Stretching across the mountains between Tennessee and North Carolina, the 41-mile Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway winds and twists around mountain peaks and scenic overlooks a mile above sea level. Ascending about 4,500′ it’s easy to see why this is called the Skyway, especially when clouds cover the highest points and cut visibility down to a mere dozen feet, making you feel as though you are driving through the sky. Along with a gorgeous hidden waterfall, a beach on a lake with a breathtaking mountain vista, and several hiking trails, the Cherohala Skyway is one of the best road trips you probably didn’t know about. Yet.
One of the attractions of the Cherohala Skyway is that it’s a bit remote, but that doesn’t mean it is inaccessible. Still, there is a trick to getting there and one particular route to get the best experience.
The best direction to drive the Skyway is eastbound starting in Tellico Plains for one very simple but important reason: that is where the only visitor center is located. Robbinsville does not have a visitor center, for the Skyway or the town, so if this is your first visit you’ll want to start on the other end.
On the Tennessee end drive Interstate 75 and take Exit 60 toward Madisonville. Continue along Highway 68 through Sweetwater and Madisonville to Tellico Plains. This highway is four lane and an easy drive, taking about thirty minutes.
On the North Carolina end drive Interstate 40 and take Exit 27 onto the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway (Highway 74). This will remain a four-lane divided highway until just past Bryson City. Turn onto the two-lane Highway 28 and then Highway 143 into Robbinsville. You’ll know when you enter town when you come to a T-intersection at a traffic light. Turn right and continue along Highway 143 (Tapoco Road) through the small town until you see the highway turn left (there is a sign pointing toward the Cherohala Skyway). From here it is a leisure drive along a very curvy two-lane highway to the beginning of the Skyway. The total drive from I-40 to this end of the Skyway is 80 miles and takes about an hour and a half.