While the Cherohala Skyway is 100 miles west of Asheville, it's the one of the most scenic drives in mountains. If you are in the Nantahala Gorge or Fontana area, don't miss it. The countless mountain views from this 36-mile winding National Scenic Byway show little evidence of civilization. Stop at many overlooks, including the Santeetlah Overlook at 5,390 feet in elevation (highest point on the Skyway). It's located near Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and Fontana Lake.
It's a favorite for motorcycle and sport car drivers with many twists and turns. Take your time and stop along the way to enjoy. Temperatures can drop as much as 20 degrees during the first 11 miles of your drive starting on the North Carolina side, since the Skyway climbs from 2,660 feet elevation to 5,390 feet!
There are several hiking trails along the way. Our favorite is Huckleberry Knob, the highest point in the Cheoah Ranger District at 5,560 feet. Park at the overlook between Mile 8 & 9 for the easy roundtrip hike of 2.5 miles along an old road through the open woods to the Oak Knob, then on to Huckleberry Knob. Enjoy a panoramic view of the Unicoi Mountains in the Nantahala National Forest.
The Cherohala Skyway opened in 1996 after 34 years of construction! It is North Carolina's most expensive highway at a cost of $100,000,000 (about $3 million a mile). It winds up the ridge for 15 miles in North Carolina and descending another 21 miles into the backcountry of Tennessee. The road crosses through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests thus the name "Chero-hala".
The Skyway begins near the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina, in Robbinsville, North Carolina. It can be desolate at night and extremely dangerous in the winter months. There are no facilities other than a couple of restrooms for the entire 36 miles so make sure you have enough gas before you begin.
It can be cold and cloudy riding the mountain ridges, so make sure you dress properly, even in the summer months. You can turn around at one of the overlooks or continue down the ridge in Tennessee. At the state line the descent starts into the Tellico River basin. If you continue into Tennessee, take a detour to Bald River Falls on paved Forest Service Road 210 to see a 100-foot waterfall, seen from your car (or motorcycle).
Tail of the Dragon
Nearby is The Tail of the Dragon with 318 curves in 11 miles (US Highway 129). It's called America's number one motorcycle and sports car road as it snakes across Deals Gap at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. Speed limit is 30 MPH and expect heavy traffic on weekends. Sharpest curves are called Copperhead Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Wheelie Hell, Killboy Corner, Mud Corner, Sunset Corner, Gravity Cavity, Beginner's End, and Brake or Bust Bend. The road earned its name from its curves being said to resemble a dragon's tail. Since part of the road is also the southwestern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is no development along the 11-mile stretch. Stop at the Tail of the Dragon Store on the North Carolina before you begin - it's a popular spot to stop, admire the sports cars and motorcycles, and buy souvenirs. Read about more Scenic Drives.