Finding the best roads to ride can be challenging for motorcyclists, usually because there are so many different opinions about what roads are the best to ride. That depends on a number of things: the season and weather, the type of bike you ride, the type of riding you like to do, the skillset of the riders going along with you, personal phobias (ie. fear of heights, etc.)…Google has given me an endless supply of roads to ride, from many different sources, and part of this trip has been and will be spent riding those “top 10” motorcycle roads.
For years I had heard of the Tail of the Dragon road and knew it was somewhere out in the mountains back east. The “Tail” was on my list for sure, but I wanted to try and plan the best route to get to it. Several people suggested Skyline Drive and some mentioned the Blue Ridge Parkway. While looking at my options I found a “Top 10 Motorcycling” roads list somewhere that suggested something I hadn’t seen before – chaining several of these roads together (I had no idea they worked together like that) and creating 700+ mile trip along the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains. Perfect!
The website suggested starting at Skyline Drive (and it would work just as good in reverse if the fall foliage weren’t part of the mix) and then continuing onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and then the site provided a route to connect from the BRP to the Cherohala Skyway and pick up the Tail of the Dragon too.
Skyline Drive starts at Front Royal, Virginia about an hour and a half west of Washington, D.C. and continues south through Shenandoah National Park along the ridgeline of the mountains for 100 miles, dropping you off at I-64 near Waynesboro, Virginia. That happened to be only about 20-30 miles from Charlottesville, VA, home of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, so I took a detour there for a day.
Skyline was crowded the day I rode onto it from Front Royal. And shortly into the ride there was a “bear jam” with traffic grinding to a halt so people could pile out of their cars and stand along the road and take photos of two black bear cubs who had climbed up a tree. I was worried about the mother showing up and getting angry but she must have been laying low because of the intimidating number of cars and people standing around.
After the detour in Charlottesville we turned west along I-64 to get to Waynesboro, where you can pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway. This beautiful scenic byway (and those two words do not do it justice) runs for 469 incredibly beautiful miles along more hilltops and crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains (part of the Appalachian), meandering south by southwest into North Carolina. The road ends west of Asheville in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the nicest two-lane roads I have ever enjoyed on a motorcycle. You can exit at any time to enjoy the mountain towns or national parks, to shop or to enjoy some local BBQ. My timing is perfect, by sheer luck alone, and the foliage is the most colorful yet along the east coast. The parkway rides along at elevations of approximately 900 feet and all the way up to 6000 feet. There are places that are downright cold (especially at the higher altitudes) but most of the riding is very comfortable. The weekday riding seems to work out best since thousands of people flock to the road for a weekend drive.
You can wind your way through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (which straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee) and find a few different beautiful ways to get to the Cherohala Skyway or to the Tail of the Dragon. We choose the Foothills Parkway and because of lack of time and bad weather have to miss out on the Cherohala. The Foothills Parkway is incredibly beautiful and aflame with fall colors. I’m glad we stumbled onto it.
Now, off to the Dragon…