Western NC and Eastern TN: A Treasure Trove of Fun Roads

Chock full of National Forests and even a few National Parks, the southeastern United States is a great place not only for the nature lover to bask in scenic views and take advantage of myriad hiking opportunities, but also for the avid driving enthusiast that lurks within us all to enjoy some curvy mountain roads! Let's center in on the hot spot of western North Carolina/eastern Tennessee and highlight a few of the best roads for spirited driving.

1. Tail of the Dragon

First and foremost, the must-drive road that should be at the top of everyone's list is the famous so-called Tail of the Dragon. Located in the Deals Gap mountain pass and bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this twisty section of US-129 boasts 318 turns over an 11-mile stretch.

Photo ops on the Tail of the Dragon | Chris Werner

Beginning a bit northwest of Robbinsville, North Carolina and terminating in Tennessee (or vice versa, depending on the direction of travel), this road is so tight and twisty that exceeding the speed limit doesn't even have to be a consideration in order to have a good time. Closely lined by trees on both sides and even the odd steep cliff, the focus here needs to be on the driving experience and not the scenery, lest you get yourself into trouble. It's best enjoyed on a weekday in the early morning when traffic will be the lightest.

You'll probably have a grin on your face the entire trip, so no need to remember to smile for the camera when you pass the roadside photographers (and there will definitely be a few, happy to sell you photos of you enjoying your car!)

After a westward run on US-129, take the opportunity to cool down and chat with other enthusiasts about your favorite curves on Tail of the Dragon while overlooking Tennessee's Calderwood Dam.

Fontana Dam | Chris Werner

2. Fontana Dam

Located near the entrances to both Tail of the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway, Fontana Dam is a coveted stop on the Appalachian Trail and is the tallest dam east of the Rockies. This hydroelectric facility can put out over 300 megawatts, hundreds of times the combined power of a Mazda Miata, Chevrolet Cobalt SS, and Subaru WRX!

3. Cherohala Skyway

Very near to Tail of the Dragon is the Cherohala Skyway, a less famous but still fun-to-drive road. Comprising Tennessee Highway 165 and North Carolina Highway 143, it also serves as link between the two states, but the similarities between it and Tail of the Dragon pretty much end there. While most of this 40-plus-mile-long road is not nearly as twisty, it can still be enjoyed in a spirited manner, plus it also sports a multitude of scenic overlooks and hiking opportunities.

Charohala Skyway | Chris Werner

The Cherohala Skyway is a much more open road than Tail of the Dragon, and it boasts many an opportunity to stop and gaze into the wonders of the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests.

4. Blue Ridge Parkway

A little further east in the town of Cherokee, North Carolina, you'll find the start of the well-known Blue Ridge Parkway. This very low-speed road doesn't have many enjoyable curves, so the scenic vistas and hiking destinations are more of the attraction here. Some spurs off of the Blue Ridge, however, can pack lots of fun.

5. Devil's Whip

If you drive east far enough (about 100 miles) and hit Mount Mitchell — the tallest peak in the east — you're just minutes from the so-called Devil's Whip. You'll find this section of NC 80 by exiting the Blue Ridge Parkway and heading south toward the town of Marion, North Carolina. Once you've dropped through its 2,000 feet of elevation (it does so over only 12 miles), be sure to turn around and enjoy this twisty the road heading north, back up to the Blue Ridge Parkway - it's arguably more fun heading uphill!

Many more excellent roads can be found in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, so air up your tires, book some cheap hotels and get ready for days of driving enjoyment.

Have you driven this area? Let us know in the comments.

Last updated August 28, 2020