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Mountain Waters Scenic Byway in North Carolina

Sunday, December 16, 2018   (8 Comments)
Posted by: Bob Congdon #162965

I came around the corner, a tight corner at that, and almost dropped my bike from shock. A spectacular, raw waterfall just jumped out of nowhere and caught me unaware. I have seen more than a few waterfalls that left an impression on me, including Niagara, but great ones are usually a destination trip. On this day I was heading back to Spartanburg, South Carolina, when views of the Cullasaja Falls and the subsequent falls along the trail came unexpectedly.

Regrettably, I had passed my initial opportunity to pull over at the Falls. By the time I could turn around on the twisty, curve-filled road and go back (5 minutes), the small pull-off was filled with vehicles, and I had no room to park my motorcycle safely. It was about 10:30 in the morning on the 3rd of November, 2018, a Saturday, and the fall color travelers were out in full force. I didn’t know it, but I was on a portion of the road called “The Mountain Waters Scenic Byway.”


Bob (right) and Zeb Congdon on North Carolina Rt.#28, Fontana Lake, just before Tail of the Dragon.

It is a National Forest Scenic Byway in the Nantahala National Forest in Western North Carolina. To quote Wikipedia, “The Cullasaja River Gorge offers a spectacular scenic drive along the Waterfall Byway between the towns of Franklin and Highlands, North Carolina. The tallest falls are the Cullasaja Falls, which drop 250 feet in the Nantahala National Forest, Nantahala Ranger District, 90 Sloan Road, Franklin, NC 28734, (828)-524-644.”

The entire route runs from Lauda to Franklin to Highlands, North Carolina. I was on the portion from Franklin to Highlands on Route 28/64. This route, as mentioned above, follows the Cullasaja River Gorge, one spectacular mountain road featuring many waterfalls, including Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls, Quarry Falls and Cullasaja Falls.

Before this trip to experience “The Tail of the Dragon,” I began researching a fall ride in the Great Smokies National Park-Nantahala National Forest in Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. As this would be my first multi-day adventure on a newly acquired 2011 F 650 GS, I wanted to ensure a memorable ride (Most of my long-distance riding has been on a 1972 R 75/5, purchased new in Germany while in the military.)

The first smart thing I did was post on the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America Facebook page looking for recommendations. The response was instantaneous. Several riders mentioned the Whiskey Highway and that anywhere along the highways of 28 and 64 in North Carolina was great riding.


The Dry Falls, North Carolina Route 28/64, known as the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway.

The responses were understated. This route, which is known as the Mountain Waters Scenic By-Way was a dynamic, spectacular, color-filled drive. The ride goose bumped me and had my head shaking in awe continuously with “Whoa” coming out of my mouth. Not only were the falls spectacular but the entire twisties route with the Cullasaja River alongside was a ride not quickly forgotten.

Keep in mind when you are on a motorcycle, you feel the crispness of the air, the chill, the thermoclines, and all the elements of Mother Nature while experiencing the visual feasts. You are a part of the environment. That is a purpose of being on a bike; it’s the journey, in most instances, not the destination. This was a great journey. I appreciated being alive.

What made this particular ride so spectacular was I had just spent three days traversing the Smokies, including a couple of days fishing the Raven Fork Trophy Trout Waters in Cherokee. I had driven the Cherohala Skyway, the Blue Ridge-iced up, the Dragon, the Whiskey Highway, and the Foothills Parkway. The entire experience was filled with visual treats, but this stood out.

I contemplated combining this route in an article about the entire trip but believed this road deserved a special treatment. You don’t see a combination of raw beauty and a fun motorcycle ride like this every day. The Tail of the Dragon is fun, technical, but not for gazing. Portions of this ride reminded me of “The Road to the Sun” in Glacier National Park-just not as cold or high.

The colors were as spectacular as I have seen in years. Being a huge fan of the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine for fall color, I was caught unawares that such color could exist outside those mountainous New England areas. I had been in awe of the color for the past two days, from Cherokee to Gatlinburg, to Deal, to Franklin. But the combination of this winding route and the dramatic river drops abutting the road were in a league all their own. It is a ride I will take again, with a better awareness of the views and geographic wonders ahead of time. I will fire up the GoPro.

When one heads to the Smoky Mountains (the most visited National Park in the U.S.), Gatlinburg, Dollywood, Ashville and the Biltmore grab the big headlines. But for scenic beauty, unbelievable fall colors, and spectacular backdrops, the Cullasaja River Gorge is a “must-do” fall road for anyone heading to the Smokies in Western North Carolina. Do yourself a favor, don’t miss it. I know I won’t. I will be heading back to fish the Raven Fork, while enjoying one spectacular, color-filled ride.

Comments...

David McDade says...
Posted Monday, December 24, 2018
I retired to Asheville area after riding these roads for many years (out of FL) so I could ride them all the time! I have ridden around the country and nothing is any better than Western NC!
Bob Cole says...
Posted Thursday, December 20, 2018
Kevin Mendez: Sorry you experienced what was probably a crazy cat lady. To be fair, we do see some crotch rocket riders who ride like there's no laws nor rules. Thankfully, the crazy cat woman is a small, small % of locals.
Bob Cole says...
Posted Thursday, December 20, 2018
Matt Wank: As always, riding time depends on the traffic & weather. I would think an average speed would be around 40mph for that sort of thing. Add in time to stop, look & eat. Based on my short riding experience, *I* never get to see everything I planned on, so that means another trip back. Ain't riding great? ;)
Bob Cole says...
Posted Thursday, December 20, 2018
I wish people would STOP writing about this area! It brings people in & adds to the traffic we local riders have to deal with! LOL! The whole corner of TN/NC/GA offers the best riding in the US w/o all the traffic of other areas. Small towns, mom & pop diners, etc are what I prefer over the crowds of the Tail of the Dragon, etc. Lots of waterfalls in the area in addition to the ones in the story. Rafting/kayaking is a well known & fun side adventure on those hot summer days. For the history buffs like me, there's lots of Civil War sites & a couple of 1700s era sites as well. A bunch of local wineries for those whom like that sort of thing. Blackberry wine tends to be habit forming though.......... LOL!
Matt Wank says...
Posted Monday, December 17, 2018
Hi Bob. Thank you for your post. I have a Blue Ridge Parkway (plus a little more) ride planned in the Spring and hadn't discovered the Mountain Waters Scenic By-Way yet. I will be riding right through that area from Gatlinburg to Helen. I just joined MOA recently and already it is paying off with information! About how long would you say it takes to ride, with a few falls stops along the way? Thanks again!
kevin mendez says...
Posted Monday, December 17, 2018
I agree 28 one of the nicest roads. Unfortunately some of the Locals have taken on their own hands to police and patrol The road. On one occasion we were ran off the road by this Woman who I can not call a lady as she believed passing on double yellow by one of our friends had to be dealt with deadly force. Shame on her. Unfortunately police didn’t respond swiftly to solve the issue.
Lee Shreve says...
Posted Monday, December 17, 2018
Bob, what a wonderful time of year to ride a spectacular road. Hwy 28 runs are always on my list when I ride by myself or with friends through western North Carolina. There are many marvelous sights to see and places to stay. Don't forget to explore the twisting, challenging side roads too. We prefer to stay near restaurants and pubs to be able to sit and rehash our ride with our group over warm meals and cold brewskis. Stay Safe!
Rob McMillan says...
Posted Monday, December 17, 2018
Thanks Bob, nice write up and your writing style gave me the feelings of being out there with you! Nice time I’m south on two wheels, I’ll check out this gorge.

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