Cherohala Skyway and Bald River Falls are just a day trip from the Ocoee Adventure Center. Deals Gap, the Dragon’s Tail and Cherohala Skyway are all well known to motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts. However the views along Cherohala Skyway can be appreciated by anyone. The skyway has long sweeping curves along the spine of the Unicoi Mountains along a one mile high ridge. The Tennessee portion of the skyway follows TN 165 and meets NC 143 at the state line.
The Cherohala Skyway is just 58 miles away from the Ocoee Adventure Center. You can combine Ocoee River rafting or any of our other outdoor activities with a weekend of exploring some of the best motorcycle and sports car roads the Eastern United States has to offer. The scenic views of the skyway are complemented by other nearby great sightseeing opportunities such as Bald River Falls, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Cheoah River, Fontana Lake and Dam, Dragon’s Tail (US 129), Deals Gap, and Hellbender (NC 28).
Bald River Falls is located just upstream of where the Bald River joins the Tellico River in the Cherokee National Forest. The falls are approximately one hundred feet tall with great views from the Forest Service Road 120 bridge. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is near the other end of the Cherohala Skyway in North Carolina. The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is a 3,800 acre tract of virgin forest in the Nantahala National Forest. See our Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest blog for more information, photos, and video.
The Cheoah River bed is visible along US 129 as you head west towards Deal’s Gap and the Dragon’s Tail. The Cheoah River provides thrill seekers class IV/IV+ excitement during limited recreation releases. Deal’s Gap on US 129 marks the NC/TN state line and the beginning of the Dragon’s Tail with its 318 curves in just eleven miles; the end point features a nice overlook in East Tennessee. You might want to visit the Tree of Shame located near the intersection of US 129 and NC 28. Hellbender is the name given to the twenty-two miles stretch of NC 28 beginning at US 129. The Hellbender features sweeping curves and great lakeside views including Fontana. Lake Fontana features the tallest dam east of the Mississippi at 480 feet.
Be sure to take the short three mile side trip to see Bald River Falls and Baby Falls along your way. Elevations along the Cherohala Skyway vary from 900 feet at the Tellico River to over 5,400 feet at Haw Knob the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob. Cherohala is a portmanteau for Cherokee and Nantahala the two national forests the skyway passes through. The skyway was designated a National Scenic Byway shortly after opening in 1996.
The North Carolina portion is often cited as the most expensive road in the state having cost more than one hundred million dollars and taking over three decades to complete. The Cherohala Skyway has several overlooks with exceptional views and opportunities for hiking, picnicking, bird watching, and other activities. The route follows four peaks above five thousand feet and nine more about four thousand feet. Nearly half the elevation change is held in the first ten miles of NC 143 beginning at the state line.
The road reaches its highest point at the Santeetlah Overlook providing long vistas on clear days. The road’s creation is commonly credited to Kiwanis meeting in April 1958. At some point in the meeting a local suggested a wagon train “since our roads are only fit for covered wagons.” Just a few weeks later a wagon train of over sixty covered wagons and more than three hundred on horseback followed the route to become the skyway.
Adventure is our middle name at Ocoee Adventure Center; we offer Ocoee River rafting, mountain biking, lake kayak adventures, waterfall hikes, stand up paddleboard, and whitewater kayak instruction.