When it comes to motorcycle roads that challenge your skills and send your senses reeling, North Carolina has it covered. This state was created for motorcycling, with twisty roads galore, more than you can find time to ride. The twists and turns of the mountain roads amid stunning scenery have elevated North Carolina to one of the best motorcycle destinations in all of America. Meandering through the region, with the Smoky Mountains for a backdrop, the state’s roadways provide an array of riding options across a swath of beautiful and diverse landscapes.
From the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west to the Atlantic Coastal Plain area in the east and the Piedmont Plateau in the center, there are miles of fabulous roads that beckon to be explored. Whether you are a local or visiting North Carolina for the first time, you’re in for a treat. Gear up for a tour of motorcycle roads with hairpin turns, narrow lanes, steep cliffs and dizzying heights – an incredible riding experience you’ll want to relive over and over again.
Ready to put some miles in on your motorcycle and go on an electrifying riding adventure? Here are five motorcycle roads in North Carolina to get you started.
1. Tail of the Dragon, Deal’s Gap
The Tail of the Dragon, otherwise known as the Dragon (a section of U.S. Highway 129) at Deal’s Gap, is one of America’s best motorcycle and sports car roads and a bucket list item for many motorcycle enthusiasts. And it’s no surprise: with a bodacious name and 318 curves in 11 miles, what more could you wish for? For challenge and thrill, this road may have no peer. There are many sharp corners, hairpin turns, gravity drops – 11 miles of pure adrenaline rush. Definitely not for the faint of heart, it’s a very technical and challenging ride that requires skill and concentration. If you are a novice rider, maybe you’ll want to practice a little more before taking on the Dragon.
The ride begins at the intersection of NC 28 (near Franklin, NC) and US 129 (in Robbinsville, NC) and ends at the Tabcat Creek Bridge in Tennessee. It lies about 90 miles west of Asheville, connected to the Indian Lakes Scenic Byway. Following the southeastern portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there’s plenty to see, if your eyes weren’t glued to the road 99% of the time. Luckily, the twisting road through the lush forest offers several pull-offs to stop and watch the scenery, or other riders. At the route’s starting line, find two favorite biker hangouts – Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort and The Tail of the Dragon with gas, lodging and great food at Dragon’s Den Grill restaurant.
The road surface is mostly in good shape and the speed limit here is 30 mph, so it’s a fun ride, not a race. Be careful of the speed limits as they are strictly enforced, police is present and tickets are issued liberally. Also, be cautious not to ride beyond your skill or you might not ride it twice. The Tail of the Dragon claims many reckless victims every year. If your tastes run towards the macabre, you should see the “Tree of Shame” at Deal’s Resort. It’s a monument to the unfortunate souls who have wrecked their motorcycles along the Dragon. The parts of many wrecked bikes are nailed to the tree and dangle from branches.
The Tail of the Dragon is as challenging as it is exciting. The Dragon will be nice to you if you ride smart, stay alert and obey the speed limits.
2. Cherohala Skyway
If all the curves of the Tail of the Dragon make you want something more relaxing and scenic, the nearby Cherohala Skyway will give you plenty of that. It runs from Robbinsville, North Carolina to Tellico Plains, Tennessee and offers about fifty miles of some of the most amazing riding you’ll ever do! Often referred to as “a drive among the clouds”, the Skyway will take you to elevations of over 5400 feet high with countless magnificent vistas and overlooks.
Beginning near the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina, Cherohala Skyway winds up the ridge for about fifteen miles before descending another twenty plus miles into the deeply forested backcountry of Tennessee. The route passes through the Cherokee and Nantahala national forests —hence the name “Chero-hala.” It’s located near Lake Santeetlah and Fontana Lake.
The speed limit on Cherohala Skyway is 45 mph (less on the TN side) and strictly enforced. And while most of the road can be easily maneuvered at the posted speed limits, don’t let the sweeping curves and excellent road surface tempt you to ride faster. You’ll see some turns marked SLOW by locals. Those spray paint markings are there to warn you about the tighter, downhill, diminishing radius turns that catch a faster rider unaware until deep into the corner with too much speed and not enough cornering clearance or time to react. Serious injury and even death can result. So, be careful! Keep your eyes open and always ride within your stopping distance.
The eastern half of Cherohala Skyway follows NC Highway 143 (easier to find on a map) and the western half of the road follows Tennessee State Route 165. There are no facilities other than restrooms for the entire ride, so plan ahead and make sure you have enough fuel to make the crossing. Eating and lodging are available at both ends of the route. Be prepared for significant temperature swings and be sure to bring a picnic! You’ll find many tables with superb views along the way.
3. The Hellbender 28
Neighboring the Tail of the Dragon is the less known and lightly traveled, but no less awesome, motorcycle back road called the Hellbender 28 (also know as Highway 28 and Moonshiner 28). This is an exciting and refreshing ride that will keep your interest and shouldn’t be missed. The Hellbender 28 lacks the low speed limits and solid double yellows that plague the popular roads in the area. What it doesn’t lack, though, is a good mixture of hills, gentle curves, corners, sweepers, elevation changes and post card scenery! The 30 or so miles of Highway 28 that make up the Hellbender skirt the edges of Fontana Lake in North Carolina’s portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with lots of dense forest and wildlife.
