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The Cherohala Skyway

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Ride Stats:

  • Distance: 52 miles / 83.7 km
  • Ride Time: 1-2 hours
  • Approximate Fuel Costs: $3.95
  • States Visited: Tennessee, North Carolina
Submitted by:
OpenRoadRider pro

How can you really describe the Cherohala Skyway? I don't think words can. Most motorcyclists come to cut their teeth on the nearby 'Tail of the Dragon', but leave with some of their fondest memories being of the Skyway.

I couldn't tell you why this is. All I know is when I think back to the roads in this area, the Cherohala Skyway comes up near the top of the list. It's twisty sure, a requirement for almost any road in this area. But, it has something else that makes you want to ride it again and again.

Maybe it's the fact that it's a relatively new road, maybe it's the fact that it has absolutely no commercial or residential buildings along it, maybe it's all of the above or maybe, just maybe, it's because it's really fun.

Note: The Google Map is incorrect for this road. The path you see above is directly from my GPS as I drove the road.

This is an east - west road. Running for 21 miles as Tenessee SR 165 on the western side and then for 15 miles as North Carolina Route 143 on the eastern side.

The western end of the Skyway begins at Tellico Plains at an elevation below 1,000 feet and follows the Tellico River Gorge for four miles. Along the river the road gives you lots of opportunities to pull over and look at the kayakers go by or just take in the sounds and sights.

The Skyway then ascends into the Unaka Mountains to an elevation of 5,390 feet before twisting and turning its way back down into Robbinsville. If you like the uphill push, riding west to east is definitely the better direction to do this road.

Tellico Plains consists of a bank, a grocery store, a couple of gas stations, and a Subway. Robinsville is slightly larger, but basically the same. You definitely don't come to visit the towns, you come to ride this road.

The name 'Chero...hala' came from the combination of the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina which the Skyway runs through.

As far as roads go, this one is relatively young. The road was officially opened in October of 1996 after 38 solid years of planning and construction. At a price tag of $100,000,000 for 52 miles this road had better be darn good. And it is.

The sweeping curves of the Cherohala will outright beg you to ride fast. Be aware though that this road does throw in an occasional tight curve to surprise you.

In fact, there are more deaths on the Cherohala than on the Dragon. Or as a local in Tellico Plains told me 'It seems like every month there's a news story about some guy hitting a piece of gravel going 90mph on the Skyway. People get tickets on the Dragon, but they die on the skyway.'

I did notice that someone went along the road and wrote 'SLO' in white spray paint before some of the tighter curves. A definite sign that enough bad things have happened at that point to warrant a spray painted warning. (Note: not all of the tight turns were labeled this way, so don't expect it all the time.)

Please ride the Cherohala with extreme respect and use caution.

Final Thoughts

Whether you're looking for a more spirited motorcycle adventure, or just want to cruise and see the sights, the Cherohala Skyway is your road. From non-stop long sweeping corners to great pull-offs and rest areas every few miles to take in the mountain views as you ride above the clouds, you won't be disappointed.

Things to Consider

You are riding up and down mountain ranges, so the weather and temperature can change drastically in just a few miles. Dress appropriately. Layers are a requirement, even in the summer.

This road will beg you to run it fast. Respect it and be careful - don't be caught by one of the occasional tight turns and end up 'six feet under' as the local said above.

The speed limit is 45mph, at least on the North Carolina side. I've never noticed markers on the Tennessee side and just assumed it was the same.

Pack a picnic and eat at one of the incredibly scenic pull-offs on the Skyway. There are so many of these you won't have trouble finding one to yourself.

This is my personal opinion, but the best time by far is to ride this road early in the morning. The sites of the mountains are incredible as the sun rises up over them. In addition, you'll basically have the road to yourself.

Nearby Things to Do

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
Visit the ancient grove of yellow poplars at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. The short memorial trail has two loop trails through a forest with the largest trees in eastern United States. The upper loop has the biggest trees.

Maple Springs Overlook
From this overlook the southwestern quadrant of the Great Smoky Mountains appear as a mighty wall of mountains. It is the only place you will get a long range view of the region of the Little Tennessee River Gorge, and it is one of the best places to view a sunset. To get there, head a little bit North of Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest on 1127.

Bald River Falls
Located on paved Forest Service Road 210, the falls are well worth the short trip. The water cascades over 100 feet onto the rocks below - all which can be seen from the comfort of your bike.

Nearby Roads To Consider

Wayah Road (SR 1310)- The Locals Call it Thunder Road

The Tail of the Dragon

Hell Bender 28

What Other Riders have said about Cherohala Skyway

* Felon (one of our well traveled Pro Members) did a write up here

* cra0980 talks about it in one of his favorite riding loops in the area here.

Elevation Profile

Additional Photos

This is a motorcycle ride in the states Tennessee, North Carolina. This motorcycle route has 5 scenery characteristics and other road conditions to help you plan your road trip. This motorcycle map was created by OpenRoadRider in July. Click here to see other Motorcycle Roads by OpenRoadRider

Rider Photos:

  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 1 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 2 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 3 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 4 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 5 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 6 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 7 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 8 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 9 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 10 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 11 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 12 for The Cherohala Skyway
  • Motorcycle Ride Picture 13 for The Cherohala Skyway

Ride Scenery:

ParksFall ColorsForestMountainsRiver

Best Time to Go

Spring, Summer, Fall

Road Characteristics:

Sweeping Curves RoadTwisty RoadHillyLight TrafficSmoothRare Gas StationsAdequate

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Previous Comments from other Riders:

09FLHTCU says:

Excellent ride on Saturday...85 degrees in Robbinsville...58 degrees at the top!
Tue Jul 23, 2013 at 7:22 AM

firepro says:

I think the first few miles from Tellico Plains is the best, only because of the running water along side the highway. But, don't get me wrong the entire ride was awesome !!!
Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 9:10 AM

jwoggon says:

One of the best roads in the country. Better than than the Dragon, better than the BRP, this is the road you want to ride.

When I rode it in July, I did not see more than 20 cars / bikes in either direction.

Great twisties, great sweepers, great views.

You will love it.
Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 9:09 AM

schafnet says:

This is definately a favorite to ride. Spring, Summer, or Fall this road has plenty to offer all types of riders.
Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 9:09 AM

thatdude says:

great pics. good info too. good camping all thru the area, north river c/g is one of my faves
Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 9:09 AM

the3gibsons says:

Really a beautiful ride! Have to do it again though cause we were running from the rain!
Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 9:09 AM


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