The only thing better than non-stop mountaintop views, waterfalls, and accommodations alongside babbling brooks is all of these things surrounded by a kaleidoscope of fall colors. Starting around the middle of October, fall colors begin to emerge on the trees in the Smoky Mountains, creating a captivating tapestry of red, yellow, and orange foliage contrasted by dark green pines and spruces. It’s one of the most magical times to be in the region, and what better way to experience it than on a motorcycle?
Spanning from Tellico Plains, TN to Hot Springs, NC, and all the way down to Cashiers, NC, the Smokey Mountain region has some of the best motorcycle riding in the country. In this part of the country, it’s easy to head out and find roads with hundreds of curves, pristine road surfaces, and vistas that take your breath away.
We’ve rounded up the 7 spectacular motorcycle rides for fall colors in the Smokies, so you know where to start if you visit the area or already live there and want to explore new routes. You’ll find a mix of routes for different riding preferences, from blazing fast sweepers over mountain passes to easy cruises along mountain lakes.
Fall Colors Smokies Route #1
Blue Ridge Parkway – Asheville, NC to Cherokee, NC
One of the most popular areas in the fall is Asheville, NC, because of the intense fall colors in the mountains surrounding the city. The Blue Ridge Parkway is the perfect road to catch the best views of the fall colors in the area. With easy cruising speeds between 35 and 45 mph, relatively gentle curves, and a mostly pothole-free road surface, this scenic byway is one you can’t miss in the fall.
Get on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville (there are multiple entry points to choose from) and head south to Cherokee, NC, where you’ll enter the south end of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. From there, you can either head back to Asheville the way you came or make a day of it and head through the park, over the mountains, and into Gatlinburg, TN.
Fall Colors Smokies Route #2
The Cherohala Skyway – Robbinsville, NC to Tellico Plains, TN
If you love high-speed sweepers with panoramic mountain views of fall color, the Cherohala Skyway delivers 55 miles of endless enjoyment. The Skyway resembles the Blue Ridge Parkway with high-elevation mountain passes, stunning views, and ideal road conditions.
Unlike the Parkway, though, many motorcyclists choose this route for more spirited riding. The countless long straights and sweepers on the Skyway demand more throttle. While cruising can be nice on this road, keep in mind Deal’s Gap is nearby, so use caution—it’s not uncommon to encounter sportbike riders in full leathers rippin’ it up.
It’s a fairly short ride out and back, but there are countless other great roads in the area, both from Tellico Plains and from Robbinsville. Another route that’s a fun and quick ride from Robbinsville is Deal’s Gap.
Fall Colors Smokies Route #3
Tail Of The Dragon – Tapoco, NC to Calderwood Dam Overlook, TN
If you live anywhere near the Smokies and ride a motorcycle, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Deal’s Gap, also known as the “Tail of the Dragon.” Famous for its 318 corners in a brief 11 miles of tight two-lane highway, this route serves up technical riding to the max.
While some brave cruiser riders do attempt to take on the Dragon, this route is really meant for sportbike riders in full leathers. Also, beware of the numerous car clubs and boy racers that love tearing up the endless stream of banked corners. If you’re a less experienced rider, it’s highly recommended to visit when the crowds are smaller during the week.
Fall Colors Smokies Route #4
Highway 64 – Lake Toxaway, NC to Lake Lure, NC
Highway 64 from Lake Toxaway, NC to Lake Lure, NC, is mostly a two-lane highway with a few short stretches of four-lane divided highway. You’ll encounter a wide range of curves from sweepers to switchbacks to descending radius corners, along with vistas of valleys filled with fall colors. This ride gives you a full menu of challenges but also has plenty of tame sections to relax and take in the scenery.
At just under 70 miles and around two hours of ride time, this isn’t a long ride, but it does travel through numerous small mountain towns that offer shopping, restaurants, and scenic attractions to stop at, making this a perfect ride for a relaxed day of riding.
Both Lake Toxaway and Lake Lure are destinations themselves. Lake Toxaway is fed by a beautiful waterfall and is framed by the mountains, making this a captivating place to stay in the fall. Lake Lure is home to Chimney Rock Park and is where the movies Firestarter and Dirty Dancing were filmed.
Fall Colors Smokies Route #5
Great Smoky Mountain National Park – Cherokee, NC to Gatlinburg, Tennessee
We couldn’t forget Highway 441 that travels from Cherokee, NC, to Gatlinburg, TN, through Great Smoky Mountain National Park. At the crest, take Clingman’s Dome Road up to the second-highest peak east of the Mississippi, Clingman’s Dome. Be sure to have a warm jacket on hand if you want to hike up to the lookout tower, as the fall can be quite chilly at over 6,000 feet of altitude.
Accommodations are available in Cherokee, NC, or Gatlinburg, TN, at each end of the park, along with campgrounds. But keep in mind, fall colors season is insanely popular here, so booking well in advance is recommended.
Fall Colors Smokies Route #6
The Rattler – Fines Creek, NC to Hot Springs, NC
If you like curvy, hilly roads at a more relaxing pace, take The Rattler, Highway 209, from Fines Creek, NC, to Hot Springs, NC. Starting at the quaint little general store, Ferguson Supply, the road travels past creeks and through small valleys until you end up in Hot Springs, NC. There, you can take a dunk in relaxing mineral waters by the river at the Hot Springs Resort and Spa.
This is a pretty quick ride, taking maybe an hour, so it’s a good one to combine with other routes in the area, such as Highway 276 from Waynesville, NC, to Brevard, NC, if you have the entire day to be out on the bike.
Fall Colors Smokies Route #7
Highway 276 from Waynesville, NC to Brevard, NC
Highway 276 offers some of the best motorcycle riding in the Southeast all the way to South Carolina. Delivering curves, mountain passes, and valley views and ending in Pisgah National Forest, this road offers all the best for fall color riding.
Heading south from Waynesville, NC, take 276 until you finally crest over the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can take a quick detour to catch some mountaintop viewpoints. Continuing south, you’ll pass through Pisgah National Forest and into the town of Brevard, NC, where you can find numerous options for food and beverages.
When riding on unfamiliar roads, keeping your phone’s GPS in easy view is essential to stay on course. Rokform helps keep your phone secure while on the bike with our motorcycle phone mounts. Ranging from direct handlebar mounts to 1” RAM® Socket Mounts, we’ve got your phone covered up and securely mounted however hard you’re charging the mountain passes. If you check out one of these rides, we’d love for you to share your fall colors pics with us on our Instagram page by tagging us @Rokform!