One of the ultimate motorcycle tours in America is riding the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). This 464-mile-long ribbon of asphalt snakes its way along the Blue Ridge Mountains and connects Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountain National Park. While few roads compare with this epic course, there are hidden gems that cross the BRP that offer more true motorcycle adventures. Here are our top 7 choices for side roads along the BRP.
North Carolina Highway 181 (NC181) is 36 miles long and crosses the BRP between mile markers 312 and 313. In one direction, it travels through a section of undeveloped woodlands in the Pigsah National Forest and crosses Brown Mountain, famous for the mysterious “Brown Mountain Lights.” Go the other way, and you’ll be headed toward Grandfather Mountain State Park, where you’ll find the Lynn Cove Viaduct.
It’s little wonder that awesome motorcycle riding roads get named after snakes. After all, there’s nothing better than riding smooth asphalt that slithers around hills and valleys. The Diamondback, also known as North Carolina Highway 226A (NC226A), is one of those roads. It crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway near mile marker 334 at Little Switzerland, North Carolina. The Diamondback then descends southward to Marion and Interstate 40, sending you through 190 turns in 12 miles. Double your fun—get gas in Marion, then ride the Diamondback back up to the BRP.
The Devil’s Whip is a favorite with local motorcycle riders. It crosses under the BRP near mile marker 344. Officially known as North Carolina Highway 80 (NC80), it covers just less than 40 miles in its course up and over the mountain. The section of NC80 headed toward Marion is the most exciting as it rapidly descends the mountain in a series of switchbacks. Ride it both ways to get a good taste for how enjoyable local roads can be in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Some of the best motorcycle riding roads that cross the BRP are hidden in plain sight. If you aren’t looking for them, you can easily ride past. That includes North Carolina Highway 151 (NC151), which intersects the BRP between mile markers 405 and 406. On the BRP, there’s only a sign posting the route number in advance of the intersection. Turn onto NC151 and see the sign “Notice to truckers: Steep winding road ahead. Trucks not recommended.” This thrilling motorcycle road plummets down the mountain and features challenging twists and turns.
Some of the great motorcycle roads that cross the BRP are all about the exciting curves and switchbacks that allow a road to climb a steep mountainside. Simply put, they’re purely for the ride. Then, there are roads like U.S. Route 276 South (US276) toward Brevard, North Carolina. Crossing the BRP near mile marker 412, US276 has its share of great curves and motorcycle riding thrills. It also leads to some special places in the Blue Ridge Mountains that you’d miss if you never leave the BRP. Ride US276 and discover Looking Glass Falls and the Cradle of Forestry in America, or cool off in the fresh mountain waters across Sliding Rock.
The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains have many stories to tell. One is about Cold Mountain, made famous by the namesake book and its 2003 film adaptation. This tragic love story set in the Civil War era focuses on one man’s journey back to his love and home. The Cold Mountain loop goes around Cold Mountain on two roads. Start the loop near mile marker 412 on the BRP, take the exit for Waynesville via U.S. Route 276 north, and enjoy cascading down the mountain. Return on the other side of Cold Mountain on NC Route 215 north and back to the BRP to close the loop.
This excursion from the BRP will take you along the Waterfall Byway, which features 200 waterfalls surrounding the route. Some waterfalls can be enjoyed from the road, while others require some hiking to see. Starting at Beech Gap near mile marker 423, take North Carolina Highway 215 (NC215) south toward Rosman. The 17 miles of NC215 going down the mountain are a motorcycle rollercoaster ride, so be sure to keep your eyes on the road and enjoy the ride. Take U.S. Route 64 (US64) west toward Lake Toxaway through Cashiers and Highlands, then ride on through Franklin to Murphy. Once in Murphy, you’ll be near The Tail of the Dragon, the Cherohala Skyway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Be sure to check out more of our “Best of” rides throughout the nation.
Till next time, ride safe!
Often, the best roads trace the path of a canyon or the crest of a mountain ridge.
That also means the possibility of hazards. We have some tips on how to avoid them.
Be protected while you ride. Learn about roadside assistance and how it can keep you on the road if trouble happens.
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