Scenic Driving North Carolina
by Laurence Parent (Falcon Guides)
© Laurence Parent/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.
Wow, this was fun. We completed the entire journey from the entrance at Wolf Laurel Gap...to the top of Balsam Mtn...and down the old railroad bed. In all about 3 hours worth of driving. The start is a well maintained road off the Blue Ridge Parkway with several overlooks and general Smokies scenary. Once you reach the top and begin the descent on the on the old railroad bed; the fun really begins. While this is passable in a car, we came down in a Jeep Wrangler. Top speed was in the 15 MPH range for about 25 miles on "unmaintained" roadway. The bumps and bounces would have been pretty rough in a sedan, but were great in the Jeep. The trails.com report is very accurate, but some of the markers were very difficult to see...you'll have to pay close attention. The trees, canopy, streams, views are all spectacular. Since we did this in July, the trees shade the entire trip, and obstruct the views somewhat. I can only imagine what this is like in the fall color!! About two thirds of the way down, we encountered a major summer thunderstorm which made life quite interesting. Rushing water on the roadway resulted in several "splash and go" moments (again this was great fun in the jeep), and a little "slickness" to the drive. The river bottom is beautiful, and having the trail end in Cherokee made for a nice tourist shopping experience at the end.
This is a trail that deserves a special mention. It has a personality and uniqueness all of its own. After driving an hour and thirty minutes from Asheville, we arrived at the very inconspicious, almost hidden entry to the Great Smoky National Park. Directions from Trails.com were concise and accurate. The first thing noticed after starting the ride up Straight Creek Road (smooth, hard pack gravel) was the vibrant sound of rushing water tumbling down and over the boulder strewn Straight Creek, just a few feet from the road bed. Clear and cold and alive would be the way to describe the creek. My wife and I had packed our fly-fishing gear on the backs of the bikes for a little stop-fish and ride experience. The mild incline of the road is suited for a slow ride to appreciate the beauty of the creek and surrounding mountain forest. After 4 miles of seemingly endless pools of water (with visible trout) created by countless small waterfalls and frequent stops to wet a line (we caught some colorful brookies)the road is barricaded to vehiclesfor the installation of a bridge to replace a low water crossing. Along the way we encountered several groups of fly-fishermen and two cars of families taking in the scenery. At the bridge two streams merge at this point to create Straight Creek. Be sure to take some time to observe the pool on the left of the bridge. The road bears to the right and leaves the creek only to border another creek on the right. This one is smaller and more primitive. The road is baricaded again with a lock bar across it At this point and for the next 3 miles that we biked the road has a steeper incline and frequent turns. The isolation we felt was inspiring and gave us the feeling that no one had been here for quite a while. We rode to about 4000 ft. elevation (starting was about 3100ft)and had to turn back for a rollercoaster ride due to time. I wish I could share the pictures we took. Highly recomended for the beauty!
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