I should start by saying we had an amazing time on our road trip through the Cherohala Skyway. Gorgeous views, lovely day, great company, yada yada. However, we completely screwed this one up.
Hmmm, can I chuck it in the list of things to blame on 2020? Yeah, let’s do that.
Ever take a trip, then get home only to see the most amazing Instagram photo of something right where you were, and you didn’t see it? I even had it on our list, and we still missed it! If it was just missing one little attraction, I’d let it go. But there’s more to it.
Let’s jump straight into why a road trip to Cherohala Skyway is a must do, and why we have to go back.
Taking 34 years to plan and build, the Cherohala Skyway skirts the mountain tops between western North Carolina and Tennessee. Costing $100 million, it’s known as the most expensive road in North Carolina.
The 43 miles of scenic roadway runs between Robbinsville, NC and Tellico Plains, TN. Connecting the Cherokee and Nantahala national forests, each forest lends the road its name, Cherohala.
The road is most popular with motorcyclists as they are already in the area for the infamous Dragon’s Tail. However, you don’t have to be on a motorcycle to enjoy either destination.
Driving the Cherohala straight, with no stops, takes around an hour. Let’s face it, you’re only reading this because you want to stop and take it in. In which case, plan for 2-3 hours for overlook viewing and a picnic. More if you do any hikes.
With the exception of a couple outhouse toilet facilities, and picnic tables with amazing views, there are no other facilities along the road. Make sure you have enough gas for the entire road trip. 50 miles separate the closest gas stations in Tellico Plains and Robbinsville.
From the TN – NC border, mile-markers start at 1 and run for 17 miles into North Carolina. Technically mile-markers should run from Tellico Plains to the NC border, starting from 1 and running for 23 miles. However, I don’t remember seeing mile-markers on the TN side. It may be worth using your mileage counter if you want to know which stop you’re at.
6 Must Stop Overlooks of the Cherohala Skyway
As we were staying in Robbinsville, we started our road trip across the Cherohala Skyway on the North Carolina side. I’ll give mile-markers (NC MM # or TN MM #) to help plan your trip.
If you’re coming from Tellico Plains, it’s worth stopping at the Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center first.
Shute Cove Overlook, NC MM 14.5
Shute Cove Overlook is one of the first stops on the Cherohala Skyway (NC side). Maybe because we had the best light on the mountains, or maybe I just like the little platform, but this overlook was my favorite of the road trip.
With lovely shaded picnic tables, it’s also where we stopped for lunch. Earlier in the day we visited Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, so by the time we hit the skyway, we were starving.
Big Junction Overlook, NC MM 6.1
From this photo of Big Junction Overlook, you may be able to guess one of the reasons we completely messed up on this trip. Notice the horrible haze. Yup, because of our morning stop at Joyce Kilmer, we hit the haze of mid-day.
I know we should have known better, but sometimes it just works out that way. With all the slow downs of Covid, I wasn’t expecting pollution to be this heavy.
Brushy Ridge Overlook, TN MM 21.2
If it’s not hot out, this is the best place to grab lunch. A single picnic table provides visitors with breathtaking views from this spot at Brushy Ridge Overlook.
Lake View Overlook, TN MM 25
Notice how this tree covered view from Lake View Overlook goes on forever. Which leads me to the most important reason we have to do this road trip again.
The Appalachians are known for their amazing autumn colors. After getting home, I saw a few photos of this breathtaking view dotted with bright reds, oranges, yellows, and purples. Definitely the place to see fall foliage.
Turkey Creek Overlook, TN MM 16.1
With good reason, Turkey Creek Overlook is a favorite of many. It’s one of the least hindered views on the skyway. Has a huge pull-off area and one of the few toilet facilities on the route.
Oosterneck Overlook, TN MM 5.1
Not what we would typically call an overlook, but it is scenic. Plus, I have a weird thing for touching the water everywhere we go. The little boat ramp made it super easy to reach into the frigid Tellico River.
Hiking in the Cherohala Skyway
False Start at Wright Creek Trail
Our first attempted hike was the Wright Creek Trail, but we quickly changed our minds. Starting off promising, with a staircase descending into a thick wood, once below it was hard to see where the trail even started. Completely overgrown, with what looked like stinging nettles, there was no way we were even attempting this in shorts.
I’ve since seen a post from someone who did the trail, despite the overgrowth, who said it wasn’t worth it.
Unfulfilled Promise at Spirit Ridge Trail
We then came to Spirit Ridge Trail, which looked much more promising. I had seen gorgeous photos of the viewpoint online before our trip and had this one on our list. At only .7-mile round trip, it’s a nice leg stretcher.
I’d like to give this viewpoint the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, just maybe, it’s better in late fall or early spring. In summer this view was completely blocked out. What we could see, did look amazing. Plus, the forest walk was definitely worth the short stop.
As for those photos I had seen online, I’m not sure when they were taken. Even the viewing platform was completely different.
Other Hikes on a Cherohala Skyway Road Trip
Disheartened with our first two hiking attempts, and as it was getting late in the day, we decided to give up on hiking and just enjoy the road trip.
However, there are a few other hikes which looked promising. If you’ve tried any of these hikes we’d love to hear your thoughts.
- Huckleberry Knob NC MM 8.5 – 2.5 miles round trip to the highest point (5,560 ft.) in the Cheoah Ranger District.
- Hooper Bald NC MM 7.5 – 1 mile round trip to an open field on top of the mountain.
- Mud Gap Trail NC MM 3.5 – 1.5 mile one way trail to Whigg Meadow.
Once we crossed into Tennessee, all signage for hikes, even overlooks, stopped. Considering the minimal signage and how overgrown everything was, we recommend getting maps on the area before doing any hiking.
Where to Eat
As there’s not much on the road itself, except for the camp-store (a 2-mile drive from TN MM 14), we recommend taking advantage of the views and having a picnic.
However, in Tellico Plains and Robbinsville there are some local small restaurants and a few typical fast food options.
- Just before driving into Tellico Plains, we stopped at the little roadside hamburger joint Tellico Beach Drive-in. Sitting at one of their picnic tables along the river, we grabbed a couple burgers and some ice creams to finish our day. Few tips about eating here, bring cash and don’t be in a hurry.
- In Robbinsville, our favorite place is only open Mon – Fri from 11-2. But, if you get the chance, do yourself a favor and stop at T. Dubbs BBQ shack. It is literally a shack, but my goodness it is worth timing your lunch to catch them open.
Do Not Miss the Waterfalls
As we pulled up to our accommodation, I pulled out my list to see where we were off to tomorrow. Instead, there it was, staring at me on the paper.
BALD RIVER FALLS!!
Technically, these gorgeous falls aren’t right on the Cherohala Skyway, but they are only 3 miles away. There’s also Baby Falls just next door.
How did we miss them? Whelp, you know how I said TN doesn’t have any signage. I wasn’t kidding. I went back through Google Maps, and sure enough, the pull off doesn’t look like much and doesn’t have any signage.
Don’t be silly like us, put it in your GPS before you lose signal. If not, you’ll have to keep an eye out for the turnoff around TN MM 9.
They were too far for us to go back to on this trip, but it does mean we will need to head back our this way at another time.
Where to Stay for a Cherohala Skyway Road Trip
We couldn’t find much in the Tellico Plains area, but Robbinsville has some good choices.