Where Does the Cherohala Skyway Begin? Your Guide to This Scenic Drive

Cherohala Skyway in the fall

The Cherohala Skyway is a beautiful drive any time of the year – but can be especially beautiful once the leaves begin to change in the fall (photo by Darrell Young/stock.adobe.com)

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There’s a road running across the mountains connecting Tellico Plains, Tennessee to Robbinsville, North Carolina.

And if you catch it on the right day, when the sky is the right blue and fluffy white clouds dot just the right places, it seems like the top of the world. 

How many miles is the Cherohala Skyway?

Of course, the 43-mile ribbon that is the Cherohala Skyway isn’t exactly a secret. 

The National Scenic Byway is frequently traveled and well-publicized. It connects the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests (Chero … hala) which collectively draws millions of visitors each year.

But while millions have been to the mountains, I can promise you millions haven’t been to Tellico Plains. It’s a sleepy little mountain town right on the edge of where it starts to get wild. 

Importantly, it should be noted that other than a couple of outhouses and a handful of picnic tables, there aren’t a lot of facilities along the way.

Make sure you’re good and gassed up and maybe use the restroom before starting your adventure. 


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Bald River Falls along the Cherohala Skyway
Bald River Falls is a quick detour from the Cherohala Skyway (photo by Rahul/stock.adobe.com)

How long does it take to do the Cherohala Skyway?

The Cherohala Skyway drive is a little bit over an hour if you don’t stop for the sights.

But that would be a mistake.

Sometimes it’s done significantly faster by motorcycle riders looking for the thrills offered by its cousin to the north, the infamous Tail of the Dragon.

There is less traffic and less chance for police interference on the Skyway.

Editor’s note: Please drive safely on the winding curves.

Where does the Cherohala Skyway begin?

On the Tennessee side, the Cherohala Skyway begins alongside the banks of the Tellico River, a premier trout fishing stream. 

As you start your journey, stop by the Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center at 225 Cherohala Skyway, Tellico Plains, TN. They are open 9 am-5 pm.

There are some beautiful cascading falls near the Tellico River Gorge where the Skyway diverges from the river and climbs higher up into the mountains.

In the winter, I have seen those falls frozen over. I have seen pictures of people posing on the frozen water, but I don’t recommend that. 

Read Also: Best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains: Our top 5 ranked

Take the side trip up to Indian Boundary Lake, a tiny lake situated at the top of the mountains. In truth, it’s one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen.

In addition, at the Indian Boundary Lake Recreation Area, there’s a campground and picnic area with a swim beach and fantastic hiking options. It offers spectacular mountain views and occasional wildlife viewings.

And when you’re up there by yourself, it’s possibly the most peaceful spot in the mountains. 

It’s heavenly. 

Lake view overlook along the Cherohala Skyway
A view from Lake View Overlook along the Cherohala Skyway (photo by Jim Vallee/stock.adobe.com)

Cherohala Skyway overlooks

Not far from the turnoff for Indian Boundary Lake is the Turkey Creek Overlook, a pull-off that offers a panoramic view of the mountains below, and there are toilet facilities on hand. 

The Turkey Creek Overlook is one of five along the route. 

Once you cross into North Carolina, you can park and hike to Huckleberry Knob. The trail is 1.7 miles and is good for most hiking skill levels.

The trail is known for its beautiful wildflowers and is dog friendly if they are kept on a leash. At the end of the hike, Huckleberry Knob features 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. 

Not far from the Huckleberry Knob parking area is the Spirit Ridge Observation Deck, a good spot for families with kids to get out and “hike.”

The trail is more of a paved path and is friendly for most skill levels. It runs through a beautiful forest setting to an overlook deck that can offer scenic views in the right conditions. 

Santeetlah Overlook, at 5,390 feet elevation, rivals the Blue Ridge Parkway elevations. It is the highest point on the Skyway.

Read Also: Where is Newfound Gap? A guide to the most scenic drive in the Smokies

Indian Boundary Recreation Area
The Indian Boundary Recreation Area is located along the Skyway (photo by ehrlif/stock.adobe.com)

Is the Tail of the Dragon on the Cherohala Skyway?

