MONDAY – DAY ONE
We took a much needed RR trip looking for some good riding options within an hour or two of the Dragon. If you are concerned about the LEOs on the Tennessee side of the line we suggest that you come to the Dragon, make a couple of passes at low speeds and then head for North Carolina where the speed limits are reasonable and the LEOs much more tolerant. Be warned, you can still get ticketed in North Carolina if you twist it up too much.
We found mostly 55 mph speed limits on the North Carolina back roads, plenty fast enough to have some fun on these mountain roads. Crossing into Tennessee we were greeted almost instantly with the ridiculous 30 or 35 mph zones. Guess this allows for ticketing just about anyone they want. After a short run over the border we dodged back to the much more comfortable North Carolina side and found 55 right away.
HOT SPRINGS TOWN
This is a Bohemian town with many hikers, rafters, mountain bikers, motorcyclists and common tourists. The town was very eclectic. We didn’t have time to explore as we were having too good of a time relaxing. There were a couple of restaurants with decks over the river (Bridge Street Café and Inn) and curbside dining (Paddlers Pub). We were told the best place to have breakfast was the Smoky Mountain Diner, but it is hard to beat our camp breakfasts. And our Bubba Burgers by the camp fire are sooooo good.
MONDAY – DAY ONE
We packed-up the Fun Mover with our trusty KLR 650s and headed east. At Waynesville we turned northward onto NC 209 and enjoyed the rural views and sweeping corners all the way to Ferguson’s Crossroads. Here NC 209 takes a sharp right and in a few miles really tightens as it skirts Hebb Mountain. The sweepers return through Luck and Trust before tightening one again at Bluff. Some of the curves were tight enough to make even me get a little nervous in the 35 foot RV.
We passed through Hot Springs, a tourist destination Wild Birddating back into the early 1800s, and found the Hot Springs Resort, Spa, and Campground. Pulling into the RV park we saw it was nearly empty, just the way we like it. The campground offers primarily tent camping for the Appalachian Trail hikers, but also has camp cabins, some two dozen 30 amp RV sites $30 a night) and six 50 amp pull-through sites ($35 a night). The pull-throughs have the most room.
The campground, located directly on the French Broad River, is heavily wooded with huge oak trees providing plenty of shade. Just across the street is the Hot Springs Spa and downtown Hot Springs is just a quarter of a mile to the south.
After making a reservation for a hot tub later in the evening we headed right out hoping to beat the late afternoon thunderstorms which were in the forecast. We had planned a route that I had wanted to try for several years. It more or less follows the Tennessee/North Carolina state lines for some 20 miles and looks on the map to be rather remote.
From Hot Springs we headed west on US 25/70 and crossed into Tennessee passing the Bobarosa Saloon. This “biker paradise” according to their website offers camping, restaurant, bar, fire pit, and lots of bikers on the weekends. It is not exactly our style of getaway, but many might like it better than the laidback atmosphere of Hot Springs. http://www.bobarosasaloon.com
We turned to the south at Del Rio onto TN 107. We had six miles of decent pavement before taking a left onto the gravel mountain road designated Round Mountain Road. After some seven miles of well maintained gravel with hit the North Carolina state line and the skies began to drizzle. For the next four miles NC1182 (Max Patch Road) borders the state line and passes the Round Mountain Campground in the Rattlesnake Branch Recreation Area (3100 feet elevation). We took a quick spin around this extremely remote campground and saw only one brave soul tent camping.
Continuing south on Max Patch Road the storm hit. We were dodging torrents of water washing down the gravel roadway as lightning bolts were flashing every few seconds. The corners were especially tricky and visibility through the helmet wind screen was none too good. We passed Max Patch Mountain at 4300 feet and quickly recalculated our route. We turned left onto Little Creek Road (NC1181) taking it easy on another three and a half miles of gravel before finding pavement at Meadow Fork Road. We love gravel, but this downpour made it an attention draining chore.
On the pavement heading home there was trash all over the roadway. We dodged limbs and fallen trees in several places and gravel washouts from intersecting driveways were an added hazard.
