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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 heads to East Tennessee every chance he gets. 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 is 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, Cherohala Skyway and Wayah Road it is a staple of the Smoky Mountains. Until recently, you would have to traverse Wears Valley and Townsend, navigating the heavy traffic, 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.
Living in Tennessee provides many opportunities to ride wonderful motorcycle roads. At least twice a year, your ever lovable Grey Beard Biker heads to The Great Smoky Mountains to ride some of the most challenging roads found anywhere in the United States.
One of those roads is a little known piece of asphalt which is off the beaten path – and is infrequently travelled by the throngs of nature gawkers most of the National Park roads present those of us on two wheels. If you were to travel east of Gatlinburg on US Hwy 321 you would eventually find yourself approaching Cosby, Tennessee. There you will find TN Route 32 – lovingly known, by those in the know, as “The Secret Road” or “The Road To Nowhere.”
The Secret Road is not for everyone. It may well be one of the most technical motorcycle roads east of the Mississippi River. Running approximately 10 miles east from Cosby, it eventually reaches I-40, after turning to gravel. I call it the Road to Nowhere because it does not connect Cosby to anything but the Appalachian Trail and the aforementioned interstate highway.
When you first start riding from Cosby, the road seems fairly tame. But you will quickly find yourself in the midst of a monster! Unlike the area’s most popular road, The Tail of the Dragon, you will find yourself hitting switchback after switchback, with a couple of curves thrown in to provide a short respite. To my knowledge, no one has counted how many curves are on this road, but I would suggest it’s equal in count to the Tail.
If you decide to ride this road, take it easy on your first couple of passes. You will find that there are very few guardrails to keep you on the road if you high-side a curve or switchback. There are also very few motorists or other bikers who will be able to provide assistance. Making things worse, your cell phone will not work in the remote hills surrounding this road. Lastly, if you were to get hurt, you can expect to wait 45 minutes for an ambulance, and an hour to get to the nearest hospital. But if you are up to the challenge, you will wear a grin from ear-to-ear