Take a scenic drive in the mountains surrounding Asheville. Go over the rivers, through the woods and by waterfalls, with plenty of things to do along the way in the national parks and forests. Cruise the curvy mountain roads and byways to discover many interesting places to stop. Here are our 18 best scenic mountain drives:
Indian Lakes Scenic Byway
This 60-mile drive takes you by Fontana and Santeetlah Lakes in far western North Carolina, through the historic communities of Stecoah and Robbinsville, in rural Graham and Swain counties.
Best of the Blue Ridge Scenic Loop Drive
See the best mountain views, waterfalls and gardens, along with shopping and sampling of local beers, with this 60-mile loop drive that starts and ends in Asheville. Includes Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway
The 45-mile North Carolina Scenic Byway is named for the rich history of local music. It follows NC 209 from Lake Junaluska to Hot Springs, through farmland and Pisgah National Forest. Stop at the Trust General Store and the tiny St. Jude's Chapel of Hope.
Perhaps the most famous motorcycle drive in the East, drive 318 curves in 11 miles. Located about 90 miles from Asheville, the Tail of the Dragon crosses Deals Gap at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line on U.S. 129.
The French Broad Overview
This 17-mile N.C. Scenic Byway just north of Asheville starts at I-26, Exit 19. Take U.S. 25/70 toward Marshall and turn left at the first stoplight onto Monticello Road. Go three miles to N.C. Highway 251. Turn right and drive along the French Broad River to Marshall. Stop at Ledges Whitewater River County Park and watch the kayakers while you picnic.
Experience 190 steep, climbing curves in just 12 miles, climbing 1,900 feet in elevation. Take N.C. Highway 226A from U.S. 221 north of Marion to Little Switzerland at the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Diamondback is loaded with switchbacks looping almost 360-degrees, making it extra fun for motorcyclists.
Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway
Another nationally-recognized scenic drive is this winding 79-mile route that crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway twice (milepost 412 at U.S. Highway 276 and milepost 423 at N.C. Highway 215). The Forest Heritage Scenic Byway is also named the Copperhead Loop by motorcyclists who love all the curves. Stop at waterfalls, hiking trails, Sliding Rock and the Cradle of Forestry. In the photo is Sunburst Falls.
Mt. Mitchell Scenic Byway
I-26 Scenic Highway
This is the only interstate section in the state to be selected as a scenic byway. Begins on I-26 at Exit 9 at Mars Hill. As you travel north, there is a scenic overlook offering views of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A second scenic overlook will be on the return route, where the NC Welcome Center is located. The highest point is Sam’s Gap (3,760 feet), where the Appalachian Trail crosses under the highway. Exit at Flag Pond in Tennessee and make a u-turn to return.
Town Mtn / Elk Mtn Loop
If you're in downtown Asheville and time is limited for a scenic drive, this is it. Drive up N.C. Highway 694 (Town Mountain Road) from College Street. Wind up the mountain and arrive at the Blue Ridge Parkway in 6.3 miles. Turn left on the Parkway (north) and take the first road on the left (sign for Weaverville). Go a short distance and turn left on Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. Drive down the mountain ridge for 7 miles. Take a right on Beaverdam Road and left on Merrimon Avenue to return. Allow one hour.
Waterfall Byway: US Highway 64
Drive 98 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains, through charming towns and by plenty of beautiful waterfalls. Begin in Chimney Rock and travel west on U.S. Highway 64 by Lake Toxaway and through Cashiers and Highlands. Stop at roadside waterfalls Dry Falls and Bridal Veil as you enter the Cullasaja River Gorge. The last section is also called Mountain Waters Scenic Byway.
It took 34 years to build North Carolina's most expensive highway, winding up and over 5,400-foot mountains for 15 miles, from Robbinsville through the Nantahala National Forest and descending another 21 miles into the Cherokee National Forest of Tennessee. This 36-mile National Scenic Byway shows little evidence of civilization. Stop at many overlooks.
The Nantahala Byway
This North Carolina Scenic Byway travels 45 miles along U.S. Highway 19/74 from Bryson City to Marble, taking you through the beautiful Nantahala Gorge with whitewater rafting, zip line canopy tours and a beautiful riverside drive. Stop at Nantahala Outdoor Center to watch the river fun or enjoy a riverside lunch.
Barns of Madison County
Drive the country roads of Madison County to see many historic barns preserved by the Appalachian Barn Alliance - five scenic routes take you by farms and mountain views.
Newfound Gap Road
Drive the very popular U.S. Highway 441 through Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Cherokee. First stop should be the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum. Then drive 18 miles and climb 3,000 ft. to Newfound Gap on the Tennessee border. Many turn around here or drive up to Clingmans Dome. Another option is a hike on the Appalachian Trail.
Black Mountain Rag to Chimney Rock
Take exit 64 off Interstate 40 at Black Mountain to follow N.C. Highway 9 South, named for an old fiddle tune and musical term. A "rag" is a tune with multiple twists and curves up and down the scales. In 16 miles, arrive in Bat Cave and turn left on U.S. 64 to Chimney Rock with spectacular views of Hickory Nut Gorge as you drive. Continue to Lake Lure to walk across the Flowering Bridge and along the beach before you return.
Roan Mountain Scenic Drive
Drive Highway 261 to Carver's Gap at Roan Mountain for spectacular views, hikes on the Appalachian Trail, winter snow along the mile high ridge and summer rhododendron blooms. The 12-mile drive starts in Bakersville.
Blue Ridge Parkway
One of the most scenics roads in America (and part of the National Park Service), the Blue Ridge Parkway offers unmatched, spectacular mountain scenery. Drive north or south on the Parkway from Asheville and quickly ascend in elevation. It's all about the journey, so go slow, stop frequently and enjoy. To return to your starting point, you can often exit the Parkway onto a highway that provides a faster trip back.
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