9 Smoky Mountain Motorcycle Rides to Try Before You Die
Thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts flock to Maggie Valley, NC to take on some of the most famous rides this side of the Mississippi. The Smokies are home to heart-pounding curves and turns that snake along scenic mountain views, serving up thrilling doses of adventure and freedom.
Local motorcycle enthusiast, Larry Schatz, has been riding motorcycles in the Great Smoky Mountains for the past twenty-five years and logs about 10,000 miles locally on his bike every year. “To motorcyclists in-the-know,” he says, “Western North Carolina and the Smoky Mountains represent some of the best riding east of the Mississippi. From high elevations with sweeping mountain views to gorges with technical turns, the motorcycling experience here is diverse and exhilarating. Many of the roads here, like the Tail of the Dragon, the Rattler, and Cherohala Skyway, are the bucket list items of riders from around the world.”
What are you waiting for? Get your bike out of the garage, hit the open road, and fly like the wind down these 9 epic Smoky Mountain motorcycle rides.
With 318 curves packed into 11 adrenaline-pumping miles, the Tail of the Dragon on US-129 is America’s number one motorcycle road and one of the most exciting on our list. With no intersecting roads or driveways to slow you down, you’ll have the ultimate freedom to see what your bike is really made of. The surrounding woodlands of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest create the perfect scenic woodland backdrop, but let’s be honest – the road is why you’re here. And the road is where you’ll need to keep your focus because these twisty turns and steep climbs and descents are no joke.
If there are too many other riders hogging the roads on the Tail of the Dragon, give The Rattler a shot. Packed with over 234 twists and turns, you’ll find it to be just as wild as The Tail but nowhere near as crowded. Cruise 37 miles on the NC-209 between Hot Springs, NC and Lake Junaluska, NC for some of the most exciting curves, s-turns, switchbacks, and straightaways in the area. Novice riders may want to go slow on this one – it’s definitely a challenge. The mountain climbs and thrilling speeds are evenly spaced between gentle valleys, rushing rivers, and gorgeous scenery. You can even pull off in Hot Springs and grab a bite to eat or soak your tired muscles in the natural hot spring waters.
Thunder Road is one of the most breathtaking motorcycle rides in the entire Smoky Mountains. Surprisingly, it’s also one of the least traveled routes on our list. Beginning and ending in Maggie Valley, this 140-mile lollipop-type ride on US 74 takes you on an awe-inspiring route along the gorgeous Nantahala River. Take advantage of the many turnouts to stop and soak up the views of the river as whitewater rafters paddle down the rapids. Wayah Road, also called Thunder Road by locals, continues along the river all the way to Lake Nantahala. Heads up – this section has some waterfalls along with the epic curves going up to Wayah Gap, plus multiple back to back switchbacks on the downhill side. So, basically, just keep your eyes on the road. so keep your eyes on the road.
As its name suggests, the Cherohala Skyway takes riders to high elevations with spectacular mountain views. For 18 miles in western North Carolina, the Skyway winds its way through the Cherokee National Forest, increasing in altitude to over 5,400 feet. Then, it twists and turns for 23 miles down into the mountainous backcountry of eastern Tennessee’s Nantahala National Forest. The Skyway is a wide open road with very little congestion and delivers unobstructed and awe-inspiring views at multiple scenic overlooks along the way.
If you are staying at the Meadowlark in Maggie Valley, take a ride over to Cataloochee Valley to see if you can spot any elk in the fields. (Pro tip: if you want to see elk, don’t ride with a loud muffler. It will scare them away.) The views are absolutely stunning and a lot of the road is unpaved gravel with no guard rails, amping up the adventure factor. There may even be more curves per mile on this road than on the Tail of the Dragon.
If you like the Tail of the Dragon, you’ll enjoy Moonshiner 28 too. It’s quickly becoming one of the great must-ride roads in western North Carolina. Stretching from US 129 at the Tail, Moonshiner 28 winds its way southeastward for 103 miles through Franklin and Highlands, North Carolina before turning southward into Georgia and South Carolina and ending at the sleepy town of Walhalla.
Once one of the major runs for moonshiners with revenuers hot on their tails, these days the road boasts some great curves with wide sweepers and spectacular mountain scenery. Panoramic lookouts, waterfalls and secluded lakes are hiding around nearly every corner. You can even find good food, accommodations of every type and unique shops with unusual antiques and crafts created by local mountain artisans.
This short but exciting route packs a lot of twisty, scenic fun into 77 miles. The Copperhead Loop used to be a tightly held secret among North Carolina Locals, but over the last several years it has become a highly sought-after Smoky Mountain motorcycle ride. Take on the challenge of sharp turns and sweeping curves while escaping into the beauty of nature. You can fly down the road for the thrill of the ride, then turn around at the end and take it slow on your way back. Stop along the way and savor relaxing water features like Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Falls, Sunburst Falls, and Lake Logan. With little traffic, it often feels like you have the entire road to yourself.
A nice day trip, this 168 mile run takes you through the curvy and scenic Chimney Rock and Lake Lure areas. Hop on US 276 and take on twists and turns that ride as smooth as mountain music. Then, when you get to Chimney Rock Park, be sure to drive all the way to the top of the Chimney to take in the fantastic views overlooking Hickory Nut Gorge. (Don’t forget your camera!) Hop back on your bike and continue on to the glistening Lake Lure, then round out your ride with a return trip along the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway – a Smoky Mountain motorcycle ride in its own right!
The Bobarosa Saloon is in Del Rio, TN on the banks of the French Broad River and is a great place to grab some lunch while sitting on the deck overlooking the river. To get there take The Rattler, and be sure to stop by the Trust General Store in Trust, NC – a favorite place to stop for a short break. This twisty 148-mile ride takes about 5 hours and is worth every second.
Book a room with us and use the Meadowlark as a home base for your next Smoky Mountain motorcycle getaway. Hang out under our BackPorch Pavilion and swap stories around the campfire with fellow riders. And later, you can visit the Wheels Through Time Museum that’s right down the road. In between rides, you can visit the museum to explore the world’s premier collection of rare American motorcycles, memorabilia, and a distinct array of unique “one-off” American automobiles.
Owner Joseph Franklyn McElroy hosts Gateway to the Smokies Podcast – in this episode they talk about road-side life as well as great motorcycle rides!