Following the lay of the land, the road travels up and down several ridges with glimpses of mountains and valleys and even a huge rock face waterfall called Rainbow Falls. There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the scenery and take a break if you need. Fontana Village Resort along the route offers great lodging, fantastic service and cold beer. Here you can grab a t-shirts or a gift to commemorate your ride. Aside from the Fontana Village Resort, the only other major stop you’ll want to make is at the Fontana Dam. It’s the tallest dam in the Eastern United States (480 feet high, or an equivalent of a 50-story skyscraper) and a favorite photo op for car and motorcycle clubs.
The speed limits on the Hellbender 28 range from 35 to 55 mph with some twisties to liven things up. The road is good quality and well maintained, which adds to enjoyment of the ride. If you’re looking for a nice way to extend your tour of North Carolina, the Hellbender 28 is a perfect compliment to your ride of the Tail of the Dragon and Cherohala Skyway.
4. The Copperhead Loop
The Copperhead Loop in western North Carolina in the Asheville area has long been a “secret” among local riders because of all the characteristics that make a great ride. This route is a perfect combination of everything a motorcyclist could ask for – uphill/downhill, curves, switchbacks, sweepers, amazing views and peaceful mountain streams. The Copperhead offers many of the same thrills of other popular roads in the region, yet so much more. This isn’t just a winding road with tight corners and turns. This loop has technical curves to challenge even the most experienced rider, as well as relaxing sweeping turns and rapid elevation changes.
Pisgah National Forest
Much of the ride follows the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway through Pisgah National Forest highlighted by wonderful mountain scenery and rich local history in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along with Pisgah National Forest you’ll have a chance to explore other iconic places on this route such as Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Falls and Looking Glass Rock. The Copperhead is packed with things to see and do, including plenty hiking trails, picnic spots and waterfalls. There are many pullout stops by streams and waterfalls where you can go for a swim or have a picnic. Close to Sliding Rock is the National Forestry School Museum, which is definitely worth a visit.
The Copperhead Loop provides an easy access from major roads as well as from the Blue Ridge Parkway. It starts at the intersection of US Highway 276, NC Route 280 and US Highway 64 in Pisgah Forest, NC. Traveling north on US 276 from Pisgah Forest, you’ll be facing Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock. When you turn onto NC 215, you’ll be riding parallel to the stream and waterfalls as you climb toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you are starting in Asheville, just take NC 280 south to Brevard, NC and turn right onto US 276 as soon as you enter town. Immediately after leaving the shopping centers, you’ll enter into the tranquility of the forest. There is an easy access to the Copperhead Loop from Interstate 26. Take Exit 40 off I-26 (the Asheville Airport exit), turn toward Brevard and travel 16 miles on NC Rte. 280 south, a recently improved rural four-lane highway.
The Copperhead Loop is about 76 miles and you can ride a section of it or allow at least two hours to ride the entire route. Or better yet, plan to spend half a day or more to explore the beautiful scenery and the many points of interest along the way. Gas and food are available in Pisgah Forest and in the mountain community of Cruso. The road quality is great and there are posted speed limits that allow you to extract the maximum enjoyment from your ride without fear of breaking the law. Just remember to ride sensibly, obey the speed limits and you are guaranteed to have fun on the Copperhead Loop.
5. Shiner’s Run
Referred to as “the Rattler” by locals, Shiner’s Run is a 33-mile stretch of North Carolina State Road 209 that starts at I-40 Exit 24 and travels north to Hot Springs, NC. The ride features many challenging twisties, high-speed sweepers and long straightaways across valley floors. The scenery along the run is breathtakingly beautiful and the landscape is dotted with rocky rivers, scenic farms and old churches. At about the half-way point, the ride is highlighted by views of the beautiful long green valley of Spring Creek. Throughout the run, there are multiple points where you can stop and look out over mountain ranges and valleys as far as the eye can see.
The Trust General Store and Cafe located about 15 miles from the end point, is a must-stop on this ride. It’s a nice biker friendly place that serves good hearty portions of homestyle food. You’ll find a handful of restaurants and stores in Hot Springs, a small resort town at ride’s end. All in all, Shiner’s Run is an amazing ride and to some, even better than the Tail of the Dragon. It’s one of the better kept secrets in western North Carolina and a ride not to miss. The road is in good shape and there’s much less traffic and law enforcement here than on other nearby rides. With twists and turns and stunning scenery, Shiner’s Run is a ride that’s guaranteed to bring the wow.
These are just five of the roads that make North Carolina a world-class motorcycle riding destination. As you can see, it’s not just the stunning views over mountains and valleys which attract the riders here, but the abundance of fun, tyre-squealing bends and curves too. Come to this beautiful state and ride the rides. After you do, share your own story of which one you like better.