The Cherohala Skyway

A High Altitude Ride Through the Cherokee and Nantahala Forests.

The Cherohala Skyway, a lesser-known but equally majestic cousin to the more famous Blue Ridge Parkway, offers a journey through some of the most scenic landscapes in the eastern United States. Spanning 43 miles from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina, this high-altitude road traverses the Cherokee and Nantahala national forests—hence its name, a portmanteau of the two. For a travel writer with a passion for the open road and the serenity of nature, the Skyway provides a unique opportunity to explore the beauty of the Appalachian wilderness from the comfort of your vehicle. Here’s what makes the Cherohala Skyway a must-visit for those seeking solace and adventure in the mountains.

A Journey Above the Clouds

The Skyway was opened in 1996, after decades of planning and construction, to provide a direct route through the mountains and showcase the region’s stunning natural beauty. It quickly became known for its sweeping vistas, remote wilderness, and vibrant fall foliage. With elevations ranging from 900 to 5,400 feet, the Skyway offers a diverse array of ecosystems, from lush hardwood forests to high-altitude balds, where the expansive sky meets the rolling mountains.

When to Visit The Cherohala Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway can be enjoyed year-round, but each season offers a different experience. Spring brings wildflowers and budding trees, while summer offers lush greenery and cooler temperatures at higher elevations. Autumn is perhaps the most spectacular time, as the mountainside explodes in fiery hues of red, orange, and gold. Winter presents its own stark beauty, with snow-covered vistas and clear, crisp air, though travelers should be prepared for possible road closures due to inclement weather.

Must-See Stops Along the Way

  • Bald River Falls: Accessible via a short detour off the Skyway in Tennessee, this stunning waterfall cascades over 90 feet into the river below.
  • Hooper Bald: A short hike leads to this high-elevation bald, offering breathtaking panoramic views and wildflowers in summer.
  • Santeetlah Overlook: The highest overlook on the North Carolina side provides spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and forests.

Where to Stay and Dine

While there are no accommodations or restaurants directly on the Cherohala Skyway, the towns at either end of the route offer cozy lodgings and local eateries. In Tellico Plains, the Tellico Plains Lodge  offers comfortable rooms and a taste of Southern hospitality. Robbinsville features several quaint bed and breakfasts, such as the Snowbird Mountain Lodge, known for its rustic elegance and gourmet dining.

Navigating the Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway is renowned for its smooth pavement and gentle curves, making it a favorite among motorists and motorcyclists alike. However, its remote nature means that services along the Skyway are limited. Travelers are advised to fill up their gas tanks, pack snacks and water, and check their vehicle’s condition before setting out. The Skyway’s high elevations can also lead to sudden weather changes, so it’s wise to come prepared with appropriate clothing and a flexible itinerary.

One final thought

The Cherohala Skyway offers a unique blend of accessibility and remote wilderness, inviting travelers to immerse themselves in the tranquil beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. Whether you’re chasing the vibrant colors of fall, the serene snowscapes of winter, or the abundant natural life of spring and summer, the Skyway provides a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It’s a road that encourages you to take your time, stop often, and let the majesty of the mountains move you. In a world that’s always rushing forward, the Cherohala Skyway reminds us of the value of slowing down and savoring the journey.

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