|Deep Creek/Fontana Dam/Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest/Cherohala Skyway|
There is not enough time to do all in a day, so if your preference is casual hiking and waterfalls go to "a," if you have a civil engineering bent go to "b." Note: The Ingles Grocery Store in Bryson City has an excellent salad/deli bar to get all the "fixins" for a picnic at either Deep Creek or Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
a. Take Exit 67 off US 74 and go through Bryson City to the Deep Creek Entrance of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (click on Waterfall Icon 16-18 for specifics), and enjoy an easy hour hike to three waterfalls while watching the young-at-heart "tubing" (riding an old inner tube down the rapids of Deep Creek). Return to US 74 and head West. At the bottom of a long mountain where the 4-lane splits into two 2-lanes take the 2-lane to the right NC 28 (Note: NC 28 is being widened to a 4-lane). Continue on NC 28 to NC 143 and turn left on NC 143 (There are signs to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Cherohala Skyway and Robbinsville). When NC 143 dead ends in Robbinsville at the second stop light (part of the movie "Nell" was filmed in the old part of Robbinsville), turn right on US 129, and go North for approximately 2 miles and turn left at the continuation of NC 143 (Again there are signs to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and the Cherohala Skyway). Skip to "c."
b. Head West on US 74 and at the bottom of a long mountain where the 4-lane splits into two 2-lanes take the 2-lane to the right NC 28 (Note: NC 28 is being widened to a 4-lane). Continue on NC 28 to Fontana Dam (There are 30 minute tours of the dam every 1/2 hour from May thru Oct starting at 10:30 am and ending at 5 PM.) After viewing the dam continue West on NC 28 and turn South on US 129 (Some distance later on the left is the dam Harrison Ford "jumped off' in the movie "The Fugitive."). As you approach Robbinsville, there are signs on the left to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and the Cherohala Skyway, turn right on NC 143. Skip to "c."
c. Approximately 10 miles after turning West off US 129 onto NC 143 is the turn off to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, a virgin forest. There is a picnic table along the stream and the huge popular trees in the upper loop trail are an easy to moderate hour hike. After marveling how the whole Eastern US used to be forest like this, return to NC 143 and turn right. Shortly thereafter NC 143 becomes the Cherohala Skyway, a scenic highway that easily rivals the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Cherohala Skyway is well designed with wonderful vistas, plenty of stops at overlooks and short hikes . After seeing as much of the Cherohala Skyway as you care to, retrace your way back to US 129 and turn Right (South). Continue on US 129 passing through Robbinsville. When US 129 dead-ends in US 74 turn left and go through the Nantahala Gorge.