Cherohala Skyway – TN
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (1996)
- Intrinsic QualitiesScenic
- LocationNC, TN
- Length23 of 41 total miles
The Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway winds across the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and beckons travelers to immerse themselves in the unparalleled beauty of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Renowned for its scenic splendor, this scenic drive meanders for 43 miles through the heart of the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests, offering an unforgettable journey through pristine wilderness, lush forests, and awe-inspiring mountain vistas. For those seeking an escape into the natural wonders of the Southeastern United States, the Cherohala Skyway is a gateway to adventure.
Story of the Byway
The Cherohala Skyway may be the only National Scenic Byway that resulted from a joke. In the 1950s, someone made a joke about the only roads between North Carolina and Tennessee being old wagon trails. That started an annual wagon trail ride, which gave rise to the idea for a highway that would run along the crest of the Unicoi Mountains from Robbinsville, N.C., to Tellico, Tenn. After 40 years and at a cost of $100 million, the 43-mile Cherohala Skyway was finished. It has become a popular scenic drive as it rises from 2,660 feet to 5,390 feet in just over 10 miles along the North Carolina side. This mini Blue Ridge Parkway combines with the nearby Dragon at Deals Gap and the Parkway itself to make an amazing driving trip through Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. The Cherohala Skyway is named for the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests, which line each side of the road. It is known for its long sweeping corners, scenic views, and picnic and hiking opportunities. Popular stops along and near the Skyway include Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Santeetlah Lake and many Cherokee sites.
Looking for ridge after ridge of forested mountainside with sweeping mountain views as far as the eyes can see; abundant and unobstructed scenic overlooks around every corner; world class hiking trails, refreshing waterfalls and scenic overlooks; a road featured as one of Discovery Channel’s Top 10 Motorcycle Rides in North America Some call it the “best kept secret.” We call it The Cherohala Skyway – experience it for yourself.
The Cherohala Skyway was completed in the fall of 1996 after planning and construction for some thirty-four years. It was North Carolina’s most expensive scenic highway carrying a price tag of $100,000,000. It winds up over 5,400 foot mountains for 18 miles in North Carolina and descends another 23 miles into the deeply forested back country of Tennessee. The road crosses through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests thus the name “Cherohala”. The Skyway is becoming well known in motorcycling and sports car circles for it’s long, sweeping corners, scenic views, cool summer breezes, fall colors, and winter vistas. There is little evidence of civilization from views that rival or surpass any from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The byway offers a respite from the hot North Carolina summers. Up on the mountain ridges, it is often cool and cloudy, even in the summer months, which create a dramatic backdrop for these beloved mountains. The mile-high ride is always a new and unforgettable experience.
This byway in particular is known for its fall colors. Peak colors typically occur during the last two weeks in October, but that is dependent upon fall temperatures and in particular, the first frost date. The color change begins at higher elevations where you see the earliest changes in late September, and continue all the way into mid-November at the lower elevations. The Sourwood and Dogwood trees are the first to turn red early in the season. Next are the Tulip Poplars which turn yellow, but then quickly turn brown. Peak leaf season brings in the red, orange, and yellow of the Maples and the bright yellow of the Birches. Oaks and Sweetgums finish up the season with purple, orange, and red. Fall wildflowers on the Cherohala Skyway provide a beautiful display of colors starting in September up to the first frost in early October.
In Tennessee, the byway is TN 165 beginning in Tellico Plains continuing 23 miles to the North Carolina state line. In North Carolina, it continues an additional 18 miles on NC 143 to Robbinsville.
Points of Interest
Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center
The Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center in Tellico Plains is a "must stop" before starting up the Skyway. Stop by for free maps, Skyway driving conditions and local area souvenirs and gifts. Picnic tables and restrooms are available.
Bald River Falls
Bald River Falls is a stunning waterfall located in the heart of the Cherokee National Forest in the Tellico Plains area of eastern Tennessee. It is easily accessible from the Cherohala Skyway and is known for its impressive beauty, making it a popular destination for nature enthusiasts, photographers, and outdoor adventurers.
The waterfall is approximately 90 feet tall and is known for its single, powerful drop into a picturesque pool below. The cascading waters create a mesmerizing spectacle, especially during periods of high water flow, such as after heavy rainfall. Visitors can easily reach Bald River Falls by car, and there is a parking area near the falls, making it a convenient stop for travelers exploring the region. In addition to the falls themselves, the surrounding area offers breathtaking views of the Cherokee National Forest and the Tellico River. Many visitors take advantage of the scenic backdrop for photography and relaxation.
Beyond the falls, there are hiking trails that lead deeper into the wilderness, allowing visitors to explore the forested landscape and enjoy additional natural attractions. The Bald River Gorge Wilderness Area, adjacent to the falls, offers opportunities for hiking and backpacking.
Cherokee National Forest
The Cherokee National Forest in the Tellico Plains, TN, region is a pristine and expansive natural sanctuary that beckons outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers with its breathtaking beauty and diverse ecosystems. Located in the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, this national forest encompasses over 655,000 acres of protected wilderness. It is known for its towering hardwood forests, clear mountain streams, cascading waterfalls, and a rich tapestry of flora and fauna. The forest's proximity to Tellico Plains makes it a gateway to a wide range of recreational activities, from hiking and camping to fishing and wildlife watching.
