Nancy and I made this run in March of 2007. We spent one night on the road on this 400 mile quick-trip. We called it “The Complete Devils Triangle” as we made several runs back and forth. We rode our KLR 650s which are Wheeler tuned, jetted and piped. They turn-out an amazing 41 hp from the stock 32-34. These bikes are great for exploring, taking in both paved roads and gravel with ease.
On the Way
We left Robbinsville early and had an unimpeeded run across the Dragon which got our blood moving. We wanted to get to the IHOP in Maryville before the Sunday crowds showed-up. An IHOP breakfast is one of the real treats Nancy allows us to indulge in.
After a big plate of wholewheat pancakes, fried eggs, and biscuits smothered in gravy, we headed-out for Lenoir City which would be our base of operations for this assignment. We like to stay at Hampton Inns and the new one here looked like the perfect spot to allow us some good riding in different directions.
We have been trying to make it to the Devil’s Triangle for years, but just hadn’t found the time. So many riders have asked about it that we finally decided to make the time and see what the fuss was all about.
After checking-in at the Hampton Inn Lenoir City located on US 321 just south of I-75, we headed north. After a few miles we lost the urban 4-lane at I-40. Here the road (TN 95) turned to 2-lane and some pretty good twisties made Nancy smile. We made a quick stop at the Melton Hill Dam, part of the TVA system of dams in the area.
We also passed several roads which are designated Y-12 Official Government Business Only. This is home of the Y-12 National Security Complex where enriched uranium is produced for nuclear weapons and fuels. It is also a secure storage site for enriched uranium and is where the first nuclear weapon was made that ended World War II. We advise that you not try to enter any of the roads designated as Y-12 Secure Area.
Back on the road we continued north on TN 95, jogged west on TN 58, then north on TN 327 passing the large Washington Group International Complex, then north on TN 61 into Oliver Springs, the largest town we would see all day. We took these back roads to avoid the traffic of Oak Ridge. The pavement was good, but other than the few sweepers on 95, uninspiring.
We recommend that riders be sure to take what they might need to eat or drink and gas up. There is nothing that looked appealing to us on this route and gas stations/convenience stores are few and far between. About the only restaurants we saw on the 44-mile Devil’s Triangle Loop were in Oliver Springs. The only gas we saw was on TN 62 and at Petros.
The Devil’s Triangle – The Complete Story
The actual “Triangle” consists of TN 62 and TN 330 on the south with Oliver Springs at the intersection, and TN 116 on the north part of the loop. The total distance for the Triangle itself is 45 miles. We took TN 62 west planning to attack the road in a clockwise direction.
TN 62 is nothing to write home about, just a two lane connector with some traffic. The traffic disappears when you turn right onto TN 116 at White Schoolhouse Corners. Soon you pass through the rural community of Petros (pronounced Pee’-tross) where the last gas and snack food is available.
This old mining town is the home of Brushy Mountain State Prison famous for being the holding facility for James Earl Ray who shot Martin Luther King in 1968. Ray escaped from Brushy Mountain in 1977 and remained at large for 3 days before being recaptured in the rugged mountains of Morgan State Forest. This area is so remote that escapes were rarely tried. James Earl was probably glad to be captured.
Heading north out of Petros you’ll see the prison entrance. This is where the real fun begins as TN 116 takes a sharp right and climbs from 1440 to 2140 feet elevation at Armes Gap in 1.6 miles. There are some great curves here, but not a place where we would recommend pushing your limits. There are some railings, concrete barriers, steep drop offs, and three foot deep drainage ditches on the high side of the roadway. Tone it down a bit and enjoy the variety of twisties here.
At the gap the road then descends in the next 1.7 miles to 1560 feet. The downhill is as much fun as the uphill and just as dangerous. These beginning 3.3 miles have excellent pavement, but watch-out for downhill momentum into some of the switchbacks.
The next 10 miles have a few interesting sections, but for the most part the scenery is of interest. At one point you can see the giant wind generating equipment on the distant mountain top. The back-woods setting offers some interesting sights such as the Hut Drive Inn Deli, the front yard retaining wall of tires, Grave Hill Baptist Church, 4-wheelers on the road at 60 mph, and the oldest Confederate flag that is still flying. Many properties are run-down-rural with collections of old cars and trucks dotting the yard.
The pavement is not the best in this middle section. It is rather typical of what you’ll find in rural areas. There are many driveways and some slower traffic so stay on alert.
There is a small country store at Charley Branch with a lunch counter and snacks. Next door is the defunct Blue and White Service Station where the light is on but no one is home.
At Stainville TN 116, which has been running northeast, takes an abrupt turn back to the southeast. This forms the triangle the road is named for.
This 10.6 mile section of road begins tamely for some 5 miles and then turns into a haunted looking strip of asphalt with some corners that will challenge the best of riders. The pavement is good in the counter-clockwise direction, but if you are riding clockwise as we were you’ll need to watch for heaves and uneven pavement from serious road patching.
At one point there is a triple switchback on a steep grade that will get your attention. We saw a group of cruisers come though while we were stopped and a few had a little difficulty staying in their lane.
We later met them at the intersections of TN 116 and 330. They had no idea where they were or that they had just conquered the Devil’s Triangle. We gave them some directions off our GPS unit and took off.
At Laurel Grove TN 116 takes off to the northeast again heading to Lake City and I-75. This road is designated as the Fraterville Miner’s Memorial Highway. One of the United States’ worst mining disasters took place in nearby Briceville in 1902. An explosion claimed 216 lives. Eighty-nine of the dead were buried in a circle in Leach Cemetery with a monument in the center naming each of the miners.
We decided to explore the rest of the triangle which took us south into Oliver Springs on 330 where we gassed and snacked.
