forest environment in the Appalachian Mountains. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests.
East Tennessee Crossing
East Tennessee Crossing (Hwy 25E) stretches 83 miles in Tennessee from the Cumberland Gap, southeast to the Cherokee National Forest. It has been used since prehistoric times by pioneer travelers, hunters and tourists alike, and is as well traveled as it is named.
The route is known as the Cherokee Warriors’ Path, originally cut by bison and used by Native American tribes to attack each other, trade with each other, and travel from place to place.
It is also known as Wilderness Road, an important route for settlers from the East Coast colonies moving west into “new” lands. Wilderness Road changed the rugged lifestyle of the settlers in the Appalachian Mountains, bringing craftsmen with new skills and visitors with new ideas to the area.
The route was once known as the Dixie Highway, a network of paved roads connecting the Midwest and the South, from Chicago down through Chattanooga to Miami. Started in 1915, it was a project of businessman Carl G. Fisher, funded by individuals, businesses, and local and state governments. It was overseen by a group of motor enthusiasts known as the Dixie Highway Association. In its beginnings, this stretch was one of the roughest parts of the route, with roads frequently washed out, treacherous mud and unpredictable weather. Travelers setting out from Chicago heading to Florida had no map and no way of knowing where to find gas, food or lodging along the way, and would often stay in the homes of the people who lived in the area. By 1927, the Association had disbanded and the route was taken over by the U.S. Highway System. Its traffic helped to sustain the economies of the communities you’ll visit on the White Lightning Trail.
It has also been called Thunder Road, named for the fast and furious routes taken by moonshiners under the cover of darkness, transporting homemade, untaxed liquor during prohibition in the 1920s. Thunder Road and its reputation for rebellion and adventure has been the subject of Tennessee legend, and has been attributed to the beginning of NASCAR.
Today, the East Tennessee Crossing National Scenic Byway waiting to be explored.
Time to Allow:4 HOURS
This route follows the original path of the Cherokee Warriors Path, the Wilderness Road across the Clinch Mountain and the Cumberland Gap, the Dixie Highway of the Civil War period and Thunder Road of moonshining lore.
Cades Cove is the most visited part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – and for good reason. The idyllic setting of Cades Cove is a sampler of everything the Park has to offer the Smokies visitor. Interesting Tennessee cabins, cabin rentals, and other pioneer structures dot this cove and tell the history of its early inhabitants. Wildlife is abundant. More than a dozen hiking and horseback riding trails originate in Cades Cove. The Smoky Mountains, which tower above picturesque Cades Cove, serve as guardians to the Cove’s serene beauty; and the splendor of color when Mother Nature empties her paint buckets on the Cove’s hardwoods in the Fall is unmatched! Cades Cove is home to trout streams to tease the fly-fishing enthusiast and campgrounds are available for those who want to live in Cades Cove–even if only temporarily. In addition, Smoky Mountain cabin rentals found on this web site gives the opportunity for tourists to hark back to the former inhabitants of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Cove is best seen via Cades Cove Loop Road, which is a one way paved lane that skirts the bottoms of the forested mountains which surrounds the fields of the valley floor. The Loop Road takes Smokies vacationers on a historical tour of early pioneer farms, fields, roads and trails, leaving the Smokie’s visitor with the feeling that they have witnessed something wonderful and wholesome.
Cades Cove Loop is open to auto, bicycle and foot traffic every day of the year from sunup to sundown with a few exceptions. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has designated that May through September on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the loop is reserved for hikers and bicyclist from sunup to 10am only. Auto traffic on those days is permitted in Cades Cove after 10am. Expect to spend one to two hours for the Cades Cove auto tour including a few stops along the way. Hikers and bicyclists will of course spend considerably more time in this Smoky Mountain paradise. Bicycles can be rented for a small fee at the Visitors Center at the beginning of Cades Cove.
You can rent bicycles and helmets for a bicycling tour at the Cades Cove Campground Store found, appropriately enough, in the Cades Cove Campground. The bicycle equipment is available beginning in April for the minimal price of $3.25 an hour. Helmets are also available. You can reach the Cades Cove Campground store at 865-448-9034.
Some Smoky Mountain vacationers find the 11 mile Cades Cove Loop Road too grueling for part time bikers. If so, Sparks and Hyatt Lane cut across the cove to shorten the journey. The shortcuts can also eliminate most of the hills on the loop, however, they also cut out many of the points of interest. Some people bike the cove using one of the short cuts and then visit the cove again by car. You can only use bicycles on the Cades Cove loop road or other paved areas of the tour. You may not take bicycles off road or on trails.
Drinking water and restrooms are always issues to bikers. Both are available near the Cades Cove Campground Store and at the Cable Mill area inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is recommended that bikers bring a water bottle with them along with a bike friendly bottle holder. Though the Cades Cove Campground Store is at the beginning of the loop, the Cable Mill area is six miles away.