There was quite a bit of fallen limbs at the campground too. Thankfully we had remembered to put our awning up. We lost one out in the Nevada desert when a small dirt devil took aim at us. We surely would have lost one again in the winds that brought down the large tree limbs.
We popped a few brewskies, got a camp fire going and grilled some BubbaBurgers before heading across the street to our 9:00 pm hot tub mineral soak. Evening rates are $30-50 and hour depending on the number of guests and the particular tub. Tubs 5 and 6 are deluxe units and have the most privacy ($40 for two of us). The spring fed spas kept at 104 degrees are located in a wooded area abutting Spring Creek.
The Hot Springs Resort offers a wide range of accommodations from camping to suites with heart shaped tubs filled with hot mineral water ($145-200 a night). The natural springs have been a tourist attraction since the early 1800s. http://www.nchotsprings.com
TOTAL MILES: 48
ROADS: Paved and well maintained gravel
REMOTENESS: 9 on a scale of 10
COMMENTS: Only for dualsports. Gravel roads were well maintained but did have some steep sections with switchbacks. Average or better riders should have no problem.
HIGHLIGHTS: Remote back roads, weather testing our riding skills.
TUESDAY – DAY TWO
Up bright and early we fixed our traditional camp breakfast of grilled buttered toast, thick sliced peppered bacon, and eggs fried in bacon grease. Got to have something to power us through a morning of riding. On really special days I get corned beef hash with poached eggs on top.
We headed out early in order to get back in before the afternoon thunderstorms hit us again. Today we planned to do most of the roads that Nancy had ridden a few weeks before in a century bicycle ride. That’s a hundred miles of peddling in the mountains …. sounds like torture to me. First we’d take a south loop and then a north loop making a figure eight.
We headed south through Hot Springs (elevation 1400 feet) and took NC 209. The tight twisties began almost immediately as we entered the Pisgah National Forest. NC 209 roughly follows Spring Creek for about 20 miles to its headwaters at Sandymush Bald (5100 feet elevation). There are plenty of good twisties ranging from near switchbacks to easy sweepers all the way from Hot Springs to Ferguson’s General Store on NC 209 (24 miles).
Ferguson’s is truly a general store with everything from tack and feed to snack foods and grill. They even had two local farmers jawing near the front door. Don’t forget to get some gas on your back road excursions. It can be a long way to the next station.Signs
We doubled back north on NC 209 and made the obligatory stop at Luck. This long closed old country gas station has become a mandatory photo op stop for motorcyclists. Gas here was 31.9 when it closed down for good, probably in the early 1960s.
The next crossroads is called Trust. A new gas stop and Trust, NCdiner is next to the unique sign which one might mistake for a bank advertisement (TRUST). Here we took a right onto NC 63 and made a quick stop at the St. Jude’s Chapel of Hope. This small unique chapel was built in 1991 by Beverly Barutio a cancer survivor in thankfulness to the saint whom she credited her cure. It is always open, so stop, admire the craftsmanship, say a prayer and sign the guest book. We also left a small token offering on the table as many others have.
NC 63 begins (2500 feet) with long straights and a fewPicking berries sweepers before twisting its way up to the gap at Doggett Mountain (3600 feet). We stopped for some berry picking and a Red Bull at the summit. The southerly downhill had some great twisties and one corner with a spectacular view. Back in the valley the road straightened, but once again we enjoyed the rural scenery.
After 13 miles on NC 63 we plotted a course into the back roads. We hung a left onto Meadows Town Road (NC 1001) and continued for some 8 miles (paved) to Turnpike. We almost missed the left turn onto this steep graveled road that for some off reason is named Turnpike. It was about as far as you get from being that. Perhaps 250 years ago?
Turnpike took us to the paved Bear Creek Road whichKudzu vs truck took us to the graveled Paw Paw Road which took us to the paved Anderson Creek Road. We then crossed the French Broad River and found ourselves in Barnard, a one time thriving community on the railroad line to Asheville. Today it is just a bridge and boat launch well off the beaten path.
