Nantahala Byway - Mountain Scenic Drives
Begin the byway in Marble as the four lanes of U.S. 19/74/129 take motorists through eight miles of farming valley to Andrews. The community of Marble, founded in 1911, was so named because it is near the state’s largest marble deposit. This marble, in addition to other mineral resources found in this area, is of such high quality that it was used extensively at Arlington National Cemetery. The valley has very rich soil which helps the crops on either side of the road. The soil was deposited by the Valley River which flows on the eastern side of the valley towards the Hiawasee River in Murphy.
At Andrews, named for the man who developed the Western North Carolina Railroad, turn right onto U.S. 19 Business and drive through this turn-of-the-century mountain town. Meet back with U.S.19/129 on the north side of town where the road becomes two lanes.
From Andrews it is approximately seven miles to the community of Topton. The Indian Lakes Scenic Byway intersects at this point and runs north on U.S. 129. For the next 20 miles you will be passing through the Nantahala Gorge. First cross the Nantahala River. At the Clay and Macon County Line look for the 360-foot Camp Branch Falls just before entering the community of Nantahala, founded in 1882. This is where the gorge’s true nature begins. Notice that the U.S. Forest Service Scenic Byway ‘Mountain Waters’ merges with our byway just prior to Nantahala. The Nantahala Gorge was called the “Land of the Midday Sun.” From this phrase, the Cherokee Indians derived the name “Nantahala” because of its depth and steep walls. It is a world-class white-water rafting spot.
During the warmer months many rafting companies provide tours, while kayaking and canoeing enthusiasts enjoy it well into the winter. Occasionally, you will see slalom gates for races which are held on the river. For those who prefer a less energetic ride, the main boat drop point near the southern end of the gorge provides the calmest water.
The route occasionally provides a glimpse of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad (GSMR) which snakes through the gorge following U.S. 19/74. Visitors are encouraged to take a ride and enjoy the scenery at a different pace. The railroad operates from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and reservations are recommended. (For more information about the GSMR, call 1-800-872-4681.)
It is seven miles from Nantahala to the community of Wesser, named for a hunter who lived here. At Wesser, the Nantahala River and the road are no longer parallel. Two miles north of Wesser on U.S. 19/74, cross the Little Tennessee River.
From the community of Lauada, one mile north of the Little Tennessee, continue for four miles on the divided highway portion of U.S. 19/74 to the second Bryson City exit. Bryson City, the Swain County seat founded in 1887, sits in a bowl formed by the Tuckasegee River and the Cowee Mountain Range (see inset). Exit and turn left onto Spring Street and follow for approximately one-half mile on four lanes to the stoplight at Main Street (U.S. 19 Business). Turn left onto Main and go one-tenth of a mile to the stoplight at Slope Street (S.R. 1323). Turn right at the light onto Slope Street. Cross the Tuckasegee River and turn right on Gibson Avenue (S.R. 1321). Turn right again onto Everett Street (S.R. 1364) at the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad station. Information on train excursions may be obtained here.
In Bryson City, notice the monuments for Tsali, a Cherokee warrior who was executed in 1838 for resisting the removal of his Cherokee people from the Southern Appalachian Region, and Yonaguska, Chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee who lived here in 1839.
Turn left at the Swain County Courthouse back onto Main Street (also U.S. 19 Business). Follow U.S. 19 Business about two miles and turn right onto Hyatt Creek Road (S.R. 1168). For the next three miles follow Hyatt Creek Road as it parallels the Tuckasegee River just above its banks.
The road passes through portions of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation’s reservation. The Qualla Reservation got its name from the Cherokee word meaning “old woman” for an old Indian woman who lived on these lands. Established in 1838 with more than 63,000 acres, it is the largest Indian reservation east of the Mississippi.
Turn right onto U.S. 19 Business after crossing the river. Continue on U.S. 19 for seven-tenths of a mile. Turn right onto Old U.S. 19 (S.R. 1195), cross the Oconaluftee River just above its junction with the Tuckasegee. Follow S.R. 1195 for 1.8 miles to the Jackson County line where it becomes Old U.S. 19 (S.R. 1531). The route ends nearly one mile later at Whittier where S.R. 1531 meets with U.S. 74.
Length: 43 miles
Driving Time: 1.5 hours
Counties: Cherokee, Graham, Jackson, Swain
courtesy of NC Department of Transportation
courtesy of NC Department of Transportation
added: September 15, 2009
updated: September 25, 2009