Tagged Foothills Parkway

Road to the Smokies – Day 7

This is the story of my road trip from Pekin, IL to Gatlinburg, TN on my Honda CBR 600 RR motorcycle.

My breakfast at Krispy Kreme.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and today is my last day in the Smokies. First, though, let me rewind to last night. I was bored around 10PM so I suited up and went for a ride. It was amazing. Why did nobody tell me that night riding here is so great? It isn’t as treacherous as some people would have you believe, and it is without a doubt one of the best rides I’ve been on in my life. Apart from the ride itself, I also noticed that there is a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop in Pigeon Forge and decided that it would be my first stop for today’s adventure.

After scarfing down two doughnuts and some cappuccino I set out for the back roads behind Pigeon Forge to see if I could get lost. Unfortunately I didn’t get lost but I did find some nice peaceful roads to relax on. I spent about an hour roaming around before making my way back into Gatlinburg. At this point I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go. I didn’t want to ride too far and be worn out for the ride home on Saturday and Sunday, but I didn’t want to sit around and do nothing either. I remembered that I never checked out Look Rock up on Foothills Parkway and decided I’d go in that direction.

The ramp leading up to the lookout tower on Look Rock.

I made my way through the national park and then Townsend before finally reaching the parkway. I made my way up to the overlook where the trail for Look Rock starts and set off on a hiking mini-adventure. Halfway up the trail I couldn’t help but laugh at myself because I was hiking a half mile up the side of a mountain in a riding suit and boots; I had to look comical. The effort was definitely worth it, though. There is a lookout tower on Look Rock that gives you a breathtaking 360-degree view of the area and makes for some spectacular photography. After breathing in the fresh air for a few minutes I headed back down and got on my bike.

I continued down the parkway until I made it to the other end and turned around. I thought it might be fun to see how fast I could make it back to the other end so I waited for the clock on my bike to tick over to the next minute and took off. As I approached the other end of the parkway it had been 11 minutes, and that was even after I got stuck behind two SUVs for a good 30-seconds. 16.5 miles, 11 minutes, you do the math.

By this time it was about 2:30 so I decided to stop for lunch at a BBQ place in Townsend. They had seating out back in a big screened porch on the river, and the food was fantastic. I had a sweet and spicy BBQ pork sandwich with homemade fries and a big mason jar full of sweet tea. When I had finished lunch I just sat and watched the river for a while and soaked up what was left of my last day in the Smokies.

For the route back to Gatlinburg I took 321 to Pigeon Forge and then 441 into Gatlinburg instead of going through the park and dealing with slowpokes. Now I’m back at the motel packing up my things and sorting through photos, wishing that this whole adventure could last just a little bit longer. One thing I’m absolutely sure of is that I’ll be back next year. You can bet on it.

A panorama of the view from the lookout tower at Look Rock.

You can see all of the photos from my trip in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2068810&id=197102025&l=9f9eff78bb

Road to the Smokies – Days 3 and 4

This is the story of my road trip from Pekin, IL to Gatlinburg, TN on my Honda CBR 600 RR motorcycle.

Ohhhh, Monday. I did absolutely nothing on Monday. Well, I did go to Walgreens for paper plates and beer, but aside from that: nothing. That’s why I didn’t post anything; sorry for the lag in entries there!

A mountain stream just outside Gatlinburg.

Anywho, on to Tuesday! Today has been nothing short of amazing. I woke up at 7:00AM before the sun was even up and started planning out what I was going to do. I knew I wanted to hit The Dragon and possibly Cherohala Skyway so I figured out the best route to take down there. Around 8 I went and filled the bike up with gas and bought a couple of maps to throw in my tank bag. I came back to the room and lounged around for another couple of hours and finally suited up and left at 10:30.

I set out down Route 73 (Little River Rd.) toward Townsend which ended up being a gorgeous route to take. It winds down through Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a long time and has some nice mountain stream stop-offs. The only bad part is tourist traffic. The only time I seem to get fatigued while riding is when I get stuck behind people who are going a sight-seeing pace, and there are only two or three spots where passing is legal on 73. That’s not to say you can’t go around in other places if you’re quick enough.

Route 73 eventually opens up into a picturesque mountain valley town called Townsend. There isn’t much on the main strip in Townsend other than some restaurants and a few gas stations, which makes it a nice quiet place most of the time. If you’re looking to get away from the bustling tourist-infested places like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, this route is for you.

Parked at an overlook on Foothills Parkway.

After filling up in Townsend I continued down 73 for about 8 more miles until I came to Foothills Parkway. This road connects US-321 and US-129 by traversing Chilhowee Mountain. There are many great overlook stops on this road, and the road itself is just a blast to ride. There are a lot of sweeping corners and a few tight turns here and there, but the best part is definitely the view. I had to stop at almost every overlook the first time I rode through just to take in the amazing scenery.

Once you make your way down Foothills Parkway you’ll run right into US-129. If you take a right you’ll ride along Chilhowee lake for a bit and eventually come to a town called Vonore, but if you take a left, you head to The Dragon. This is where things start to get awesome.

The Tail of the Dragon, aka Deal’s Gap, is said to be one of the best motorcycle roads in the world. With its claimed “318 curves in 11 miles” it certainly makes for a challenging length of roadway if you feel like putting your skills to the test. Here is a link to a poster of all the curve names: http://www.tailofthedragon.com/maps/poster2007.pdf

My first time through I took it quite slow and ended up getting stuck behind a pack of cruisers. This allowed me to get a handle on the corners and make a mental note of the sketchy parts of the run. After a nice 25-minute cruise I had made it to Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. This place is exactly what you need after riding all day. They have a nice big store, bathrooms, plenty of bike parking, good food, and best of all some pretty awesome people.

I got a nice BBQ pork sandwich from the snack bar and took a seat at a table to relax for a bit. After a few minutes a gentleman came up and asked if he could join me, and I was glad to have the company as I hate eating alone. We had a good conversation about life in general, and he left me with a few tips on where to find some more good roads in the area.

After lunch I threw all of the gear back on and got ready to tackle The Dragon in the other direction. This time was a lot more fun as I didn’t get stuck behind cruisers, and I had a much better idea of how crazy some of the turns are. There is no way to describe just how amazing this ride can be when you’re able to really get into it. This time I stopped at the overlook halfway through to take some pictures and got some nice shots of Chilhowee lake.

The view from the overlook on Tail of the Dragon.

I finished up my second run on The Dragon and headed back over Foothills Parkway toward Townsend. My second run on the parkway was a lot more fun as well, as I knew where I could really open the bike up and have some fun. I caught myself doing 95 in some spots and had to force myself to slow down lest I get busted by the THP. My favorite thing about the parkway is that there doesn’t seem to be much traffic on it, and what little traffic you run into can easily be passed in most spots.

After that run on the parkway I headed back home on 73. Nothing much exciting there… until I ran into a couple in an Infiniti G36 Coupe. They got stuck behind some traffic in the park and you could tell they were bored with it. (I can’t blame them; being stuck behind slow traffic on those roads really bites.) The two of us finally found a decent passing spot and took off around all of the traffic. We both raced our way through the rest of the park at a healthy pace and ended up parting ways just after getting into Gatlinburg. Running through tight turns and two-lane roads at that pace is so much fun, especially when there aren’t any side roads where you have to worry about traffic pulling into your lane.

All in all, today was amazing. Breathtaking views, challenging roads, good weather, great people. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store.

A panorama of the view from an overlook on Foothills Parkway.
A panorama of the view of Chilhowee Lake from the overlook on Tail of the Dragon.

You can see all of the photos from my trip in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2068810&id=197102025&l=9f9eff78bb