North Carolina Loop
A Great North Carolina Loop – Updated January 2015
From Robbinsville take US 129 north. A good place to gas-up in Robbinsville is the Texaco/Subway. If you need anything for your bike or a souvenir stop by Wheelers Motorcycle Shop just two miles north of Robbinsville. Wheeler has been featured on Speedvision and other television shows. He is a superb mechanic and has good prices on tires and accessories.
Heading north on US 129 you come to the Cheoah River about 8 miles from Robbinsville. If it’s a release day you might see rafters on this class 5 rapids for the next 7.5 miles. There is lots of action on this river so stop and watch if you have time. The best place is the falls about 6 miles down river. You’ll see the crowds gathered at this hot spot with limited parking.
A stop at the Tapoco Lodge is well worth it. This accommodation is on the National Register of Historical Places. The business is under new ownership as of 2015 and promises to have an excellent menu for guests and travelers. Tapoco offers both inn rooms and cabin rooms in a peaceful mountain valley setting and it’s just three miles from the Tail of the Dragon.
Just around the bend Slickrock Trail begins on the south side of the Calderwood Lake Bridge over the Little Tennessee River . This trail leads back into Joyce Kilmer/Slickrock Wilderness Area with some of the best hiking in the United States . As you cross the bridge you’ll see the Cheoah Dam to the right. This dam appeared in the movies Two Lane Blacktop, In Dreams and The Fugitive so locals call it Fugitive Dam. In Two Lane Blacktop the old one-lane bridge was shown. The pilings to the left of the new bridge are from the old one-lane crossing.
After the bridge you’ll climb The Slide, a couple of tricky steep corners where you need to stay right to avoid anyone coming at you over the double yellow. After the curves there is a good place to pull over and see Fugitive Dam from the top.
Back on US 129 north you come to NC 28. The Tail of the Dragon store is located on the left just past the intersection . Look for the Big Metal Dragon and say hello to Ron, Nancy, Leighann or Josh. Taking NC 28 South you’ll be on what locals once called the Hellbender. It has since been renamed Moonshiner28 in honor of the local moonshine celebrity Jim Tom Hedrick. This road is in good condition having been partially repaved in 2007. There is a little bit of everything for the first ten miles; tight twisties, sweepers, and some fairly long straights. Don’t get carried away here or you’ll find yourself too fast for the next corner. The road follows Cheoah Lake for the next nine miles and there are some scenic pull-offs along the way. Often the water flowing from the bottom of Fontana Lake is so cold that it provides natural air conditioning.
After crossing the Cheoah Lake Bridge you’ll soon come to Fontana Village . The old Texaco gas station has been completely remodeled into a motorcycle themed Pitstop. Stop for souvenirs, lunch, beer, gas or just to see the place. Fontana Village is also a good place to plan your next stay in the area. Accommodations range from camping/RV hook-ups to Inn rooms and even cabins. Want to go all out? Rent one of their luxury houseboats moored on Fontana Lake.
Heading back out on NC 28 east you’ll come to some of the tightest downhill twisties in North Carolina, so watch your speed. Another mile or two and you’ll see the Fontana Dam turn-off. Bear to the left and in a little more than a mile you’ll find the scenic Fontana Dam, the highest dam in the Eastern United States at 480 feet. You can ride/drive across the dam which is also part of the Appalachian Trail winding from Georgia to Maine .
Backtrack to NC 28 and hang a left. You are now on the sweeper sections of Moonshiner28. Don’t let the new pavement lure you into too much speed here …. you can find trouble if you really want to. You’ll pass Rainbow Falls , a small waterfall right on the side of the roadway that is most scenic when frozen in winter. Moonshiner is good all the way to the intersection of NC 143 where it straightens.
Passing through the rural community of Stecoah you’ll see the Stecoah Diner on your left. Like their original restaurant in Andrews, the Burger Basket, their featured meal is the homemade hamburger. Even Nancy and I like them! We also hear the fried catfish is excellent.
