The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the areas surrounding it, provides bikers with some of the most beautiful riding anywhere in the United States. From steep, winding passes through rock bluffs, to gorges running along rivers and backroads heading to little known waterfalls, this area has it all.
Your lovable Grey Beard Biker, and Miss Tracy, head to East Tennessee every chance we get. We are very fortunate to have close friends who know the area well and have helped us discover some beautiful places away from the traffic and tourists. One of these places is Bald River Falls. While it’s very close to the Cherohala National Scenic Byway, most of the tourists don’t notice the sign to Bald River Falls and drive right by River Road. Many times when we have visited the falls, we have only had to share its majesty with ten or twelve other admirers.
But Bald River Falls is only the destination. The journey is just as special. You get to Bald River Falls by riding east, approximately 4 miles, on Tennessee Hwy 165 – the Cherohala Skyway – from the junction of Tennessee Hwy 360, in Tellico Plains. You will have started climbing into the mountains by this point and will see a sign for River Road and Bald River Falls. Turn right on River Road and follow it approximate seven miles to Bald River Falls.
This section of River Road is paved, with beautiful views of the Tellico River, its bluffs and other small waterfalls. While not overly technical, there are plenty of tight curves and narrow bridges to navigate. While River Road continues past Bald River Falls, it does turn to gravel – so rider beware. Your lovable Grey Beard Biker highly suggests that you turn around at this point and ride back to the Cherohala Skyway and ride it into North Carolina. From there you can ride lots of other great roads like Moonshiner 28, the Tail of the Dragon or Wayah Road.
The Foothills Parkway has always been one of the best rides in the Great Smoky Mountains. Your lovable Grey Beard Biker rarely misses a chance to ride the Parkway when he and Miss Tracy are in East Tennessee. It is both a destination and part of the journey. It is a beautiful ride, one where a biker can set his cruise control and just run the speed limit the entire length, and rarely, if ever, touch your brakes. Connecting Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville to rides like the Tail of the Dragon and Cherohala Skyway, it is a staple of the Smoky Mountains. Until recently, you would have to traverse Wears Valley and Townsend to get to the entrance of Foothills Parkway, near Walland, Tennessee.
In November 2018, the final section of the 16 mile extension of the Parkway opened, which now connects Wears Valley to the original section at Walland. This makes it easier to reach Chilowee, Tennessee, from Gatlinburg, Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.
Construction of this section of the Parkway started in 1966 and was delayed while the 1.65 mile “Missing Link” was completed. This small section of the Parkway required modern construction techniques, not available in the 1960s, to build nine bridges which literally seem to hang off the side of the mountains – but are actually all freestanding.
During our visit last fall to Pigeon Forge, we were unable to ride this new section, as we were there one week before the official opening. Needless to say, Old Grey Beard was a bit disappointed as we were there during the peak of fall colors.
But the wait proved to be very worthwhile as we were have been able to ride it twice, from both directions, this spring. To say the views of Wears Valley are amazing might well be the biggest understatement your Grey Beard has ever made. Riding east along the Foothills Parkway to the “Missing Link,” gives the impression you are riding into heaven. You can see the bridge curve around the mountain, with nothing to the south but the spread out, open valley and the sky to the east, directly in front of you. My only complaint is that the National Park Service has set the speed limit about 10 MPH too slow, but it is understandable as the views are so overpowering that people would never be able to stay in their lane through the curves.
If you are planning a trip to the Gatlinburg area, make sure to take time to ride this beautiful road. Traffic is manageable and there are plenty of spots to pull over and take pictures. Check out the GoPro video, below, to experience this stunning ride.
Memorial Day Weekend means hotdogs, parades and flying the beautiful Stars & Stripes. Your favorite Grey Beard Biker likes doing all of that. But additionally, Memorial Day Weekend means riding with Miss Tracy and our friends in the Great Smoky Mountains.
The mountains of East Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia offer plenty of your more notable roads like the Tail of the Dragon, Blue Ridge Parkway, Newfound Gap and the Foothills Parkway. But it’s the lesser known roads, which are less traveled, that excites the hell out of me. One of those is the Moonshiner 28.
Moonshiner 28 runs for around 100 miles – southeast through North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina. We always get to it by taking US Hwy 74 west from Bryson City, NC towards Wesser, turning left on North Carolina Hwy 28. Once you get on 28, hold onto your hat because the shit gets hairy as hell really quick. You will find switchbacks, big looping curves, steep hills, waterfalls and one of my favorite little stops – Highlands, NC. If you find yourself going through Highlands at lunch, dinner or adult beverage time, make sure to stop in The Ugly Dog Public House – a Grey Beard Biker approved establishment!
In closing, do not miss the chance to ride Moonshiner 28 when you are in the mountains of East Tennessee, North Carolina or Georgia. Check out the following video for a taste of the Moonshiner: