Cherohala Skyway

A National Scenic Byway

Cherohala Skyway

Cherohala Skyway near Robbinsville

Length: 20 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes
County: Smoky Mountains & Cherokee

The Cherohala Skyway is a National Scenic Byway that draws its name from the two national forests it connects – the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. It’s often compared to the Blue Ridge Parkway because of its scenic attractions and natural landscape.

To reach the Skyway, drive west on N.C. 143 from Robbinsville for 12 miles.

Look for a scenic overlook and sign that marks the beginning of the Scenic Byway. There’s an information kiosk here that offers an opportunity to enjoy the tranquil view while learning about the development of the Skyway and its recreational opportunities.

Take time at this overlook to view the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, which was dedicated on July 30, 1936, to the late author of the poem Trees. This pristine forest includes poplar, hemlock and oak trees. Some tulip poplars have grown in excess of 100 feet high and 20 feet in circumference. You can see more than 100 species of trees here while hiking 60-plus miles of trails. Contact the Cheoah Ranger District at (828) 479-6431 or cheoahrd@fs.fed.us for more information on the forests, the adjoining Slickrock Wilderness Area and nearby Lake Santeetlah.

You’ll begin your drive at Santeetlah Gap and ascend along Cedar Top Mountain.

This peak joins with Little Huckleberry Knob, Hooper’s Bald, Laurel Top and John’s Knob to form the backbone of the Skyway. The route weaves westward through these southern Appalachian Mountains, which were formed more than 200 million years ago and are considered the oldest in the world. There are many overlooks, trail access points and pull-offs along the drive, so be alert for both pedestrians and bicyclists along the way.

Continue on the route westward through mountains to the highest point along the Skyway, 5,429-foot Hooper’s Bald.

This spot 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. You can turn around at this overlook or continue into Tennessee on S.R. 165.

Native Americans first occupied Graham County before the progression of settlers reached the territory in the early 1830s. Early homesteaders followed their paths and game trails into this land. Then, 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. Today, hardwood and coniferous trees abound throughout these mountains thanks to the U.S. Forest Service, but the many balds in the area are evidence of past destruction. These bare, grassy, rocky and partially barren knobs mark some of the highest points along the route.

North Carolina Department of Transportation

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