We left Robbinsville about 4 pm taking an easy drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway from Balsam Gap to Mt. Pisgah . There was very little traffic and a beautiful evening to see the distant scenery. We arrived at Mt. Pisgah Campground at about 7:30 pm and were glad it was sparsely populated with campers. We found a perfect RV site (RV 14 Loop A) which offered privacy and no one within 3 campsites of us. Ron rounded-up firewood left at sites by previous campers and Nancy took a quick park tour on her bicycle. There was some construction to upgrade the park, but overall it was in good condition. Many of the sites were marked as RESERVED for the coming weekend. We suggest that you make reservations via phone for holidays. On the web go to www.ReserveAmerica.com and search for Mount Pisgah Campground.
Evening rain kept us from getting the motorcycles out, but our main agenda was eating and adult beverages, so no problem. Light rain throughout the evening made for good sleeping weather in the RV. We awoke to fog and more drizzles, but could see spots of blue sky peaking through the clouds. It is a 20 mile downhill ride all the way to Asheville , going through nine tunnels. Nancy couldn’t resist and took her bicycle on a downhill thrill ride in the fog. She does have lighting on both the front and back of the bike, giving her good visibility in tunnels and clouds..
Our next destination was the Bear Den Campground, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway between Marion on the south and Spruce Pine on the north. The parkway north of the campground has been closed due to last years heavy rains from hurricanes. We accessed the campground by taking 226 North to the Blue Ridge Parkway and then heading north on the Blue Ridge Parkway approximately 6 miles to the campground entrance. The entrance is only marked with a small road sign “ Bear Den Campground Road ”. The access road is hard packed gravel with one sharp switchback. Take it slow if you are in an RV or pulling a trailer. Sportbikes and cruisers should take the access road with caution. We had no problem with our KLR 650s and 28 foot RV.
We found the campground about one third full on a Tuesday morning, but a full house was expected for the July Fourth weekend. The campgrounds are heavily wooded with a small lake and swimming area, shower rooms, and camp store. Sites are available for all types of camping from tents to full size RV’s. Another unique point about this campground is the availability of portable hot tubs at your campsite. Rental is $45 per day with a 2 day minimum. With reservations they will be set up when you arrive. Not quite as nice as our hot tub at home, but the comfort was well worth the extra expense.
THE RIDE DAY ONE: We used Hawk Hogebak’s Motorcycle Adventures In the Southern Appalchians (#2) to plan our route. We met Hawk at the most recent Honda Hoot and have been using his excellent travels books for years. We offer them for sale in our on-line store. Volume 2 covers Asheville North Carolina , The Blue Ridge Parkway, and North Carolina High Country which is basically our area of interest for this trip. We chose the Burnsville Loop (page 110) which covers 70 miles from Burnsville North Carolina to Erwin Tennessee and then back to Burnsville .
Jumping off the Blue Ridge Parkway we took NC 226 North to Spruce Pine and then US 19E west (this is somewhat confusing – there is a 19E and a 19W and they both go east and West) to the beginning of the loop at Burnsville. We encountered moderate traffic during this first part.
Turning north on NC 197 we immediately escaped the traffic and found good twisties all the way into Tennessee . Be extremely careful as you are following the Toe River between Green Mountain and Red Hill, there is a very sharp left turn onto a one-lane bridge that can catch you by surprise. The best section was north of Poplar North Carolina approaching the Tennessee state line. The downhill into Tennessee on TN 395 (197 turns into 395 at the state line) was pretty good too, but there was a nasty guardrail that sternly stared at us and made us behave.
We took a quick loop through the Rock Creek Recreation Area. It looked like a good place to camp and many of the sites included electricity. Downside was the crowd and lack of privacy at the sites. TN 395 takes you into Rock Creek Tennessee where you turn left on TN 107 and head south into Erwin.
In Erwin take a right staying on TN 107 and catch I-26/19W South. Two exits south take 19W South and in a few miles the fun begins. We knew it would be good when we spotted the Truck Warning sign. We found great curves all the way back into North Carolina . Taking this road we imagined bootleggers running from Johnson City to Asheville in their old hopped-up jalopies running the mountain roads full out like in the movie Thunder Road. Some of the crossroads still have the old dilapidated general stores and gas stations that served these rural mountain areas in the past. We passed=up a few stops such as Snake Bite Hollow and the Church of the Holy Brethren. We wondered if there might be a connection between the two.
US 19W joins US 19E which we took east through Burnsville and then NC 80 South heading for Mount Mitchell . On NC 80 you’ll pass the beautiful Mount Mitchell Country Club Golf Course.
After about 6 miles NC 80 gets fun. We hit some heavy rain and had to take it easy through the tight uphill turns. At the Blue Ridge Parkway we headed back north (south bound was closed to Mount Mitchell due to another land slide). Nancy got sleepy running the Blue Ridge Parkway’s easy left and right curves, so we jumped off at Little Switzerland and took NC 226A paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway. This little gem turned out to have a fun section of twisties. We then jumped back on the Blue Ridge Parkway and beelined for the hot tub.
TOTAL TRAVEL DISTANCE: 140 miles
TOTAL TIME: 4 hours which included stops for fuel, lunch and photos.
BEST ROADS: NC 197 near the state line; US 19W on the Tennessee side; NC 80 near the Blue Ridge Parkway; NC 226A near Little Switzerland.
WORST ROADS: NC 226 into Spruce Pine (traffic and construction); US 19E from Spruce Pine to Burnsville (traffic).
