Hooper Bald- Photography Credit LK

I’ve traversed the “Skyway” as we call it, many times. And no matter what season, or time, the beauty is astounding.  Whether it’s the crisp almost blinding colors of fall, the stark beauty of leave less trees in the winter against the snowcapped mountains, or the bursting bright colors and fresh wind that herald’s spring, it’s always awe inspiring.  

This road wasn’t always here. Of course, that can be said of all roads. But this road, is recent. For the first six years of my life, to get “home” twice a year (from Arkansas) we took another famous road home, The Tail of the Dragon. And while it is a favorite for many motorcycle enthusiast, my mother does not count herself as one of its’ fans, especially late at night with a toddler and a new born. With the completion of the Cherohala Skyway, our family’s, and others, road trips became much easier.

Historically, the area has always been remote and hard to reach. The first settlers used whatever “roads” they could. When a lodge was built near Hooper’s Bald, wagons were the only way to access it. Rough logging roads were put in, as the area was logged for its timber rich treasure till 1911.

The land the Cherohala passes over offers a glimpse into the primitive land that the area once was. The Cherokee Indians were the original residents. After the Indian Removal act, additional settlers started moving into the area. One of them (a relation) Dr. Ennis Hooper is who Hooper Bald is named after. In 1908, a large tract was bought by the Whiting Manufacturing Company (logging) and they allowed an agent to lease 1600 acres for a European style shooting preserve. Most of the “exotic” animals did poorly and were eventually sold or shot but the Russian Boars found the climate to their liking and escaped, multiplying into the wild boar population the area boasts today. In fact, while driving the skyway it’s always wise to keep an eye out for them.

Until the construction of the Skyway, the various bald’s were only accessible by a tough four-wheel vehicle or a motorcycle or the old school version, by wagon train. With the completion of the road, the natural beauty was suddenly available and accessible to everyone.

The Cherohala Skyway is THE most expensive scenic route highway in North Carolina, costing over a 100 million dollars. And it took quite a bit of time to complete. Official planning for the skyway began in 1958.  Almost forty years later, it was completed in 1996. Instead of the original plan of building the road from Tellico Plains, TN to Murphy, NC the road was built from Tellico to Robbinsville, NC. The original estimates of traffic have proven false. The first figures estimated that there would be 10 cars per min year round. The true average is fifty cars, and a hundred motorcycles a day. Some days that you venture up onto it, you won’t see a single vehicle. The tourist and sightseer’s flock to see the colorful leaves in the fall. And the locals count it their favorite four wheeling place to go in the winter when it snows.

Named after the two national forests it passes through (the Cherokee National Forest & the Nantahala National Forest) the 42-mile route was built for enjoying the view. If you’re looking to get your feet on the ground, there are great hiking trails. Parts of the Appalachian Trail, Joyce Kilmer Forest, and Hooper Bald, to name a few, varying from easy hiking to a bit more difficult. If the skyway entrances you not to leave, there are numerous camp sites for every level of comfort.

If you haven’t ventured up the mountain to the top of the Cherohala, trod the hiking paths, gazed over the waving grass on top Hooper’s Bald, smelled the mountain laurel as the rain soaks the mountain ground, what are you waiting for?