• Kara Cushway

Smoky Mountains Motorcycle Trip

Note: In this post I include links to several business's websites, but please be aware that this post is not sponsored or partnered with any of these businesses. These are just a few places I recommend based on personal experience, that I think you might enjoy, too!

For as long as I’ve known him, my husband Kyle has owned a Yamaha FZ8 motorcycle. One of the things we enjoy doing as a couple is riding around on the bike, sightseeing and just being outside.

Knowing this, you can probably imagine that our trip to the Smoky Mountains back in 2017 was one of the coolest trips of our life, and is so worth it for anyone who enjoys being on a motorcycle. There are tons of amazing biking roads in that area, not to mention the unbelievably beautiful scenery.

Guys, this place … it’s like something out of a book. There are honestly so many things to see JUST in the TN/NC part of the Smokies we visited; it was a shame we didn’t get to stay longer or explore more deeply, because it was the greenest and most breathtaking place I went while we lived in Tennessee. As it was, we did manage a couple amazing day trips riding through the mountains and valleys in the region, stopping to sightsee and appreciate the absolutely stunning nature views in the area. (Though the views were hard to beat, we did sweat a little a lot. The weather was hot and humid in mid-August, and Kyle, for good reason, always insists that we wear long sleeves and long pants. That way, if we fall off the bike, the road will have a slightly harder time scraping off all our flesh.)

We stayed in Cades Cove/Townsend – not really sure what the classification is for this town. Is Cades Cove its given name? A nickname? A special section of Townsend, or is Townsend a section of Cades Cove? I have no idea. If you know, please feel free to enlighten me. Needless to say, our hotel was our hub throughout the weekend. We set off in the mornings and returned totally exhausted and sweaty in the evenings, and then we did that on repeat the next two days.

Day 1: Tail of the Dragon

Our first order of business, since we were, after all, on motorcycles, was to ride the Tail of the Dragon, a popular road with “318 Curves in 11 miles”. Everyone knows that the best part about riding a motorcycle is driving along windy, curving roads – this was a major highlight of our trip to the Smokies.

What’s cool about the Tail of the Dragon is that there are photographers that sit back in the woods (this is starting to sound sketchy but I promise you it’s actually just cool) away from the curves in the road to take photos of the bikers driving past. All you have to do is remember the name of the photographer (there are usually big signs on their tents so you have a fighting chance of reading their name) and the approximate time you drove along the road, and you can go onto their website and purchase photos they took of you flying by.

The Tree of Shame at Deal's Gap

Since we were driving along the Tail of the Dragon from Tennessee into North Carolina, we ended up at Deal’s Gap at the end of the road. This is a motorcycle “resort”, with a couple gift shops, plenty of motorcycles, a few dragon statues to illustrate the fact that you’ve just left the Tail of the Dragon, and an interesting piece of … artwork? in the form of the Tree of Shame, which is a tree decorated with broken motorcycle parts of riders who, according to Deal’s Gap’s website, were “bitten by the dragon.” Cute. And disturbing.

View from the top of the Fontana Dam

After experiencing the Tail of the Dragon and Deal’s Gap, we headed further into North Carolina to see the sights. We drove along the Little Tennessee River (another BEAUTIFUL drive, with cliffs rising up on one side and trees and the river on the other) till we reached the Fontana Dam. At the top, we took tons of pictures and walked past the inverted cone of doom, which is this alien-esque structure that sucks water down and spits it back out into the Fontana Lake. All of these are true, scientific facts.

We had tons of opportunities to stop and appreciate nature on this trip.

By the time we were heading back into Cades Cove at the end of the day, it was nearly suppertime, so we planned to go to dinner, but after finding out that you could BRING YOUR OWN WINE to the restaurant we wanted to eat at, we decided we had to check out the local winery, Cades Cove Cellars. I mean, how could you not when they’re three minutes down the road from your hotel room?

After sampling four or five delicious wines from the Cellars, we bought a bottle (plus a few more to take home) and drank it with our meal at the Trailhead Steakhouse. The steakhouse allowed outside wines since they didn’t serve their own, and I don’t know if this is speculation on my part or if I heard the gist of this from someone else at the time – but I think it was because of a sort of mutually beneficial partnership with Cades Cove Cellars, the steakhouse not wanting to serve wines when there is a local winery just moments away. They do serve beer, though! And the steakhouse is beautiful, with a rustic lodge feeling to it that is basically #SmokyMountainVibes.

Clambering on river rocks during a break from the bike.

Day 2: Gatlinburg

The next day, we went for a drive along the crests of the Smoky Mountains in the Cades Cove area. It had rained early that morning, and our butts got soaked from the spray as we drove up the mountain. The upside to this particularly wet trip was that, when you’re up this high, it becomes clear why these mountains are called “smoky” – it’s so cool to see the plumes of mist rising up from the forest canopy like smoke from a campfire.

Hiking in our jeans

Several miles closer to Gatlinburg, we left our bikes at the entrance to the Grotto Falls hiking trail and basically killed ourselves getting up to the Falls. If I may be so bold, I’d suggest not hiking in long jeans in August. Since I didn’t know we would be hiking that day, I hadn’t brought a change of clothes – even if I had, there was nowhere to change into them on the road where we parked. So if you’re on a bike, I guess wear your hiking shorts under your motorcycle pants? People will still be traumatized by you pulling your pants off in the woods, but at least you’ll have smaller pants on underneath them…?

Surprise proposal at Grotto Falls (!!)

Apparently, there are a ton of waterfalls to experience in the Smoky Mountain National Park. We only went to the one, but it was a pretty substantial waterfall, with a path underneath the falls so you could look out at the world from behind the curtain of water. (Where Jeff proposed to my mom?! And we were there to take photographical documentation?!?)

We visited less than a year after a forest fire swept through Gatlinburg.

After a long journey back down the mountain to our bikes, we headed into the actual town of Gatlinburg and walked around for several hours. We lunched at a seafood restaurant, poked into a lovely shop full of bee- and honey-related products, picked out a souvenir hoodie for me, and enjoyed the town’s festive air.

That is NOT smoke - it's the Smoky Mountains' cloud plumes! Seen from the lookout on Clingman's Dome.

The bookend to our trip through the Smokies was a trip up to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Smoky Mountain National Park. Clingman’s Dome has a concrete walkway to a lookout deck (not for the acrophobic) where you can get a near-360-degree view of the park around you. The road itself, leading up to the Dome, was another highlight of our motorcycle trip. I think that was probably Kyle’s favorite road out of all the amazing bike roads we drove on that weekend. When it came to getting up to Clingman’s Dome, it was another leg-busting hike from the parking lot – but can I just say that if you are ever in the Smoky Mountains, THIS is the place to be at sunset. Bring a picnic and enjoy it. I’m inspired pretty easily by nature, and this was no exception. I was blown away by the views on our trip through the Smokies.

Day 3: Heading Home

The next day, we said goodbye to the beautiful Smoky Mountains and made our way home, breaking our trip in Nashville for a walk through the Opryland Hotel (read a little more about the Hotel in my post 7 Day Trips from Clarksville, TN) and then had lunch in Clarksville at the amazing Blackhorse Pub for delicious fried green tomatoes and pizza.

Between Kyle’s bout of cancer and moving in the last year or so, we haven’t gotten back on the motorcycle in a while – but we’re excited to hopefully have that opportunity at our next duty station. I’m almost positive we’ll find places just as beautiful and inspiring in the Pacific Northwest as we were lucky enough to experience in Tennessee.

Have you ever been through the Smoky Mountains? What are some of your favorite memories or places to go in the area? I’d love to hear about your travels in the comments below!


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