MOST SURPRISING: We saw only two other motorcycles on the back roads all day!
RECOMMENDED READING FOR TRIP PLANNING: Motorcycle Adventures in the Southern Appalachians II by Hawk Hagebak.
We left the campground at 9:30 am on Wednesday heading south on the Blue Ridge Parkway . We planned to do most of the the Murder Mountain Loop (page 114) and the Boone/Banner Elk run (page 120).
We stopped to take some pics at a couple of the overlooks and checked out the Crabtree Meadows Campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The campground wasn’t bad, but a little too open with very little privacy for our tastes.
We continued south and took NC 80 north passing the Mount Mitchell Golf Club. We made a quick stop at the Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area which looked dampish to us. It is right on the banks of the roaring South Toe River and was about half full.
Crossing US 19E we continued north on NC 80 and headed through the crossroads of Bandana. Our first stop was Kona Baptist Church where Charles Silver is buried in three graves in the Silver Family Cemetery . In 1831 Charles’ wife, Frankie supposedly chopped him up with an axe one night, threw the pieces in the fireplace and scattered what was left across nearby mountain tops. Evidence was found in the cabin and Frankie was arrested and charged with murder. There are several other scenarios including one that her father either committed the crime or forced her to do the deed.
Anyway, after finding the first body pieces old Charles was buried in the family plot. A few days later more pieces were found and not wanting to desecrate the first grave, the family made a second grave next to the first. Days later, more pieces were found and a third gravesite was formed.
Frankie was found guilty of murder and according to some sources was the first white woman to receive the death sentence in North Carolina . After an escape from prison and recapture she was hanged for the murder of her husband, Charles. Her family feared the Silver family would desecrate her gravesite, so they made eight burial sites for Frankie in order to hide the real site where she was buried. Some claim the song Frankie and Johnny was based on this famous murder. That is the only claim to fame that Kona, North Carolina has.
As far as riding goes, NC 80 has some pretty good twisties and minimal traffic. NC 80 runs into NC 226 where we took a left through Loafers Glory and then turned north on NC 226 heading for the Tennessee state line. NC 226 is a fun road with lots of dips and twists through the Pisgah National Forest .
At the Tennessee state line, NC 226 turns into TN 107. TN 107 straightens out a bit here, and then we took a quick right on TN 173. Sweeping corners through pasture lands leads you to the more heavily traveled US 19E, a three lane major road with moderate car/truck traffic. Be ready to roll along at 60 mph to stay with the flow.
We took US 19E south through Roan Mountain Tennessee and crossed the state line back into North Carolina . We then took a left on NC 194 and found some great twisties all the way to Banner Elk. Just before Banner Elk we passed by the Elk River Airstrip with it’s unique “jump” at the end of the runway to launch planes over the nearby mountaintop.
We continued north on NC 194 and found one of the most unique pieces of asphalt we have ever ridden. There is about 5 miles of downhill twisties on some of the worst pavement and most precipitous curves we have ever seen. We dared not even venture onto the right half of our lane because of the extreme negative camber on all the corners. The pavement edges were ragged and we encountered two sharp steep switchbacks that rookie riders would not be able to negotiate safely. The corners had eighteen inch high safety posts with chain link fencing to snare motorcycles before they went off the embankment. Needless to say, this was our favorite road of the day and was even more fun on the return trip uphill. This route was perfect for our KLRs, but wouldn’t be the road of choice for sportbike and big cruiser riders. We recommend this road for experienced riders only. You are bound to get a hoot out of what has to rank as one of the ten worst roads in America .
After a quick stop for lunch and shopping at Mast General Store which like the road surface is more than a hundred years old in Valle Crucis, we headed back up treacherous NC 194 to Banner Elk.
We continued south on NC 194 to Banner Elk and took a left on NC 184 passing by Sugar Mountain Ski Resort. This is not a road to take. We suggest you avoid this and NC 105 south which we took to NC 221. We then took NC 221/NC 181 west to Newland and then NC 194 back north to US 19E so we could catch the Roan Mountain crossing.
At Roan Mountain Tennessee we took a left on TN 143 and made a quick stop at the Roan Mountain Visitors Center . We continued south on TN 143 on some great uphill twisties to the North Carolina State Line. Here the road turns into NC 261 and the tight corners became more sweeping on the downhill run into Bakersville North Carolina ..
NC 261 became a major road from Bakersville south all the way into Spruce Pine. Here we took US 19E west and then NC 80 South crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway and descending on the twisties into Marion North Carlina. A quick jog on NC 70 east and then NC 221 north took us back to the Blue Ridge Parkway and our RV and hot tub.
One of the best runs of the day was on the final leg of NC 226 with some tight, uphill twisties.
TOTAL TRAVEL DISTANCE: 231 miles.
TOTAL TIME: 7.5 hours including lunch, shopping, fueling and photos.
BEST ROADS: First Prize to NC 194 near Valle Crucis as a must do for avid bad road freaks like us.
Second Place to NC 80 from Micaville to NC 226.
Third Place to NC 226 near the Tennessee Line.
WORST ROADS: US 19E from Tiger Valley Tennessee to NC 194. And NC 184 from Banner Elk to NC 105.
MOST SURPRISING: We saw NO other motorcycles on the back roads all day!!
RECOMMENDED READING FOR TRIP PLANNING: Motorcycle Adventures in the Southern Appalachians II by Hawk Hagebak.