Scenic Byways Offer The Road Less Traveled
The Blue Ridge Parkway is arguably North Carolina’s most famous drive for viewing spectacular fall colors, but other lesser-known mountain routes make for equally impressive leaf watching. Avoid the crowds by hopping on one of these North Carolina Scenic Byways.
The Cherohala Skyway shares a national scenic byway designation with the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it often draws comparisons to its better-known cousin due to its scenic attractions and natural topography. The route follows N.C. 143 in far western North Carolina, straddling national forests in North Carolina and Tennessee. From Robbinsville, follow N.C. 143 West for 12 miles until reaching the scenic overlook that marks the beginning of the byway. From there, the Cherohala Skyway weaves westward through the southern Appalachians, passing overlooks, trails and pull-offs along the way that make perfect spots for leaf viewing.
Length: 20 miles
Drive time: 45 minutes
NOTE: The Cherohala Skyway (N.C. 143) in western Graham County is currently closed due to a landslide. The western end of the Skyway is closed at the Tennessee border. The eastern end is closed at Joyce Kilmer Road (S.R. 1159).
Visit the North Carolina Department of Transportation for travel updates and detour information.
Vivid fall color amidst a stunning backdrop of numerous waterfalls makes Whitewater Way a unique place for leaf watching. The byway begins at the intersection of U.S. 64 and N.C. 281 in the village of Sapphire. Follow N.C. 281 South for two miles to reach the access area for Horse Pasture River and Falls. Here, trails lead visitors along the river to a series of waterfalls with names like Drift, Rainbow, Stairway and Mist. Continuing along N.C. 281 the byway passes through the 1.4-million-acre Nantahala National Forest before reaching the entrance to Whitewater Falls Scenic Area about 8.5 miles from Sapphire. An overlook for this 411-foot waterfall, the highest east of the Rockies, is just a short stroll from the parking area. The end of Whitewater Way is located less than a mile from this point on N.C. 281.
Length: 9 miles
Drive time: 20 minutes
Counties: Jackson, Transylvania
For many, no trip to the mountains is complete without a stop at Mast General Store – and catching a glimpse of the original Mast General, built in 1882, is one of the major attractions of the Mission Crossing byway. Quaint towns, rustic barns and beautiful fall colors are additional reasons to make the drive. The byway begins near the Avery County community of Cranberry and follows N.C. 194 through the Elk River Valley to Banner Elk. From here, the route descends into the Watauga River Valley and passes through Valle Crucis, home to the original Mast General Store and the 19th century Mast Farm Inn. Mission Crossing ends in the Watauga County community of Vilas at the intersection of N.C. 194 and U.S. 321/421 north of Boone.
Length: 17 miles
Drive time: 45 minutes
Counties: Avery, Watauga
Go here to view an interactive map of N.C. Scenic Byways, download a PDF of the Scenic Byways guide, or find more information on these routes.
added: November 3, 2010
updated: January 17, 2013
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