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Land of the Waterfalls Loop Ride

Total Distance :: 175 miles

Driving Time :: 5 hours riding time, make a day of it

Ride Summary :

This loop ride near the south end of the Blue Ridge Parkway takes you to some of the best of the tourist sites that draw so many to the Smoky Mountains-waterfalls, rugged mountain scenes, stunning long range views, and whitewater rivers, but you'll be sharing the ride with all those other visitors. Despite the traffic, this route should be at the top of your must-do list. You'll always remember it.

Ride Description

Start and end the ride at Milepost 455.7 on the Blue Ridge Parkway just up the hill from Maggie Valley. A good place to grab breakfast or end your day is the Riders Roost Restaurant just 1.3 miles from the parkway on the Maggie Valley side of the hill. Head west on US 19 (Soco Road) from the Parkway to Cherokee.

Pass by Cherokee on US 19 to continue into Bryson City. Now prosperous from the casino you'll pass, the town hosts a number of great ways to experience the Cherokee heritage and history as well as all the touristy trappings.

Wind along the river on US 19 into Bryson City. Turn right when you reach the stop light downtown, then left to continue on US 19. Bryson City is home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. You'll find restaurants and shops near the historic train station if you go into town.

Get on the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway (US 19 / 74) 3.5 miles west of town for a brief stretch on the scenic four lane at the Alarka Road exit. If you're getting low on fuel, now's the time to top up.

In 5.3 miles, four lane US 74 will split. Veer left to stay on US 19 / 74 and enter the Nantahala River Gorge. Food, refreshments, and bathrooms are available at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Cruise along the whitewater river enjoying sights of rafters and kayakers on the chilly river.

Watch for the left turn onto Wayah Road near the end of the gorge and follow it as it traces the course of the river to the heights of alpine Nantahala Lake. Wind across the top of the mountain then plunge down the back side on a long stretch of road through the wilds of the national forest. Be wary of loose gravel on this road, the surface can be slippery, especially in the turns.

You'll reach a stop sign when you reach Old Murphy Road and the little Loafer's Glory Store, a popular spot for a break and fuel. Turn left onto Old Murphy Road to go into Franklin (or right to get on the four lane and bypass town).

Follow the signs in Franklin to make the right turn onto NC 28 south and leave town behind. Passing under US 441, follow US 64 / NC 28 into the Cullasaja River Gorge. The road twists and turns through the spectacular scenery of this beautiful area. There are four superb roadside waterfalls as you wind your way into Highlands with its shops and cafes.

Turn right in Highlands at the traffic light to stay on US 64 east. Enjoy the ride throughout the outstanding scenery of Sapphire Valley with glimpses of looming domed rock faces above.

As you come into Cashiers, a popular BBQ restaurant is located on the right about 1/2 mile before you reach the traffic light at NC 107. Continue east on US 64. You pass over Toxaway Falls on US 64. It's difficult to get a really good view of the falls, but worth the try. A few miles further, it's easy to miss a great panoramic overlook when a straight stretch of road suddenly darts around a corner. Watch for the pull out at the turn and get the photo.

Continue to follow twisty US 64 east, then watch for the left turn onto NC 215 just outside of Rosman. When the tight road opens up a little, the turn is just around a corner.

Enjoy the challenging climb on NC 215 to reach the highest section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The last chance for gas is found in tiny Balsam Grove, it will be almost 50 miles to the next station.

Get back on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the top of the climb at Beech Gap Milepost 423.3 and head towards Cherokee. The remaining stretch on the Blue Ridge Parkway includes the highest point, Waterrock Knob, and a wealth of overlooks with outstanding long range views of the mountains. Time it right and you'll enjoy the sunset as you wrap up your long day.

Interactive Map

To use the interactive map, you can click on any of the waypoints for more information (see key below map for details on the different waypoint icon types). You can also click on the route segments for detailed directions. Since we use the Google Maps interface, you can pan and zoom easily. Also, you can drag the "Person Icon" above the zoom bar to the route for a 360° tour using Google Maps Streetview system.

Map Key: Start of Ride Start of Ride Intersection Marker Intersection Marker Scenic Point Scenic Point End of Ride End of Ride

Elevation Profile

Key numbers correspond to mile points as listed in the Mile by Mile Directions below.
Waterfalls Loop Elevation Profile

Elevation Information

  • Lowest Point: 1738'
  • Highest Point: 6049'
  • Average Elevation: 3160'

Grade Information

  • Max Uphill Grade: 11.5%
  • Max Downhill Grade: -15%
  • Avg Grade: 3%

Mile by Mile Directions

  • Mile 0 :: Blue Ridge Parkway at the Soco Gap Exit for US 19 at MP 455.7. Head west by taking a right onto US 19 to Cherokee
  • Mile 12 ::  Cherokee, NC
  • Mile 22.1 ::  Stoplight in Bryson City. Turn right, then curve left to continue on US 19
  • Mile 26.3 :: US 19 will connect with US 74. Exit to head west on US 74
  • Mile 30.9 :: Junction with NC 28 north. Veer left (south) into the Nantahala River Gorge on US 19 / 74
  • Mile 37 :: Nantahala Outdoors Center
  • Mile 44.8 :: Turn left onto Wayah Road
  • Mile 71 :: Turn left onto Old Murphy Road to go through Franklin (Old Murphy Road becomes w Palmer Street). Follow the signs to get on NC 28 / US 64  south
  • Mile 76.7 :: Turn right onto NC 28 South to exit town
  • Mile 78 :: Pass under US 441 or use exit from highway (if you bypassed town) to get on NC 28 south / US 64 east. There are four superb roadside waterfalls as you wind your way into Highlands with its shops and cafes
  • Mile 95.1 :: Stoplight in downtown Highlands. Turn left to continue on US 64
  • Mile 105 :: Junction with NC 107 in Cashiers. Continue on US 64 east. You pass over Toxaway Falls on US 64. It's difficult to get a really good view of the falls, but worth the try
  • Mile 125 :: Turn left onto NC 215 (Parkway Road) and follow to the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Mile 142 :: Blue Ridge Parkway Beech Gap exit at Milepost 423.3 - will take a left from NC 215. Head towards Cherokee by taking a right onto the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Mile 162 :: Junction -  Blue Ridge Parkway passes over Great Smoky Mountains Expressway
  • Mile 175 :: Blue Ridge Parkway at the Soco Gap Exit for US 19 at MP 455.7


American Rides MapsThis motorcycle ride was contributed by Wayne Busch from America Rides Maps. It is one of many great rides featured in the Blue Ridge Parkway Series of Motorcycle Maps. You may purchase this map and other America Rides Maps at the Virtual Blue Ridge Bookstore.