Continuing easterly on NC 28. You’ll come to the Wolf Creek a gas stop with broasted chicken and snacks. Here the road turns to 4-lane. I will only warn you once in all caps …. WATCH YOUR SPEED ON THE 4-LANES IN NORTH CAROLINA. This is where the NCHP plays with their radar toys.
Go nine miles on the 4-lane and take a left onto US 19/74. This is still 4-lane so remember the above WARNING. Take US 19/74 east and you’ll see the new Partons Trading Post on the left. This is another good place to gas-up and get a snack. Real friendly people and clean.
Continue east and take Exit 67 into Bryson City. A great place to eat here is on Everett Street at of course the Everett Street Diner. You can also get a pretty good pizza for the area at Anthony’s Italian Restaurant on Depot Street and some good sandwiches at The Filling Station.
Taking US 19 (the back way) to Cherokee is interesting. In the winter you can see the piles of old cars that were used to reinforce the river banks in spots. Most probably date to the early 50s.
We don’t much care for Cherokee itself, so we pass right through holding our wallets and have some fun on US 19 between Cherokee and Maggie Valley . Too bad the traffic here is usually dreadful. It’s such a good road in places, just watch for some bad paving. If you are looking for some real Cherokee Indian crafts stop at Bearmeat’s Indian Den. There are lots of signs as you approach and David, whose grandmother was a Bearmeat, is usually there.
In Maggie Valley we have eaten at the biker friendly Salty Dog’s Seafood and Grill. Now let it be known that we do not eat seafood in the mountains. Just something that doesn’t seem quite right about it. We had the buffalo wings, potato skins and a beer. Don’t stop here if you are looking for atmosphere, but it is clean and the people are friendly.
Just down the street is the world famous Wheels Through Time Museum. Don’t miss this if you are within a hundred miles. The museum holds more than 275 antique American motorcycles, many of them extremely rare. And every one in the house runs! Sometimes the owner Dale will fire one up and take off burning rubber for a lap or two inside the museum. My favorite is the one of a kind, mostly hand built 1916 bike that was found in an old home in Chicago in 1967. No one knows of any other motorcycle bearing this Traub emblem. The engineering was years ahead of its time. It is a truly priceless motorcycle.
Plan to spend a couple of hours at least in the Wheels Through Time. There are many exhibits with period tools, signs, parts, posters, photos and backdrops.
Continuing easterly on US 19 take a right on US 276 right through downtown Waynesville. This is a quaint downtown with many spots of interest if you want to walk a while. The old Mast General Store is one of our favorites.
Back in the saddle continue on US 276 on some country roads to Bethel. Here you’ll take a right onto NC 215 and begin climbing to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The curves start-out as sweepers and the scenery is rural. Soon you’ll cross a small causeway over Lake Logan at Sunburst.
Continuing to climb the curves tighten. We suddenly came upon a downed tree that could have been a serious problem had we not been paying attention. A good habit to get into when riding these mountain roads is to always expect the unexpected around blind corners.
A must stop is at the waterfalls of the West Fork Pigeon River . A great place for some photos and a Red Bull break.
Still climbing you’ll reach the Blue Ridge Parkway at Beech Gap, Milepost 423.3. From here take the BRP south (west looking at a map). The next 15 miles are some of the most scenic on the Parkway. The highest point on the BRP (6,047 feet) is at the Richard Balsam Overlook, Milepost 431.4. Be warned, the speed limit on the BRP is 45 mph and it is a good idea for safety reason alone to keep you speed within reason. There are hefty federal fines, traffic can be a hazard, and this is no place to go off the edge of the road.
There are a number of pull offs on the Blue Ridge Parkway to stop and take some snaps of the distant vistas.
From here it is all downhill. At Balsam Gap , Milepost 443.1, you have the choice of hopping down onto the 4-lane US 74 to zip back to Robbinsville or continuing on the BRP to Cherokee at Milepost 469.1 and then backtracking to Robbinsville. If you have the time take the much more scenic and relaxing BRP.
MILEAGE – QUICK ROUTE HOME: 205 miles, 6 hours not including stops
MILEAGE – BRP ROUTE HOME: 218 miles, 7 hours not including stops