North Carolina May 24, 2017
The Beautiful Underrated Drive In North Carolina You’ll Want To Experience At Least Once
While many hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a quintessential mountain cruise, another, lesser-known ‘skyway’ rivals that of the Parkway while still providing unprecedented scenery. Hop in the car this summer for a beautiful cruise through the mountains on Cherohala Skyway.
The National Scenic Byway spans 18 miles through North Carolina and 22 miles through deeply forested areas in Tennessee. Named after the two forests it connects - Cherokee National Forest in TN and Nantahala National Forest in NC, this pristine drive ascends up and over, winding drivers up 5,400 feet elevation throughout the 18 miles in North Carolina. The skyway was even named by Discovery Channel as one the Top 10 Motorcycle Rides in North America.
The skyway opened in the fall of 1996 after a whopping 34 years of construction. It also ended up being North Carolina's most expensive scenic highway with a price tag of $100 million. Today, drivers can enjoy breathtaking mountain views, several overlooks, multiple hiking trails and waterfalls. The skyway can be reached 12 miles west of Robbinsville on N.C. 143.
The starting overlook gives stunning views of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, and you very well may want to detour a bit inside this whimsical, enchanted forest. Some of the tulip poplars within the forest have grown as far as 100 feet high and 20 feet in circumference. The forest features more than 100 different species of trails and 60-miles of hiking trails.
The drive begins at Santeetlah Gap and ascends along Cedar Top Mountain. You'll drive through scenic vistas like Little Huckleberry Knob, Hooper’s Bald, Laurel Top and John’s Knob; some of the oldest mountains in not just the Appalachian, but the world, these peaks go back as far as 200 million years ago. The skyway then takes you to the highest point along the drive, Hooper’s Bald at 5,249 feet (pictured above).
While the skyway that connects Robbinsvile, N.C. to Tennessee's Tellico Plains has been called a 'road enthusiast's dream' it offers so much more than a fun road to drive and wind through. Hooper Bald features an amazing picnic area with stunning views, at the NC/TN state line, the Old Wagon train road crosses the Cherohala. The 30 mile gravel road features extensive backwoods perfect for a primitive camping trip. Once in TN, detouring along Bald River Falls offers spectacular views of water cascading as a far as 100 feet onto rocks below, the best part, this can all be viewed from the comfort of your car.
This gorgeous, scenic byway is a prized spring, summer and fall destination that offers one of the most stunning drives in western North Carolina.
Sounds like a stunning way to spend a day! Have you ever driven along the Cherohala Skyway?
For more summertime adventure drives in North Carolina,
these 10 backroads are gorgeous.