The Foothills Parkway provides some beautiful views of the Smokies – especially in the fall color season. A section of the Parkway begins near Walland, just outside Townsend, and extends 17 miles along the crest of Chilhowee Mountain to Chilhowee Lake. There are numerous scenic pull-offs along the way – including one at Look Rock, where an observation tower provides a panoramic 360-degree view of mountains and valley.
If you can’t get enough the Great Smoky Mountain’s scenic drives or you just want to view them from another perspective at a much lower altitude, then you’re going to love the Foothills Parkway. The views from these lower mountain ridges are spectacular. The Foothills Parkway takes visitors above the treetops and foothills from the valley below, offering incredible mountain vistas across the entire face of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The views along the foothills are great all year long, any time of the day. A good time to view the Smoky Mountains from the Foothills Parkway is in the early evening when weather and visibility permits. At this time of the day, light along the mountain ranges caused by the setting sun enhances the giant folds of the mountain range creating a display of light and shadow along the rugged slopes.
Approved by Congress in 1944 the Foothills Parkway located in the mountainous foothills of the Tennessee Valley, mostly travels below and parallel to the Great Smoky Mountains. The Parkway route allows for RV’s and trailers as well. This scenic mountain drive is an experience you’ll want to make time for.
Proposed the to be routed through Sevier, Blount and Cocke Counties, only two sections of the constructed Parkway along the high ridges overlooking the Smoky Mountains have been completed. There are 4 sections to the Parkway, 3 are currently completed.
FOOTHILLS PARKWAY WEST: This 17-mile long section of the Parkway travels along the backbone of the Chilhowee Mountain between Chilhowee Lake and the town of Townsend in Blount County. From this advantage point you can not only view the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the southeast, visitors can also enjoy views of the huge and grand valley lands of the Tennessee River Valley bordered by the long plateau of the Cumberland Mountains to the northwest.
Hiking is available to a lookout tower; you can pick up the 15-minute trail hike at the Look Rock overlook along the Parkway. Two lakes are located along this section of the Foothills Parkway, the Chilhowee Lake located at the southern end of the Parkway and Lake of the Sky. The Chilhowee Dam that holds back the waters of Little Tennessee River created Chilhowee Lake the larger of the two lakes. Lake in the Sky is a small mountain lake located in Happy Valley between Chilhowee Mountain and the Great Smoky Mountains. The Foothills Parkway West is the longest completed section of the Foothills Parkway system.
FOOTHILLS PARKWAY EAST: This 5.5 mile section of the Parkway is in Cocke County cradled just below the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can pick up the Foothills Parkway East near the town of Cosby in Cocke County. The Parkway will take you along the ridge over a lower section of Stone Mountain. Views of the Smoky Mountains National Parks northeastern end are beautiful with the Greenbrier Pinnacle, Mount Guyot and Mount Cammerer towering above.
To the northwest of the Parkway across a small valley is English Mountain rising from the Tennessee Valley floor with Stone Mountain to the northeast. This 5.5-mile section of the Foothills Parkway ends at Interstate 40 in a gap along the lower southern end of Stone Mountain.
FOOTHILLS PARKWAY SPUR: This approximately 5-mile section of the Parkway is the most traveled amongst the 4 sections of the Foothills Parkway. Located in Sevier County this section connects the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. This spur travels between ridge tops rather than over them as compared to the other sections of the Parkway that use only ridge tops. The West Prong of the Little Pigeon River cut the original path thru these steep foothill mountains. The 4-lane highway known as the Parkway is divided by the river, running its northward course between the north and south bound traffic, a very beautiful drive making visitors feel as though the just entered the national park. The actual Great Smoky Mountains Park is on the south side of Gatlinburg.
CENTRAL FOOTHILLS PARKWAY: The “Missing Link” of the Foothills Parkway opened on November 10, 2018. The 16 miles of the “Missing Link” section as it was referred to provides stunning views of Wears Valley, Townsend, Walland, and the surrounding area. This section from Wears Valley, TN to Walland, TN connects to the existing 5.6-mile Foothills Parkway East and 17-mile Foothills Parkway West.
Tail of the Dragon
Crossing Deals Gap at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line is the Tail of the Dragon. It is considered by many as one of the world’s foremost motorcycling and sports car roads. Anyone looking for an exciting highway will enjoy this 11-mile stretch of US129.
The road is desolate and can be a real adventure in the winter months. We’ve had to deal with bears, turkeys, deer, and wild boars in the road, trees down, ice/snow, and tractor-trailers taking up both lanes in the curves. It is not a road for the squeamish, but if you’re looking for a lot of excitement, don’t miss this one.
