Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Fall Drive in the Smoky Mountains!

In late October, Laurie and I decided that since it was a beautiful sunny day, it was time for us to drive up into the Smoky Mountains and check out the fall colors…

We only live about 45 minutes from Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains National Park but during this time of the year, that area is packed with sight seers.  However, Tellico Plains and the beginning of the Cherohala Scenic Skyway are only 30 minutes from our house.  While the fall colors hadn’t peaked down in the Tennessee River Valley yet, as we gained altitude, the change in seasons was much more pronounced.

The Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway winds among the mountaintops in the Cherokee and Nantahala national forests – thus the name “Cherohala.”  The road, (TN Hwy. 165/NC Hwy. 143), connects Tellico Plains Tennessee to Robbinsville North Carolina across 51 miles of wide 2 lane highway that climbs to over 5,000 ft. above sea level.

We encountered some traffic from time to time as we climbed up toward the Tennessee-North Carolina State line, but there weren’t any stoppages and it flowed along…

FYI…  A ‘National Scenic Byway’ is a road recognized by the United States Department of Transportation for one or more of six "intrinsic qualities": archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic.  In addition the “most scenic” byways are designated as ‘All-American Roads’, which must meet two out of the six intrinsic qualities.  The latter designation means the road has features that do not exist elsewhere in the United States and they are unique and important enough to be tourist destinations unto themselves.

There are a number of viewpoints or vistas along the Cherohala Byway on both sides of the border.  Some have views to the west and some toward the east.  This easterly view was from the Tennessee side of the Byway.


·       There are at least 120 National Scenic Byways and 31 All-American Roads located in 46 states. 

·       The only states that lack a National Scenic Byway or All-American Road are Hawaii, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Texas.  There must be a story or two there… In Hawaii for example, what about the road to Hana on Maui?

As we climbed over 2,500 feet and up to 3,500 feet, the color increased and brightened…

Traffic dropped off but we did see evidence of a booming business.  During our drive and sight-seeing stops along the way we saw a couple hundred ‘trike’ or 3-wheel motorcycles.  They vastly outnumbered the 2 wheel version.  This relatively ‘new’ business is probably an indicator of our aging population…

Some of the better known National Scenic Byways include: Great River Road which follows along the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Mississippi; Flint Hills in Kansas, and Death Valley in California.  The All-America Roads are even better known.  Examples include: Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina; Bear Tooth Pass Scenic Highway in Montana and Wyoming, and Florida Keys Scenic Highway.

Laurie loves to take photos of the sunlight streaming down through the forest creating that natural cathedral look…

You will note that brown and burnt orange dominate this photo.  Above 4,000 feet the peak of the color season had already passed.  As we neared the North Carolina border, we passed Haw Knob, at 5,472 ft. the highest point along the Byway.

Then after we crossed the state line into North Carolina and headed down to lower elevations, the vibrant colors picked up again.

These photos were taken at Obadiah Gap (elevation 3,740 ft.) along the Byway in North Carolina…

Note: The Cherohala Scenic Byway is part of the loop favored by motorcyclists and sports car drivers that begins or ends with a portion of US Hwy. 129, “The Dragon” aka “The Tail of the Dragon”.  Riders/drivers start in either North Carolina or Tennessee and using the 2 different roads, they can complete a challenging route…  Traffic on The Dragon can be heavy and it is not a place for sightseeing.  The 11 mile stretch has 318 curves, big trucks are banned and typically a couple of motorcyclists are killed on that piece of road every year.  On the other hand, the Cherohala portion of the loop is a safe and scenic drive. 
To learn about the National Scenic Byways and the All-American Roads near you, go to the interactive map at

Once we passed over the mountains into North Carolina we wanted to avoid the risks along The Tail of the Dragon…our most direct route home…so we headed south on US Hwy. 74 past Murphy to NC Hwy. 294 and the Tennessee State line. 

Along the way, we took a little side trip to check out the Hiwassee Dam.  This is one of three dams on the river owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.  The TVA built the dam in the late 1930s to bring flood control and electricity to the region.  It impounds Hiwassee Lake with 6,000 surface acres of water. 

The Hiwassee Dam is 307 feet tall and it’s the third highest dam in the TVA system.  The Hiwassee River actually flows northwestward from its source in through Western North Carolina, where it proceeds to slice a scenic valley through the southern Appalachian Mountains in route to its mouth along Chickamauga Lake (Tennessee River) in Tennessee.  The Hiwassee River is 147 miles long…

The Hiwassee Impoundment (Lake) created by the dam, stretches for 22 miles back to Murphy North Carolina and it has about 180 miles of shoreline.  It’s a beautiful lake that is mostly surrounded by the 531,270 acre Nantahala National Forest.  From the lack of fall colors in these photos, it’s evident that we were back down in the lowland area of North Carolina. 

It was a great day for a drive in the mountains!  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for coming along on our fall color drive!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Looks like a great drive - we have always enjoyed the Cherohala but haven't done it in several years. I believe you made a wise decision for your return route as it is also a pretty drive.

  2. Thanks for these pictures.. This is the first year in a long time that we missed seeing the beauty in and around the Smokies.... Every year (until this one--when we just ran out of time) we would make a very long but wonderful day trip starting VERY VERY early from home headed to the Gatlinburg Bypass and then across the Smokies on 441 (early enough to avoid the heavy traffic in October). Of course we'd plan it to get to the Bypass at sunrise for some great pictures. Then we'd stop all along the way across the mountain. After getting to Bryson City --we'd head to the Cherahola Skyway going across there --and then to Highway 64 to home... LONG drive --but when we planned it right, the colors were AWESOME and the trip was worth it. This year the colors in West VA were not nearly as pretty as ours were here at home.. Crazy!!!!

    Great set of pictures.

  3. David what lovely and beautiful place.
    I love the pictures!
    Take care xo

  4. What a lovely way to spend a beautiful autumn day! So scenic and peaceful! :D

    Hugs to you and Laurie!