National Park Ride: Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina, is one of the most beloved US National Parks among motorcyclists. Spanning an area of over 522,000 acres along the spectacular Appalachian Mountains, the GSMNP offers stunning views and excellent motorcycling roads. One of the most famous biking roads in America, the Tail of the Dragon, is located right at the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as several other lesser-known, yet perhaps even more jaw-dropping routes.Here are some of our favorite roads in this area:
The Great Smoky Mountains Loop
If you can only do one ride in the Great Smoky Mountains, this is the one you should ride. With over 250 miles of scenic twisties, breath-taking views, and plenty of historical sites to explore along the way, this loop makes the perfect Smoky experience on two wheels. This route encompasses local back-country roads as well as the famous Blue Ridge and Cherohala Skyways, two spectacular must-ride-in-this-lifetime roads near the National Park.
The Great Smoky Mountains Loop begins and ends in Maggie Valley, NC, an iconic Appalachian town which has become a hub for motorcyclists. The heart stone of Maggie Valley is Wheels Through Time, a large and extensive motorcycle museum. Wheels Through Time boasts an intriguing collection of hundreds of vintage and retro motorcycles from the 1900s to 1990s, as well as various memorabilia, clothing, and other artifacts.
From Maggie Valley head West on US 19, then turn off on the Blue Ridge Parkway (US 441) and continue North towards Gatlinburg. This stretch of road will take you across the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, offering stunning mountain views along the way. Follow the road to Townsend and on to Tellico Plains, then head back East via US 165, 143, then 74 back to Maggie Valley.
The Tail of the Dragon
The Tail of the Dragon is among the best-known motorcycle roads in the US, if not the whole world. Boasting 318 curves in 11 miles, the Tail of the Dragon is a bucket list ride for many motorcyclists around the country. Although the entire route is only fifteen miles long, the Tail of the Dragon is an oft-ridden road for most motorcyclists when traveling anywhere near the Great Smoky Mountains.
The Tail of the Dragon begins on US 129 at Deals Gap, which lies on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. This road is not about the scenery or spectacular views; here the attraction is the road itself. The curves are laid out in rapid succession down the mountain, so go easy on the throttle and enjoy the thrill of this fine road to the fullest.
The best time of year to ride the Tail of the Dragon is April to October, but be sure to check the weather forecast before you go as the Great Smoky Mountains often get wet, foggy weather. Keep in mind that The Dragon is also popular among sports car drivers as well as motorcyclists, and because it is a main highway up the mountain motorcyclists should be careful of other traffic while having fun on its hairpins and curves.
The Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile Scenic Byway traversing mountain ridges and offering sweeping views of the forested slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains. The Cherohala Skyway is one of the most spectacular rides in the area, extremely popular among motorcyclists because you can enjoy the views without getting off your bike. There are plenty of scenic picnic areas and overlooks if you want to take a little break and soak in the spectacular scenery.
The Cherohala Skyway connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, and Robbinsville, North Carolina. It ascends from just 900 feet in Tennessee to over 5,390 feet above sea level at the Santeetlah Overlook in North Carolina, revealing the quintessential Smoky Mountain views and the panorama of the Cherokee National Forest.
Just like with every other road in the Great Smoky Mountains, keep an eye on the weather and check the forecast before you go. Even in the summer months there can be fog and rain. Watch for animals such as black bears and white-tailed deer on the road as well.
Have you had the fortune to ride the Great Smoky Mountains yet? If so, what was your favorite route? Let us know in the comments below.