Beware …. it is not a road to sightsee on. The attraction is the road itself, not the scenery. No need to look at the wooded roadside when the curves are coming at rapid fire. And that is what you should be concerned with.
To some the Dragon begins on the North Carolina side at Fugitive Bridge with a view of the Cheoah Dam where Harrison Ford jumped from in the movieThe Fugitive. The dam and old single lane bridge were also in the 1974 movie Two Lane Blacktop. The Dragon ends 14 miles across the mountain in Tennessee at the Tabcat Creek Bridge.
US 129 climbs through The Slide, a steep series of “S” curves where one would not want to meet a tractor-trailer. The road then levels and slightly straightens until a series of curves approaching the intersection of Moonshiner 28, another great road in itself.
Take a break and stop at our Tail of the Dragon store. Just look for the Big Dragon Tail. We are at the intersection of US 129 and NC 28.
Next comes Deals Gap and the Tennessee State Line where the real action begins. We’ll leave the rest for you to describe after you ride it. Many just remember curve after curve after curve and surviving the run of their lives with a hoot and a big smile on their face.
This is a very special and unique highway. There are no intersecting roads, no houses with driveways and no businesses. Each and every curve is different. There is very little elevation change. And many of the curves are banked like a race track.
After riding many other twisty roads, we always come home to the Dragon and rate it the best of them all.
FACTS ABOUT THE DRAGON
Tabcat Bridge to Deals Gap (State Line) – 11.1 miles
Tabcat Bridge to Hwy 28 – 11.8 miles
Tabcat Bridge to Fugitive Bridge – 14.0 miles
As the Crow Flies:
Tabcat Bridge to Fugitive Bridge – 6.0 miles
Deals Gap at the State Line – 1962 feet
Tabcat Bridge – 877 feet
Prior to 1992 the speed limit in both Tennessee and North Carolina was 55 mph. In 1993 the speed limit on the Tennessee side was lowered to 40 mph. In 2002 the speed limit was lowered to 30 mph, which is still in effect today. The North Carolina portion of the Dragon was lowered to 30 mph in early 2005..
You will hear a lot about the fastest times on the Dragon. The original unofficial timing involved a run from the Overlook to the Crossroads of Time and then back, an 18.6-mile distance. The round trip time was then divided by two. The Deals Gap Riding Society record for an amateur rider was a 22 minute round trip run, which averaged out to 11 minutes (50.7 mph average). The overall record was 18 minutes, or 9 minutes one-way (62 mph average). In order to compete for a new record one had to make the run along with the current record holder.
These records were set back in the early 1990s when there was little traffic on the Dragon. Today, with the road patrolled by sheriff and highway patrol, you will risk severe penalties if you try to beat the records.
MOVIES/SHOWS FILMED ON THE TAIL OF THE DRAGON:
The first feature film made on US 129 was Thunder Road. This 1958 Robert Mitchum film about backwoods moonshining actually had scenes filmed on the Dragon. One location that we can identify is at the power line easement at about mile 4.5 on the Dragon map and you can see the old wooden “safety” posts on the open corner. A number of the posts still remain. Many town scenes were filmed in Asheville.
The 1971 cult classic movie Two-Lane Blacktop was partially filmed on the Dragon. There are scenes of the state line sign, some of the curves, and the original single lane bridge at Tapoco Dam. There are also scenes along 129 on the Little Tennessee River. We were amazed to see the original Crafton’s Motel, Restaurant and Esso gas station in the film too. These scenes are at the end of the movie.
The Fugitive (1993) Harrison Ford jumps off Cheoah Dam at Tapoco. It is now commonly known as Fugitive Dam. Other scenes such as the train wreck were filmed near Bryson City.
In Dreams (1998) Starring Annette Bening and Robert Downey, Jr. had scenes at Cheoah and Calderwood Dams. There was also a chase scene filmed on Moonshiner 28 between the Dragon and Fontana. Another scene was shot at the Fontana Marina.
In 2012 Larry the Cable Guy came to the Dragon to film a show for his Only in America series on the History Channel. It was shown in September 2013.
July 5, 2013 rain caused postponement of many fireworks in the area but it didn’t stop Charley Boorman of Long Way Around and Long Way Down from making a couple of passes on the Tail. He was filming for his British show Charley Boorman’s USA Adventure.
September 25, 2013 we had a visit from Jessi Combs of Mythbusters, Overhaulin’, Xtreme 4x4and All Girls Garage. She and Patrick McIntyre were at the Tail shooting for AOL’s 1001 Things to Do Before You Die. They brought a Porsche and played for two days. We all had a lot of fun with the entire crew.
Several commercials have been filmed on the Tail of the Dragon.
Tail of the Dragon has made 5 documentary style videos of the Dragon from 2000 to 2010. These action packed DVDs can be purchased at the Tail of the Dragon store.