Cherohala Skyway pt 1

The Skyway is a 50 mile 2 lane twisty, winding road that runs between Tellico Plains, TN and Robbinsville, NC.  It starts in the Cherokee National Forest and ends in the Nantahala, hence the name.

The National Geographic map of the area is excellent to have but does not have every campsite or even every backroad added.  There is reliable cell service near Tellico, but not once outside of town.

There is more to do in the area than I can cover in my usual blog length, so I will do several sections over time the way I did with South Cumberland State Park.

Starting on the TN side, our first order of business whenever possible is to head to the Sweetwater Cheese place in Philadelphia at exit 68 (I-75).  After skewering tiny cheese sample squares on toothpicks for a few minutes and milling around to check the jelly flavors, we nearly always leave with a block of roasted garlic pepper and either smoked gouda or black pepper cheese.  Sometimes pesto flavored…there’s also farmers cheese, which is nearly as soft as butter. Oh, and they have jerky!  There are more than a dozen varieties of cheese, all made on the other side of the glass wall from the tasting room. They come in roughly half-pound blocks, so 2 blocks is around $9.  Not bad for a delicious splurge!  You can see the cows right outside and they offer tours.

Armed with cheese, it’s time to head to Tellico Plains.  If timed right Tellico Grains will be open.  Stop there for herbed flatbread or fougasse (or any bread, really) to keep the cheese company and pick up some goodies, maybe a sandwich or wood fired pizza…there’s no wrong choice.  Back-up options are Papa’s Pizza by the grocery store (can’t miss it, there’s only one) or The Beach which is out of ‘town’ on the banks of the river and features burgers and fries.  Never had a bad experience at any, though The Beach can have a long wait.  Bring swim stuff and play in the river to pass the time.

From The Beach, keep heading away from town.  The road will fork, one way toward the Skyway and the other toward Bald River Falls.  Bald River Falls is only 6 miles one way, and seems like it should be a quick side trip.  The road to it is narrow and whips around sharp corners, sandwiched between the river and a cliff face, often with huge trees inches from the sides of the road.  It’s a great drive, beautiful and dotted with little pull-offs.  It’s also prone to be harrowing as the other people drive too close, too fast and pass in curves-just get used to it, the Skyway is just as full of crazy drivers.  It’s paved to the falls parking area, which is a wide strip between the road itself and a sheer rock face.  The end opposite the falls has a nice hiking trail that leads to the top and beyond.  To see the falls themselves requires standing on the bridge, which is the only straight stretch on the road, goading some drivers to speed up to make up time lost veering around sharp corners.  So be careful.  There may be 15 cars or none.  Keep an ear out over the rushing water though.

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Turning around here is an option, but if it’s getting time to look for a campsite, keep going.  Take the North River split, it’s marked.  It’s also gravel, so just be aware.

The road makes its way to North River camping area, a lollipop shaped campground tucked into a bend in the river, which to most people is stream-sized at this point. Campsites are hoarded and guarded, passed between families and friends all season long.  At $8 a night, it’s not uncommon for people to just leave a camper set up all week and return on weekends.   People park cars in other sites to save them, or set up a chair and tablecloth to hold a site-it’s not a good bet to plan on camping there.

However, we have stayed here several times when the kids were much younger, it’s perfect for little ones as the river is shallow and easily dammed and floated and the way it curves around the small campground makes for some long afternoons of floating to the bridge, getting out, running back to the top and doing it again.  There’s a deep section for quick dips-the teeth cracking cold of the water makes anything longer undesirable.

On past the main camping area is more camping!  There will be a bridge and right turn not far past the campground.  Turning that direction ends up at Green Cove, a surprising community tucked into the dead end of the road on the TN/NC border.  There’s a motel with a little store and it’s a welcome spot to get ice cream and cold drinks, fishing gear, even minimal camping supplies and snacks.  It’s surrounded by camping galore as well as sites that seem to have been in use since around 1950 with campers penned in with decking and extra rooms tacked on.  There’s ATV trails across the NC line and the whole area can be packed and noisy-which is sometimes jarring after so many miles of dappled sunlight and rushing water!

Stay on the road and don’t turn toward Green Cove and it will pass a few sites that are not great, then on the right is parking for the Donely Cabin (which can be reserved and if there are no cars in the parking area, is lovely and worth the short hike to see).  The road is paved before and after the cabin, which is ODD as there are miles of gravel roads in either direction to arrive there!

Just past the cabin on the right between the road and river (which at this point is more of a creek than ever) is site 7, which has 3 fire rings and ample parking on a graveled surface.  Past that is site 8, which is a nice site and both have access to the creek for wading around and of course listening to all night.

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Just before these is site 6, which has horse trailer parking and tie outs.  It’s pretty muddy if it rains, though.

Keep going and the road pops out on the Skyway at Stratton Meadows.

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