The Gambler AKA Rattler is a good riding option 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 you are 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 is 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.
THE GAMBLER AKA THE RATTLER
At the northern end of the Gambler is Hot Springs, a tourist destination dating back into the early 1800s. Here you will find the Hot Springs Resort, Spa, and Campground. 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. Downtown Hot Springs is just a quarter of a mile to the south.
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
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 several pull-offs along this route with good views. After passing through Bluff the road straightens into the typical rural sweepers with pastoral views. There is a long straight passing the now defunct Spring Creek School which at one time housed a restaurant called G.R.I.T.S. for Girls Raised In The South. 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 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. A few years later we passed by and the girls had closed shop and headed north.
The next crossroads is called Trust. A new gas stop 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.
The gas station/gift shop at Trust might have some eats. We didn't stop.
Everyone must make the obligatory photo stop at Luck. This long closed old country gas station has become a mandatory photo op for tourists. Gas here was 31.9 when it closed down for good, probably in the early 1960s.
There are plenty of good twisties from Luck to Ferguson’s General Store on NC 209 (8.75 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.
Another good route near the Gambler is NC 63. It begins at Trust (2500 feet) with long straights and a few 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.
Overall we give this route on NC209 a 7. It has its good points with light traffic. There are some tight twisties and good sweepers, but there are many houses and driveways to pay attention to. Several curves in the tight sections are prone to gravel in the roadway. It is another road to add a notch to your gun.
The entire area is great for dual sports and jeeps. There are many miles of forest service roads taking you deep into the back woods. Max Patch is one mountain top that was cleared for pasture in the 1800s and offers fabulous mountain views.