If you want to avoid the gravel on Turnpike and Paw Paw just take a left 5.5 miles into Meadows Town Road onto paved Bear Creek Road. This will bring you across the French Broad River at Redmon and then right into US 25/70.
Here we met Wayne Sawyer who was engaged in conversation with some DOT workers who were spraying the kudzu along the roadway. He was telling them that it was not worth the effort to try and control this rampant weed, but they wouldn’t listen. We were intrigued by the old two-story brick commercial building with a front stone reading MONTE LOVE GUDGER – 1913. The old gas pump here read 35.9, probably from the mid-1960s.
Wayne wanted to show us his custom made all-weather highway ready lawn mower. Having no car he uses this to get around Barnard and see friends and family. It was complete with horn, siren, flashing red lights, enclosed cab, beaded seat cushion, and antique Dodge hood ornament. All he had left to do was paint it mid-night black. Meeting some of the great backroads people is one of the highlights of our adventures. Wayne was real, happy, eager to communicate, and had not a worry showing. He was as proud of his salvaged mower as a motorcycle owner is of their new Harley.
Back on the road we had a few more good curves to Walnut. Here we took a left onto US 25/70 north. There were some good downhill sweepers down to Hurricane completing the lower loop. Beginning the northern lop we headed up NC 208 and then hung a quick right onto NC 212 at Coppersnake Holler.
NC 212 was a decent rural road with good pavement and a few sweepers. We passed the crossroads of Allegeny and Carmen before hitting the Tennessee state line in 14 miles. The speed limit dropped from 55 to 35 mph and we are out in the middle of nowhere and a fairly decent road (TN 352). We putted through Rocky Fork and turned back to the south on US 23 now in a ridiculous 30 mph zone. In a few miles we crossed under I-26 at Sams Gap and happily reentered North Carolina and 55 mph speed limits.
Three miles down US 23 in North Carolina we hung a right at Little Creek onto Big Laurel Road (NC 1318) and began heading back to the west. We passed back under an I-26 bridge with supports that must be 20 stories high.
Big Laurel Road follows Big Laurel Creek winding along the edge of Pisgah National Forest. After 18 miles we intersected NC 208 and completed the northern loop. Big Laurel offered some of everything; good sweepers, good tight twisties, good scenery, average pavement but we wouldn’t recommend it to riders looking to put a knee down. There are many residences with drives in blind corners.
From Big Laurel we took NC 208 south and then US 25/70 north back to Hot Springs. We finished well before the afternoon thunderstorms, so we went to the beach. The campground is located right on the French Broad River and there is a great place to swim under the three foot falls that stretch across the river.
After the swim we had another Bubba Burger dinner by the campfire and then spent another hour in the mineral hot tub. What a great day of riding and relaxing. And not a trooper in sight.
TOTAL MILES: 134
ROADS: Mostly paved and some well maintained gravel
REMOTENESS: 5 on a scale of 10
COMMENTS: Most of this route is suitable for any type of bike. We did have two sections of gravel that could be easily avoided with a short detour. The paved roads were all in average to better condition. Gravel roads were well maintained but did have some steep sections. Average or better dual sport riders should have no problem on the gravel.
HIGHLIGHTS: Great twisties on NC 209, NC 63, and Big Laurel Road. Meeting Wayne Sawyer
BE AWARE: Very few gas stations so be sure to gas up when you can. We always bring along something to eat and drink. On this trip there were very few places to eat.
WARNINGS: Watch your speeds as there are some tricky corners. Cell phone service marginal. GPS can be tricky and show roads that are actually trails …. Beware when the GPS identifies a road as just ROAD !!
WEDNESDAY – DAY THREE
We planned a short route as we wanted to be on the road back to Robbinsville by 3 pm. This was another double loop figure eight day but with more than half the route on gravel. After having our camp breakfast of course.
