TRAVEL GUIDE TO BRYSON CITY AND THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
THINGS TO DO IN THE SMOKIES
Western North Carolina is Famous for its Scenic Mountain Roads and Spectacular Views
Make Swain County your home base for a mountain vacation, and get ready to enjoy some of the most scenic roads in the country. Whether you drive on four-wheels or two, you’ll love our curvy mountain roads with endless mountain vistas, sparkling rivers and creeks, lush forests and peaceful valleys.
Our most well-known drives take you through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala Gorge, to Fontana Dam, on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Cherohala Skyway, down The Road to Nowhere, and along the infamous Dragon at Deals Gap. Yet there are plenty of side trips down country roads that take you to that perfect picnic spot or fishing hole – or just a drive for the joy of the journey. Printable pdf of Scenic Drives
Driving Through Time is a new website that allows visitors to take a virtual trip through the North Carolina history of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Park winds its way through 17 North Carolina counties, numerous communities, and countless different southern Appalachian landscapes.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park — Your trip through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park begins in Cherokee, just 20 minutes east of Bryson City. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road) takes you past the Mountain Farm Museum at the Park’s Oconaluftee Visitors Center and Mingus Mill, a large water-powered mill for grinding corn. The road winds through the mountains, with a side trip to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies. At the halfway point across you enter Tennessee. (North Carolina and Tennessee gave equal amounts of land for the Park.) At the Park’s Sugarlands Visitors Center take a westerly drive over to Cades Cove. You may return the way you came, or in summer take the “back way” home by way of Parson’s Branch, a one-way road south that brings you to Highway 28 west of Fontana Dam.
Blue Ridge Parkway — The Parkway begins in Swain County in Cherokee, at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A nice short segment to drive would be the 26 miles from Cherokee to the Balsam Mountain exit at milepost 443, just west of Waynesville on US 74. Along the way, you'll pass Waterrock Knob where there is a visitor information center, comfort station and a spectacular view. Take the one-mile hike to the summit for an even better view, especially at sunset.
Fontana Dam / US Hwy 28 North— You pick up US Highway 28 North just west of Bryson City. Not one mile down 28 is an expansive scenic overlook looking northeast towards Clingmans Dome. You wind through the small hamlet of Stecoah and then through a canopy of green woods to Fontana Dam (about 24 miles). Continue on another 8 miles (approx.) to Deal's Gap (see below) for some beautiful views of Cheoah Lake and on to the curvy roads of The Dragon. More info
Deal’s Gap (The Dragon) — U.S. Highway 129, connecting Western North Carolina with East Tennessee, is world-famous among motorcyclists and sports car drivers, for its eleven-mile section with 318 continuous curves. Riding The Dragon at Deals Gap you closely follow an old Indian trail from Graham County NC to Fort Loudon TN. Take a spin through “Gravity Cavity”, “Pig Pens Bend”, and “Rebels Revenge” with beautiful views of the river along the way to Chilhowee Lake.
Cheoah Dam - Hwy 129 between Deal's Gap and Robbinsville. If you saw the 1993 movie "The Fugitive" you'll recognize Cheoah Dam where a key scene in the movie was filmed. The Dam was build between 1916 and 1919 by ALCOA. You'll be riding right along the Cheoah River, and if you're lucky you'll see some whiteater rafters. It's nine miles of exciting paddling for experienced paddlers.
NC Highway 28 South —21-mile ride between US 19/74 just west of Bryson City and Franklin NC. Twisty on the top end near Bryson.
Nantahala Gorge — Highway 19/74 west out of Bryson City takes you through the Nantahala Gorge, home to premier whitewater rafting and kayaking. This is a beautiful drive right next to the water with plenty of pull-offs and picnic spots. Eight miles (as the river flows) up the river, turn at the raft launch site and continue up the Wayah Road for a few miles following swift-flowing water past waterfalls and great trout fishing spots. You may continue on to Wayah Bald’s observation tower and on to Franklin NC.
The Road to Nowhere — With so much to see and do in the Bryson City area, it is hard to imagine a day when you might have nowhere to go. But should that happen, there is always the "Road to Nowhere", a scenic mountain highway that takes you eight miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends at the mouth of a tunnel. On the map, it is called Lakeview Drive, but to the citizens of Swain County it is The Road to Nowhere — A Broken Promise. (For the rest of this story, click here.)
Cherohala Skyway — The spectacular 51-mile skyway connects Hwy. 143 in Robbinsville, NC to Hwy.165 in Tellico Plains, TN, traveling through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. Enjoy the view from 15 scenic overlooks or picnic areas. The highest point is the Santeetlah Overlook at 5,390 feet, which rivals the Blue Ridge Parkway elevations. A popular hiking area is Hooper Bald; and a beautiful waterfall may be found close to the end in Tennessee – Bald River Falls – just a short drive off the main road. More info Photo credit Monroe Cnty, TN Travel & Tourism.
Cherohala side trip: The Joyce Kilmer National Forest in NC. Turn off Hwy 143 just before the start of the Skyway Road. Home to large stands of virgin poplar trees; easy walks. More info
USA Today readers have picked 3 WNC roads in the 10 best for a motorcycle trip. The Dragon at Deal's Gap was picked #4, The Blue Ridge Parkway #5, and the Cherohala Skyway was #6. July, 2014. Read more
American Motorcyclist Association also named these 3 C among the top 15 best in America to ride. AMA members ranked The Blue Ridge Parkway # 2, US 129 The Dragon #3, and The Cherohala Skyway #7. Nearly 100 roads in the US were on the ballot. "When it comes to the best places in the country to ride motorcycles, no group of riders is more knowledgeable than AMA members," said AMA President and CEO Rob Dingman. Read more in AMA magazine - April 2011 issue.
The November 2009 "Weekend Adventure" segment on "Good Morning America" featured the Deals Gap "Dragon," a section of Western North Carolina highway that's popular with motorcycle riders. The section of U.S. Hwy. 129 has more than 30 turns per mile. Host Bill Weir drove a North Carolina-made Indian Motorcycle along the famed highway, and interviewed Dale Walksler, curator of the Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum in Maggie Valley, about what makes the mountains such a great place to ride motorcycles. View the segment.
While enjoying our curviest road - The Dragon in Western Swain County - take a minute to see the "Tree of Shame" at Deal's Gap.
Started some time in the 1980's by a group of Harley riders, it is a makeshift shrine to riders who left a little of their gear behind somewhere in those 11 miles on one of those 318 curves. It's one of the most challenging rides in the country for motorcycles and sports cars. As the sign says, "No gain, but a lot of pain!"
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Bryson City - Swain County
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P.O. Box 509
Bryson City, NC 28713
Karen Proctor Wilmot