There is an impossibly beautiful scenic drive in the Great Smoky Mountains that’s difficult to describe, because it is just that picturesque. The Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile, 2-lane National Scenic Byway that takes you from Robbinsville, NC to Tellico Plains, TN. It boasts sweeping views along a meandering road where every curve brings a new feast for your eyes. It climbs mountain tops and drops you into stunning valleys with a gentle ease.
For something that seems so natural and easygoing, the building of it was anything but trouble free. The Skyway took 34 years and $100,000,000 to construct, but that effort pays off in spades for those who have the good fortune to drive it.
The drive winds through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests, resulting in the aptly named “Chero – hala” Skyway. The surrounding timberland is thick and rugged, and when you drive with your windows down, the loamy smell of earth and trees fills the car. The drive launches you through the clouds to the almost-5,400-foot-high Santeetlah Overlook, named for the nearby crystalline lake of the same name. It’s the highest viewing spot on the Cherohala Skyway, but you’ll be tempted to stop at the other 14 overlooks and picnic areas that dot the route, each with their own perfect vista.
No matter what you’re driving, you’ll feel the liberation of cruising along one of America’s most beautiful and exhilarating drives. Rumor has it that Esquire Magazine described the Skyway as “driving through a car commercial.” And that is exactly what we think, too! Motorcycle enthusiasts flock to this drive in droves to experience the heart-pounding heights and smooth curves.
After climbing the 18 miles to the top of the world in North Carolina, you’ll find yourself plunging deep into the backcountry of Tennessee. There are no stores or gas stations along the route, so be sure you have plenty of gas and grub before you head out. Nothing like devouring a Cherohala Chicken Pizza from the Tapoca Tavern in Robbinsville while taking in the scenery from your birdseye view!
Although the drive only takes about 45 minutes, many visitors choose to stretch their legs at Huckleberry Knob in Robbinsville before they take off. Just off the Cherohala Skyway National Scenic, the 1.7-mile, out-and-back trail can be completed in less than an hour and features wildlife and wildflowers easily identifiable in the tall grasses of the bald.