We headed out on US 25/70 south crossing the FrenchRiver Road at Paint Rock Broad River and took a quick left onto River Road. This road is paved for a few miles and then turns into gravel. After some six miles along the river it turns uphill at Paint Rock, crosses into Tennessee, crosses Paint Creek and then forks. Turn to the right for a great ride along Lower Paint Creek Road (paved) with some great places to stop for photos or a Red Bull break. We explored this route, backtracked and then took the left fork Paint Rock Road (gravel). This road climbed from the river (1300 feet) through the morning mist to Lone Pine Gap (2200 feet) before descending to TN 107 (1700 feet).
We hung a right taking TN 107 (paved) northward a mile and a half, turned right onto Rollins Chapel Road (paved), and then took another quick right onto Lower Paint Creek Road (paved). After a short distance Lower Paint Creek Road veres to the right and connects up to where we had already explored (SEE PREVIOUS PARAGRAPH). Staying straight the road turned to gravel and we climbed on Hurricane Gap Road to the Tennessee/North Carolina state line at Hurricane Gap (2900 feet).
We decided to explore the dead end road to the rightGrouse which took us to the Rich Mountain Lookout Tower (3600 feet). Visibility was severely limited because of the mist and clouds that still hadn’t lifted. The state line runs right under the tower.
Backtracking to the intersection we bore to the right and descended four miles on Lookout Mountain Road to US 25/70 (2100 feet).
We then took US 25/70 north back through Hot Springs and continued south of NC 209 six and a half miles and then took a right onto Meadow Fork Road for 11 miles. This road is scenic rural farmlands. The last two miles or so are gravel leading up to Max Patch Road. We had planned to continuing straight across Max Patch and taking Westley Creek Road southward to Ferguson’s Crossroads, but the two roads looked to be rather rugged and we weren’t in the mood to go dirt biking with clouds on the horizon. We turned right and took Max Patch Road northward to Max Patch Mountain where we have braved the rain storm two days earlier. There is Grading on Max Patch a one-mile loop trail to the grassy peak (4629 feet elevation) which offers some great 360 degree views. The Appalachian Trails crosses Max Patch Bald. They were grading the road near Max Patch and that can make for tricky riding.
After taking a few picts and downing a Red Bull we backtracked to Little Creek Road, then to Meadow Fork. We decided to give the restaurant we saw in Spring Creek Valley in the old high school building. There are signs for GRITS (Girls Raised in the South) everywhere and being picky eaters we didn’t really want to eat there ……. but we stopped. The menu should have told us. There were thirty different sandwiches/wraps, fifteen different dinner plates, 14 different salads, and various pizzas. I asked if they had grits and one of the GRITS girls who was waitressing said no! I ordered a hamburger and asked if the fried okra was fresh …. nope. Here we are out in the middle of the country and they have no grits or fresh okra? Nancy ordered the crumbled veggie burger salad, we ate and got out of Dodge. Sorry GRITS girls, you need to have Chef Ramsey pay you a visit and straighten out your restaurant.
We hit rain for a few miles heading back to camp on NC 209, but it soon cleared and we arrived in sunshine. That is fairly common in the mountains in the summer months. It can rain in spots and then it is gone. The sun comes out and the roads dry in an hour.
We packed-up the bikes and hit the road for home. This time we took US 25/70 south into Asheville and the I-40 west in order to avoid the tight corners on NC 207 in the RV. Time was about the same and it was much safer.
TOTAL MILES: 81
ROADS: Paved and well maintained gravel
REMOTENESS: 5 to 9 on a scale of 10
COMMENTS: Only for dualsports. Gravel roads were well maintained but did have some steep sections with switchbacks. Road grading on gravel roads presented minimal difficulty. Average or better riders should have no problem.
HIGHLIGHTS: Remote back roads, scenic rural farmlands. Great twisties on NC 209. No Tennessee Highway Patrol.
BE AWARE: Very few gas stations so be sure to gas up when you can. GRITS was a big disappointment to us.
WARNINGS: Watch your speeds as there are some tricky corners on some of these roads. Cell phone service marginal. GPS can be tricky and show roads that are actually trails …. Beware when the GPS identifies a road as just ROAD !!