Route: Cherohala Skyway Loop
Begin: Maggie Valley, NC
End: Maggie Valley, NC
Travel Time: Approximately 8 hours (including rest stops and lunch)
Distance: 245 miles
Highlights: Twisties, views, sweepers, Fontana Dam, Tail of the Dragon, Bald River Falls, Cherohala Skyway
The Cherohala Skyway gets its name from combining the names of the two national forests it passes through, the Cherokee National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest.
The Cherohala Skyway Loop includes about half the roads of the Smoky Mountains Loop, although the distance is roughly the same.
The Smoky Mountains Loop deviates from the Cherohala Skyway Loop by passing through Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Cherokee, NC, then traveling around its northern border through the town of Townsend, and then re-connecting at the Foothills Parkway and US-129.
The Cherohala Skyway Loop travels south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Leave Maggie Valley and travel toward Cherokee, NC.
NOTE: It is a good idea to top off your tank at the Shell station across from Harrah’s Casino in Cherokee.
Depart the Shell station and continue on to Casino Trail just past the Pancake House. Turn left and travel to US-441 South where you will turn left and proceed to US-74 West (Great Smoky Mountains Expressway). Stay on US-74 until you arrive at TN-28 North. Turn right and drive toward Fontana Dam.
OPTION: Construction on Fontana Dam was completed in 1945 after three years of work by the TVA. The Fontana Reservoir Group Pavilion is located near the dam on County Road 1245. The view is great and you can stop for photos and to stretch your legs.
Deals Gap is only about 10 miles further. According to who you talk to, you are either at the beginning or the end of the Tail of the Dragon. Either way, Deals Gap is a biker destination and you will love the atmosphere.
Visit the General Store for a souvenir t-shirt and to take a photo of the Tree of Shame located at the motorcycle resort next door.
Tail of the Dragon | Tree of Shame
Driving north on US-129 will take you through the Tail of the Dragon, an amazing 318 twists and turns in just 11 miles. We encourage you to take it easy. There are Highway Patrol officers stationed along the route due to indiscretions of riders.
Every year bikers are killed on the Dragon because they disobey traffic laws. I know you have heard it before, but it is worth repeating, SPEED KILLS! Nowhere is that more evident than on the Tail of the Dragon.
Please don’t be a death statistic on Tennessee’s traffic information boards. This section of the loop is fun, even at normal speeds.
After passing through the Dragon, you will drive past the Foothills Parkway and over to TN-72. If needed, stop at the Punkin Center Market for 100% gas and a quick pick-me-up.
The Dragon Pitt BBQ is next door if you need something more substantial to eat. The 129 Motorcycle Pit Stop is across the street offering food, motorcycle parts, and service.
TN-72 will take you over to Vonore, TN where you can eat, top off your gas, or just pass through.
IMPORTANT: After turning onto TN-360 in Vonore there is only one more gas station on the route before you reach Robbinsville, NC.
US-165, Cherohala Skyway, will take you to River Road where you can diverge again for a view of the Bald River Falls waterfall before returning to US-165 via Turkey Creek Road.
The rest of the trip will take you through Robbinsville, NC where we recommend you top off at the Skyway Food Mart on the corner of US-129. From there you will head back to Maggie Valley.
We hope you enjoy the ride. Be safe.
Google Map | Cherohala Skyway Loop