Hikers and outdoor adventurers are drawn to the Cherokee National Forest's extensive network of trails, which offer opportunities for exploration at various skill levels. The forest is home to the Cherohala Skyway, which connects Tellico Plains to Robbinsville, North Carolina, and provides stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains. In addition to its natural beauty, the Cherokee National Forest is rich in cultural history, with historic sites like old homesteads and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps that harken back to a bygone era.
Indian Boundary Lake
Indian Boundary Lake is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of the Cherokee National Forest in southeastern Tennessee. This serene and scenic reservoir offers a peaceful retreat for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers alike. Surrounded by lush woodlands, Indian Boundary Lake boasts crystal-clear waters that invite visitors to engage in a variety of recreational activities. From fishing and swimming to hiking and camping, the lake provides an array of options for those seeking an escape into the great outdoors.
One of the standout features of Indian Boundary Lake is its idyllic swimming area, complete with a sandy beach, making it a perfect destination for families during the warmer months. The lake is also a popular spot for anglers, who can cast their lines in search of trout, bass, and other species. For hikers, the surrounding forest offers a network of scenic trails, allowing for exploration and wildlife observation. With its tranquil beauty and diverse range of activities, Indian Boundary Lake serves as a beloved destination for those looking to connect with nature and create lasting memories in the midst of Tennessee's natural splendor.
The Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway in Tennessee offers access to a variety of hiking trails that allow visitors to explore the pristine wilderness of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Here are some notable hiking trails near the Cherohala Skyway in Tennessee:
1. Whigg Meadow Trail: Located near the start of the Cherohala Skyway on the Tennessee side, the Whigg Meadow Trail is a relatively short and easy hike that leads to a beautiful grassy meadow. It's an excellent choice for wildflower enthusiasts in the spring and provides panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
2. Bald River Falls Trail: This short, family-friendly trail leads to the impressive Bald River Falls, a picturesque waterfall that's easily accessible from the Cherohala Skyway. It's an excellent spot for a quick stop and some great photos.
3. Citico Creek Wilderness: The Citico Creek Wilderness, accessible from various points near the Cherohala Skyway, offers a network of rugged hiking trails that take you deep into the wilderness. The trails can be challenging, but they provide a remote and pristine hiking experience.
4. Indian Boundary Lake Loop Trail: Near the Tellico Plains entrance to the Cherohala Skyway, the Indian Boundary Lake Loop Trail offers a pleasant 3-mile loop around Indian Boundary Lake. It's a great choice for a leisurely hike, and you can also enjoy swimming and picnicking by the lake.
5. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest: While not directly off the Cherohala Skyway, the nearby Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest offers a unique hiking experience through one of the last remaining stands of old-growth forest in the eastern United States. The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Loop Trail is a popular choice for exploring this ancient forest.
6. Slickrock Creek Trail: For those looking for a challenging and remote backpacking adventure, the Slickrock Creek Trail in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness offers a backcountry experience with opportunities for multi-day hiking and camping.
7. Beech Gap Trail: Located near the western terminus of the Cherohala Skyway, the Beech Gap Trail offers a moderate hike with opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife observation.
Always be sure to check trail conditions and safety guidelines before embarking on any hike and consider your own skill level and preparedness for hiking in remote areas. Some trails may require permits or have seasonal closures, so it's a good idea to check with local forest service offices or visitor centers for the latest information before heading out.
A Drive Above the Clouds
Your Cherohala Skyway itinerary begins in the quaint historic town of Tellico Plains. This historic town has excellent places to eat in the town’s square. Stop by the local bakery for wood-fired brick oven breads, gourmet pastries, sandwiches and other delectable baked items.
On your way out of town, fill your tank and take drinks and snacks, as there are no gas stations or stores along the 42-mile Cherohala Skyway drive! It takes about 2 ½ hours to drive the Skyway. Stop at the Cherohala Skyway visitor Center, 225 Cherohala Skyway, 423.253.8010, for unique area gifts, artwork, maps and helpful Skyway information.
Your drive starts through the Cherokee National Forest, and you will be driving alongside and crossing the Tellico River. About 5 miles into your trip you can take a right on Forest Service Road 210 and visit the Ranger Station on the left. Further along Forest Service 210 is Bald River Falls! The driving bridge goes right past the beautiful cascading 100 foot falls! It is not necessary to leave your car to view the falls. You can turn around here, retrace your drive to the Skyway, TN 165, and continue your trip.
As you continue on the Skyway about 12 miles, you will be passing through the black bear sanctuary. Turn left on Indian Boundary Road to view Indian Boundary Campground and Lake. The campground is in among hardwoods and pine and offers different types of camping, from sites with electrical hookups and a modern bathhouse to rustic sites with outdoor showers and fire pits. Indian Boundary Lake is beautiful and tempting for a quick swim or walk! Retrace your drive back to the Cherohala and travel along the Skyway and stop at the many overlooks for incredible views and photo ops. Stop and have a snack at the picnic tables. Be sure to put your trash in the bear-safe garbage cans!
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