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Cycling in the Smoky Mountains(5 posts)

Cycling in the Smoky MountainsRik
Jun 2, 2002 7:02 PM
Traveling to Pigeon Forge,TN on vacation later this month and wondered if anyone can provide information about good road and off road cycling in the area. The whole family will be along so I'm interested in good family cycling routes as well as some more rigorous rides (esp. road) for me. Thanks for your help!
Smoky suggestions (long)tarwheel
Jun 3, 2002 5:11 AM
There is some fine cycling in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but there are limitations as well. No offroad cycling is allowed in the park, but there are many miles of nice gravel roads. A nice remote area to ride is the so-called "Road to Nowhere" on the southside of the park from Bryson City west along the north shore of Fontana Lake. You could ride this on a road or mountain bike and traffic is usually minimal because the road goes nowhere -- it goes west for about 10 miles and just stops. (It's a long story, but the road originally was supposed to circle the lake but the project was halted for political, environmental and cost issues.)

About 10-15 miles southwest of Bryson City on US 19 is the Tsali mountain biking "park," which includes a number of dedicated biking trails along the south shore of Fontana. These trails are located on US Forest Service land and you can get maps in the area. Great single track trails, but watch where you're going -- the scenery is beautiful and you can run into trees if you're not paying attention. This is suitable biking for families, as well, but some of the trails can be challenging and there are lots of hotdog mountain bikers riding in the area. It's close to Nantahala Outdoor Center, where you can take great raft trips, which is a very nice family outing.

Road riding in the park can be nice and very challenging, but traffic is definitely a problem. Plan to ride on the weekdays or early in the mornings to avoid road traffic. Cades Cove, on the Tennessee side, has a spectacular 20-mile one-way loop road that is absolutely incredible to ride on -- when there is no traffic. Unfortunately, it is the most popular section of the park and has bumper-to-bumper traffic on weekends and many times during the week during the summer. However, they close it to vehicular traffic -- allowing bikes only -- a couple mornings a week. This would be a very nice family ride as the climbs aren't too steep or long and the scenery is incredible.

A really nice long ride is to leave from the Visitors Center near Gatlinburg and take the Little River road west to Cades Cove, which is about a 45-50 mile round trip (not including the loop). It has some very long climbs and descents -- the last time I rode there, I clocked a 14-mile descent along the Little River, which of course I had to climb on my way back. A very challenging ride is to start at the Gatlinburg visitors and take US 441 South up to Newfound Gap on the ride, and then take the paved park road west to the top of Clingman's Dome (6,643'). This is a very long, hard climb -- so make sure you've got the gears and good brake pads for the trip back down. I haven't done this ride yet, but would like to some day. The descent could get pretty hairy if you're not used to curvy mountain roads and you would really need to watch for traffic, so it's a ride I would only attempt early in the morning on a weekday or off-season. You can easily top 45 mph on these descents in the park, so be careful.

A couple more things about road riding in the park. The Smokies are the most visited park in the US. Unfortunately, maintenance is not up to par and the pavement is not great on many roads. Leave your aluminum bike at home unless you have tough bones. I sold my aluminum frame after riding in the Smokies last spring -- I felt like I had been operating a jackhammer -- and went back to riding steel. Also, the roads are not very wide and do not have paved shoulders in most places, so traffic will back up behind cyclists. Most drivers are courteous about this -- after all it is a national park -- but you still find the occasional jerks who get all pissed and blare their horns. Try to avoid road riding when the traffic is heavy.

Finally, the Smokies are the terminus for the Blue Ridge Parkway near Cherokee, NC. The Parkway is one of the premier road riding spots in the US, if you don't mind long climbs and descents. The st
Cades Cove loopKenS
Jun 3, 2002 7:32 AM
The Cades Cove loop is closed to automobile traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10 AM. It is a very pretty 11-mile loop that would be great for a family.

The ride from Sugarlands (main ranger station, Gatlinburg entrance) to the Townend entrance (Little River Road) has one big hill and the rest of the ride is along a river. It would be a very pretty ride too.

The hassle is the number of cars. Try to avoid a weekend and go early in the morning.
Cades Cove loopridgerider
Jun 4, 2002 7:18 PM
Gotta second the Cades Cove suggestion for family riding. Be sure to go when the road is closed to cars, the earlier the better. My family and I went about this time last year and were absolutely blown away by the abundant wildlife. Deer were everywhere. We also got to see a black bear eating berries. It was pure magic!
re: Cycling in the Smoky Mountainsclintb
Jun 3, 2002 4:45 PM
Oh dear God! You are so lucky to be able to cycle around that area. I've been to the Knoxville area 4 times and each one I was practically crying because I didn't have a bike with me. Those roads are spectacular!

Have fun!