Has the Great Smoky Mountains National Park closure making you second guess your trip to Western North Carolina or has it made it harder for you to get here? If so, read the article below before you make any final decisions about where you are going on vacation, you might be surprised.
Option 1: US-129 South to NC-28 South
Along this route as you are leaving Tennesse you will drive by the beautiful Chilowhee Lake and have the option of going to the Chilowhee Dam or just taking a photo from an overlook on the “Tail of the Dragon.” The famous “Tail of the Dragon is defines by having 318 curves in 11 miles, which may be scary to some of you who get carsick reading this right now. However, the speed limit is only 35 so you legally can not get too carried away, although many people do every year. After you come off of the “Tail of the Dragon” you will turn left on to NC 28 South and cruise along the Cheoah Lake on your way to the base of Fontana Dam. Fontana Dam is the tallest concrete dam east of the rockies and is quite a destination for visitors. Leaving the bottom of the dam you will continue south through a few more curves until you reach the Fontana Village Resort, where you can refuel, grab a snack, play a round of disc golf, or just wave as you go by. Once you pass the Fontana Village you will have the option at an intersection of going straight to get to the top of Fontana Dam, which is way worth it, or bearing right and continuing on NC 28 South. This last section is moderately curvy, but you will barely notice the curves because of all the mountain scenery around you. Take advantage of soaking in the simplicity and beauty of the mountain countryside. If the curves are too much for you stop off at Tsali Recreational Area to stretch your legs or to get those tires dirty on mountain bike trails! After Tsali you will come to a stop sign at the intersection of US-74 where you can either turn left to get to Bryson City and Cherokee or right to go into the Nantahala Gorge.
Option 2: I-40 East to US-74 West/Great Smoky Mountains Expressway
This will be the fastest option for those driving through Knoxville, TN to get to Western North Carolina. On your way out of Tennessee you will enter a portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you will have the option of breaking up your trip with a nice raft trip down the Pigeon River and a canopy tour at exit 447, or take a short hike on the Appalachian Trail where is crosses I-40 at exit 451.
If you are feeling really adventurous then I will recommend and tell you how to get to one of my favorite swimming holes, Midnight Hole! Take exit 451 and turn right to go across bridge and turn left on to Waterville Road, Waterville Road will lead you in to North Carolina and eventually in to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where the road will turn to gravel and be called NC 284/Big Creek Park Road. Follow this road until you reach a parking are with bathrooms. From exit to parking area should be a little over 3 miles. The trail is accessed from the road just before the parking area, or by a trail which passes from the parking area through the tent-only campground climbing to the main trail just beyond the campground rest rooms. Hike along the trail, which is a old access road for about 1 1/2 miles until you reach Midnight Hole on your left. Midnight hole is a crystal clear swimming hole with a waterfall and huge rocks that make for great jumping platforms! This is a great spot and one that the everyone will remember.
Again for the adventurous folks out there this is how you make Max Patch part of your trip! Once in NC on I-40 still take exit 7 and turn left on to Cold Springs Creek Trail and follow it for about 6 miles until it intersects with Max Patch Road. Turn left on Max Patch road and follow it for about 2 more miles, you will be close to the TN boarder. There will be a small parking area where you can get out and take a hike and enjoy the views, hop on the Appalachian trail just to say that you have while your there! This is a little detour but way worth it in the end, the views are spectacular!
If you are not up for the above adventure then continue in to North Carolina on I-40 and the merge on to US-74 W towards Waynesville, NC. You can stay on US-74 which will take you past Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Sylva, and Dillsboro to end you at the Cherokee exit (74) or Bryson City exit (67).
For travelers looking for a more scenic drive take US-74 until Exit 103 for US-19 South towards Maggie Valley. This route will take you off the main drag through Maggie Valley where you can find somewhere to shop or eat, and the takes you across Soco Mountian down in to Cherokee, NC and then in to Bryson CIty, NC. This route crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway at the top of Soco Mountain, if you wish you can turn right on to the parkway and take it down in to Cherokee as well.
If you would like to ride a little more of the parkway take US-74 for about 12.5 miles until you see a sign for the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take a slight right on to the Parkway and once you come to the stop sign turn right to go towards Cherokee. You will take the parkway until it ends at the intersection on US 441 where you can turn right and check out the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Mountain Farm Museum, or left and head in to Cherokee and Bryson City.
Option 3: US-74 East
For those traveling through Chattanooga or Cleveland take this route instead of going through the National Park. This route take you in and out of the majestic Nantahala National Forest the entire way, and is really a great ride despite the curves. As you are leaving Tennessee this route will take you through the Ocoee Gorge right along side the raging Ocoee River, if you are feeling up for it then you should stop and go for an exciting Rafting adventure. If not, continue on towards Murphy, NC where you can find a place to shop in historic downtown or something to fill your stomach with. Continuing on US-74 East head towards Andrews, NC. Andrews is another small but historic town if you are looking to explore, and it also has a Disc Golf course if you are looking to stretch your legs. After Andrews you will enter the famous Nantahala Gorge, which is known for its highly popular Nantahala River that is filled with fisherman, rafts, canoes, and kayaks most of the year. Continue through the gorge stopping as you please to take a short hike on the Bartram Trail, or the Appalachian Trail. There are many rafting guide services in the gorge if you wish to check them out on your way through and set up your trip, or enjoy one of the canopy tour adventures offered there to help make your long drive more enjoyable. Once you are out of the Nantahala Gorge you will be back out on the highway and headed towards Bryson City and Cherokee! This is a great drive and one that might be a little curvy at times but is really enjoyable because of all the mountain beauty that you get to drive through.
I hope you have found an alternate route that you and your family are going to try when thinking about visiting Western North Carolina. Look at the US-441 closure in the park as an opportunity to see other parts of the mountain region that get sometimes get overshadowed by the National Park, instead of a “vacation plan changer.” We here at Yellow Rose Realty and all the other businesses in Western North Carolina are still here to make your vacation and amazing experience whether the Park is open or Closed. Come see us soon!