As you exit the Skyway, you’ll see the somewhat confusingly named Tail of the Dragon Family Rentals which offers scenic rental homes and mountain adventures.

While the facility is just a mile from the Cherohala Skyway, it’s about 20 miles from the Tail of the Dragon, which runs along Highway 129 and comes out near Maryville on the Tennessee side. 

You can make the trip along the Skyway and back in about 2.5 hours if you don’t stop for anything. I don’t recommend it.

Both Tellico and Robbinsville offer fun little mountain getaways and things to do outside of the more well-traveled tourist routes. 

Take your time, soak up the view and enjoy the experience. Enjoy the hiking and waterfalls along the route. Many of the overlooks along the way make for excellent picnic spots, as do the facilities at Indian Boundary Lake. 

Read Also: Tips for riding The Tail of The Dragon, the most dangerous highway in TN

Is the Cherohala Skyway open?

It is also important to note that the Skyway does not close in the winter months due to inclement weather.

The Visitor Center is open Monday-Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. Visit their social media page to learn more and view current updates.

Also, be sure to check out a detailed weather report before venturing across in the colder months. Just because the road is open, it doesn’t mean it will be an easy drive.  

Have you visited the Cherohala Skyway? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.

Click here to view the web story version of this article.

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John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

13 thoughts on “Where Does the Cherohala Skyway Begin? Your Guide to This Scenic Drive”

  1. We rode our Goldwing motorcycle on it right after it opened with friends. Delightful!!!

  2. “Sometimes it’s done significantly faster by motorcycle riders looking for the thrills offered by its cousin to the north, the infamous Tail of the Dragon.”

    Why “infamous”?

  3. It is also beautiful after a big snowfall, when all the trees are covered in white. I lived right outside of Tellico Plains for 3 years and miss that drive and Bald River Falls so very much. Such a beautiful area.

  4. I think it’s important to not just put a simple “drive safely” disclaimer statement to accurately describe the extra legal driving experience on this route. Despite having more and sharper turns, the Dragon speeds can’t approach those possible on the Skyway. That doesn’t tell the whole tale. The Skyway is a much more technical drive due to the fact that many turns go negative camber before, during, or right after hitting the apex. This sets up a very dangerous scenario where the driver cannot correct for speed, steering angle, and weight transfer causing a loss of control that can be unrecoverable. The Dragon, due to design, and congestion, is much more manageable as the turns are positive camber and speeds seldom exceed 45 mph. Tire heat is the enemy there and can begin to pick up rocks after a few sets of chicanes. That also can cause a sudden, unrecoverable loss of traction. Only experienced drivers that know the Skyway should attempt any amount of hooliganism. The Skyway also has significantly more fine rock crush that can’t be seen or anticipated being less traveled. The Dragon stays swept from traffic volumes. Be aware as well the weather on the Skyway can turn to snow once above about 3500ft. Summer tires need not apply here in fall and winter…

  5. Before kids, my husband and I would accompany the Plantation Jeep Club for a week of camping and wheeling in Tellico Plains. One of my best memories is when we took a Scenic Drive along the Cherohalla Skyway. It was in October and the crisp weather and colors of Fall made for a most memorable experience.

  6. Beautiful, informative article!
    I feel sure I can look it up on Google, or whomever, maps, but the article didn’t exactly answer the question in the title. At least the title got me to read it! 😄

  7. It Is the most beautiful motorcycle ride I’ve ever been on and a lot less traffic than the dragon..
    I love the dragon as well but a lot of foolish bikers on it that can involve you in a wreck…I’ll take the chatahulah every time but if you do it 0ne way in less than 1hour and 45 minutes you missed a ton of very nice country

  8. I have ridden both at a speed suitable for myself. What a beautiful ride/drive. I have some very fond memories there. Yes, it can be a very technical ride/drive if you aren’t familiar as someone posted above, which is why I took it at a speed more suitable for flatlands such as myself.

  9. We drove the skyway in late December one year, and began the drive noting what a beautiful light snow was falling. That “light snow” became progressively heavier and deeper as we climbed, and we found ourselves barely able to make some of the steeper grades! After attempting to exit and finding that road closed, we almost got stranded before getting back on the main road and heading back safely to Tellico Plains. An adventure for sure! We drove the same route a few months later and loved every minute of it!

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