Scenic Drives & Small Towns In The Mountains
Everyone knows the NC mountains are the perfect place to see spectacular fall color, but there are also rivers, railroads, waterfalls and scenic mountain towns to explore. Be sure you have plenty of memory in your camera when you head out on these scenic drives, because Western North Carolina is ready for its close-up!
Pacolet River Byway
The Pacolet River Byway begins at the South Carolina state line and traces U.S. 176 through the Tryon Thermal Belt, an unusual microclimate area ordinarily free of dew and frost, to the town of Saluda. This valley road crosses the Pacolet River several times and parallels the Saluda Grade, the steepest mainline railroad grade in the United States.
Old railroad depots, log cabins, a vaudeville/movie theater and several other historic buildings are in the towns of Saluda and Tryon. Pearson’s Falls Natural Heritage Site, near Saluda, is a 259-acre botanical wonderland wherevisitors may hike, bird watch or picnic.
The byway ends where U.S. 176 crosses High Bridge at the Henderson County line.
Length: 10 miles
Drive Time: 20 minutes
Upper Yadkin Way
The Upper Yadkin Way byway takes motorists on a scenic adventure through the state’s northern foothills. The route’s eastern terminus is near the W. Kerr Scott Reservoir in Goshen at the intersection of N.C. 268 and Resevoir Road (S.R. 1178). Follow N.C. 268 west toward Goshen. The reservoir was formed in 1962 for flood control and recreation and named for North Carolina Gov. W. Kerr Scott, who served from 1949 to 1952.
Pastures and farmland can be seen along this segment of N.C. 268 between Goshen and Ferguson, which follows the Yadkin River from the mountains through the foothills. The Yadkin River rises in Watauga County, near Blowing Rock, to the west. It eventually becomes a part of the Pee Dee River bordering Montgomery and Stanly counties.
Wilkesboro and Wilkes County were named for John Wilkes, an English political leader who supported American rights in the Revolutionary War era. The county was formed in 1778 and nearby Wilkesboro, the county seat, was laid out in 1801.
Not far from N.C. 268, in southwest Wilkes County near the town of Ferguson, is the grave of Thomas C. Dula. He is perhaps best remembered in the folk song “Tom Dooley,” and was hung in Statesville for themurder of Laura Foster in 1868. Patterson, founded in 1851 with a textile-based economy, was named for Samuel F. Patterson, a prominent state official. The Morgan School at Patterson Reserve is named in honor of Samuel Legerwood Patterson and located on the plantation lands he gave to the school.
The upper Yadkin River in Caldwell County is known as “Happy Valley,” and was the site of prominent early settlers’ residences. South of Patterson is Fort Defiance, the restored 1790 house of Gen. William Lenoir, a Revolutionary leader and hero at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The house stands on the site of a frontier fort of the same name. It is open for tours the first and third Sundays of the month from April through November.
The byway’s eastern end is located at the intersection of N.C. 268 and U.S. 321 north of Lenoir, at the edge of the Pisgah National Forest. Now the Caldwell County seat, Lenoir was named for Gen. Lenoir. A few miles to the north is the resort community of Blowing Rock.
Length: 25 miles
Drive Time: 40 minutes
Counties: Wilkes and Caldwell
The Cherohala Skyway is a national scenic byway often compared to the Blue Ridge Parkway because of its scenic attractions and natural topography. The skyway serves as a connector between the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina,thus the name Cherohala. The route is located in rural western Graham County and is designated as N.C. 143.
American Indians first occupied Graham County before the progression of settlers reached the territory in the early 1830s. Early homesteaders followed American Indian paths and game trails into this land.
The route is accessible by driving on N.C. 143 West from Robbinsville for 12 miles. A scenic overlook and sign mark the beginning of the scenic byway. An information kiosk at this scenic overlook offers motorists an opportunity to enjoy the tranquil view while learning about the development of the skyway and its recreational opportunities.
Also at this overlook, visitors can view the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, which was dedicated on July 30, 1936, to the late author of the poem “Trees.” This pristine forest, one of the finest stands of its type in America, includes poplar, hemlock and oak. Some tulip-poplars have grown in excess of 100 feet high and 20 feet in circumference. More than 100 species of trees can be seen here while hiking on more than 60 miles of trails. Contact the U.S.Forest Service or the Cheoah Ranger Station for further information on the forest, the adjoining Slickrock Wilderness Area and nearby Lake Santeetlah.
The byway begins at Santeetlah Gap and ascends along Cedar Top Mountain. This peak joins with Little Huckleberry Knob, Hooper’s Bald, Laurel Top and John’s Knob to form the back bone of the byway. The route weaves westward through these southern Appalachian Mountains. They are considered to be some of the oldest in the world, formed more than 200 million years ago. Many overlooks, trail access points and pull-offs are along the drive. Motorists should be alert for both pedestrians and bicyclists along the route.
Hardwood and coniferous trees abound throughout these mountains thanks to the U.S. Forest Service. Following the Civil War, large lumber companies moved in and systematically cleared large swaths of forest. In 1911, the federal government began to acquire and protect these lands.The forests’ destruction is evidenced by the number of balds along the route. These bare, grassy, rocky and partially barren knobs mark some of the highest points along the route. Hooper’s Bald, at 5,429 feet, is the highest spot along the skyway.
Hooper’s Bald was once the location of a private hunting preserve stocked with buffalo, wild boar, elk, mule-deer, bear,wild turkeys and pheasants. The gameland preserve failed, but the wild boars still in the area attest to its presence. From Hooper’s Bald travel 5.5 miles to the Beech Gap Overlook at the Tennessee state line, where the skyway ends.
Motorists may turn around at this overlook or continue into Tennessee on S.R 165.
Length: 20 miles
Drive Time: 45 minutes
Note: Tractor-trailer trucks are prohibited on this road and the route is not recommended for recreational vehicles or buses.
Scenic Drives Courtesy of NCDOT - Scenic Byways Program
Courtesy of NCDOT
added: December 12, 2008
updated: May 4, 2009
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