Route: Smoky Mountains Loop
Begin: Maggie Valley, NC
End: Maggie Valley, NC
Travel Time: Approximately 8 hours (including rest stops and lunch)
Distance: 250 miles
Highlights: Twisties, views, sweepers, Clingman’s Dome, Bald River Falls, Foothills Parkway, Cherohala Skyway
Like many of the other great motorcycle rides in the Smoky Mountains, the Smoky Mountain Loop begins and ends in Maggie Valley. Technically, you can begin the loop anywhere along the route, but why not start in the motorcycle hub of the Smokies?
Your first turn off of US-19 outside of Maggie Valley will be at the Blue Ridge Parkway. What can we say about the Blue Ridge Parkway that hasn’t been said already? It is breathtaking! The 22 minutes it takes to drive this 13 mile stretch of the Parkway is spectacular.
You will then turn right onto US-441 and head toward Newfound Gap, passing the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Feel free to stop at the center for information about the Park or to pick up something at the gift shop. It’s a little too early to stop for a rest, but hey, that’s just my opinion!
Twenty-four minutes and 16 miles later, you have an opportunity to turn off the Smoky Mountains Loop for a side trip to Clingman’s Dome, the highest elevation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Tennessee.
Clingman’s Dome is located on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina and is very close to the Appalachian Trail.
The seven mile ride to the Clingman’s Dome Trailhead will take approximately 14 minutes without traffic. Keep in mind that the observation deck is an additional .6 mile walk up the side of the mountain.
Although the trail is paved, it still can be a challenge due to the steep incline and elevation. Allow about 20 minutes or so for a leisurely walk. It’s a lot of work, but it is worth it. The views are spectacular.
Smoky Mountains Loop | Foothills Parkway | Near Townsend, TN
Getting back to the Smoky Mountains Loop at Newfound Gap (US-441), you will turn left and drive toward Gatlinburg, TN. After arriving at the Sugarlands Visitor Center you will turn on Fighting Creek Gap Road and travel to Townsend, TN. Pay attention to your map, there are several turns.
On the far side of Townsend is the entrance to the Foothills Parkway. This Parkway is another example of a fantastic Smoky Mountain scenic route. There are plenty of turnouts and parking along the way for taking photos or just taking in the views.
The Foothills Parkway leads you to US-129, to Tellico Plains, and then to the Cherohala Skyway along the southern border of the National Park.
The Tail of the Dragon is near the intersection of US-129 and Foothills Parkway. You may want to ride the Dragon and then backtrack to continue your ride on the Smoky Mountains Loop. Keep in mind it will add an hour or more to your trip if you take this option.
Bald River Falls
Between Tellico Plains and the Tennessee/North Carolina border is a quaint place called Bald River Falls. You can see the waterfalls from the road, so if you are in a hurry you don’t even have to get off your bike.
However, if you have managed your time well, you may want to spend a few minutes by the water. If you are running short of time, you may want to skip this option and proceed with your ride.
After crossing over the border you will arrive in Robbinsville, North Carolina. Before long you will be closing in on Maggie Valley for a great night of rest.
Google Map | Smoky Mountains Loop