The town of Oliver Springs has the distinction of being located in three adjoining counties, Roane, Anderson and Morgan. This one-time resort town of mineral springs has seen good times and bad. The large resort hotel burned in 1905 and the springs were closed. Coal mining then took over and in the 1940s the close proximity to the Oak Ridge atomic bomb research and the war effort made for another boom time. After the cold war employment in these facilities declined as did the fate of Oliver Springs. Today it is making a comeback with both motorcycle touring and the interest in the nearby Coal Creek OHV Area.
We decided to retrace our Devil’s Triangle ride in order to take some more picts and see the sights from a different perspective. We made a short detour in order to check-out the Windrock Campground which adjoints the Coal Creek OHV Area just east of Oliver Springs.
This campground is new and run by Missy whose family has lived on this land for several hundred years. She told us all about the area and said that they have permission to allow 4-wheelers to use Hoskins Gap Road to access the OHV area 2 miles distant. She warns everyone to keep the speed down so there is no hassle with the few people who live on the road.
The Coal Creek OHV Area consists of 72,000 acres of wilderness OHV riding. There are more than 200 miles of trails for ATVs, Jeeps, dirt bikes, mountain bikes, and rail buggies. The preferred method of attack appears to be ATVs which were plentiful at the entrance. Daily permits are available for $15 per person.
It was pretty wild even in the parking area the day we were there. We had a slaw dog at the Snack Shack and sat in the dust storm watching the show go by. The dog was good or maybe I was just plain hungry after more than 200 miles of riding.
Back on the Triangle we got a view of the scenery in the oposite direction. The tattered Confederate flag was still flying and the high-speed 4-wheelers were even more evident. We wondered why the LEOs didn’t enforce the unlicensed vehicles racing down the paved highway. One whipped by with a young child hanging on the back for dear life.
Even the local brick school was closed and in tatters. It didn’t look to be that old, but it was no longer functioning. Off in the distance you could see the slashes of strip mining along the ridge lines.
We were glad to see the locals listening to Al Gore’s plea to conserve energy. Many had their laundry drying on lines in the front yard. That should save the world a few degrees over the next millenium.
We saw a couple of motorcycle groups on TN 116 but were surprised that we didn’t see more. At one point we waited to get a photo at a great curve for half an hour with no traffic coming by at all except for a local pick-up truck or two. On our two trips crossing 116 we saw two cruiser groups and one sportbike group and a lone trike.
We took the same way back to the Hampton Inn. We were tired and the dam monkey was trying to get at us from behind.
We had a few brews and walked to the Chilies located just next door for dinner. We slept really good that night.
Some Other Good Spots in the Area
Staying at this Hampton Inn is the perfect location for riders passing through the area on the Interstate who want to hop off for the night and then take s short hop over the the Dragon or Devel’s Triangle …… or ride both for that matter. This location is within 35 miles of both, has an excellent choice of nearby places to eat, and is one of the best Hampton Inns we’ve found.
If you are looking for great BBQ ribs take a short ride down to the Tennessee River. Food doesn’t get any better than what they serve up at Calhouns at the Marina. Dockside dining and great food. Lunch is only served Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. It is a little hard to find ….. just turn into City Park Drive off US321 just west of the Tennessee River. There are several scenic parking areas as you wind your way along the shoreline to the restaurant and marina.
Fort Loudon State Park is located on TN 360 near Vonore. This is a connecting road to the Dragon and Cherohala Skyway Loop. The Park on Tellico Reservoir contains boast docks, shorelines for fishing, hiking trails, picnic areas and the reconstructed Fort Loudon and Museum. Fort Loudon was established by the British in 1756 and abandoned four years later when the Cherokee threatened the soldiers. Just across the Little Tennessee River is the remains of the Tellico Blockhouse rock foundation constructed in 1796.
The Lost Sea, an underground cave complex with a large lake some 300 feet underground, is located in nearby Sweetwater. Tours include a glass bottom boat ride on the 800 by 200 foot lake. Adults $13.95 per person. This is an interesting stop and does require some incline walking to complete the tour.
The Watts Barr Nuclear Plant is located farther down the Tennessee River. If you are using TN 68, a short-cut from Crossville to Tellico Plains, you will pass right by Watts Barr.
Summary of the Devils Triangle
Nancy and I had a great day playing on the Triangle. We rode it back and forth and repeated some of the better sections several times. There were some unique series of curves that we have not encountered on any other road.
There is a lot more elevation change than we see on the Dragon which makes some of the switchbacks a little tricky …. be sure to work the clutch, brake and throttle to keep your RPMs up on these uphills. If you don’t there is a good chance of stalling. If you are better at downhill switchbacks then ride the Triange in a clockwise direction.
The best sections are at each end. The middle section has a few good spots with twisties, but you’ll need to watch for slow moving cars/trucks and fast moving ATVs.
There is no place for gas or food on 116 between Petros and Oliver Springs unless you want to chance The Hut Drive In Deli.
If you are a newbie and not used to sharp uphill/downhill curves then you should stay away from this challenging roadway. We think the dangers here are much greater than the Dragon.
Watch-out for railings, downhill momentum, deep ruts on the side of the road, steep hillsides if you miss a corner, uneven pavement (especially in the east bound lane), slower traffic, and wild ATVers.
UPDATE APRIL 2010: The clockwise route on the Triangle has some serious pavement issues with patching and raised asphalt. The counterclockwise route is much better. Thanks to Ira Stinson for the heads-up.
UPDATE MAY 2009: Coal trucks and other trucks are back on the Triangle. At times these vehicles veer into the other lane. Road surface may be dirty with coal dust and debris.