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The Nantahala River bikeway is a wonderful ride through the Nantahala Gorge. The trail provides “Dramatic mountain views, towering hardwoods, seasonal wild flowers, rhododendron thickets and entertainment in the form of bobbing rafters (Little Toot, website).” This may be a short trail; however, it is a nice reprieve from the car ride and also offers a short ride on U.S. 19 for those that want a bit more of an adventure!
Directions and Parking
The parking lot for the trail is located right off of Wayah Rd. the second parking lot on the left. See our map for location.
From Asheville: Take I-40 W. Slight right onto US-74 (signs for US-19/US-23/Clyde/Waynesville/Maggie Valley/ Franklin/Murphy/Atlanta. Stay on U.S. 19. Take left onto Wayah Rd. The gravel parking lot will be second on your left.
From Gatlinburg: Head Southwest on TN-71 S/US-441 S/ Parkway toward School Dr. (road may be seasonally closed). Keep right at fork continue to follow US-441 S. Turn right onto US-19 S/US-441 S. Take first left onto US-441 S. Take ramp onto US-74 W/Great Smoky Mountains expressway. Continue to follow US 74 W. Take left onto Wayah Rd. The gravel parking lot will be second on your left.
The trail head is the located right off of the second dirt parking lot on the left and cannot be missed as it begins with a paved bridge that spans across the Nantahala River. This scenic railtrail is evenly paved, providing a nice pathway for all types of walkers, bikers, and strollers. It gently winds alongside the river providing sneak peeks of rafters and paddling kayakers swiftly floating away. The pathway is quite wide, allowing for bikers to ride side by side and entire families can comfortably walk chatting next to one another. The trail is a beautiful addition to all of the adventurous amenities that the Nantahala River Gorge has to offer—river rafting, rock climbing, day hiking, and camping. Currently, the bridge connecting the pathway to the U.S. 19/U.S. 74 section is under construction. However, for those feeling up for a challenge, the trail continues up the National Forest Road, also known as…This part of the trail is all uphill and clings to the side of the mountain. There are several points along the trail that offer breathtaking views of the gorge below. As the trail curves alongside the mountain, streams carve out paths lined with rocks, contributing their own gurgling to the light wind that cuts down the trail. This path continues for roughly 2 miles and is a forestry service road, so caution must be taken when deciding to bike or hike up the trail. The Nantahala Bikeway is a calm summer stroll in comparison and is highly recommended for those that enjoy all that the natural North Carolina scenery has to offer!
Once you get a taste for the Nantahala National Forest on the Bikeway, be sure to set aside plenty of time to keep exploring this “land of the noon day sun” as the Cherokee Indians called it. After all, it is over half a million acres of pristine North Carolina mountains, rivers and valleys at your fingertips! If you want to hike, there are over 600 miles of trails to choose from: see waterfalls in Gorges State Park, backpack on the Appalachian Trail to a great vantage point called Siler’s Bald, or get your adrenaline going on the cliffs of Whiteside Mountain. Use http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/nfsnc/about-forest to get all the information about the rules, regulations and maps for the forest that you’ll need. Pack a lunch to eat at a campsite and make it a whole day excursion! If you aren’t opposed to getting wet, get out on the Nantahala River with a certified rafting company like the Nantahala Outdoor Center (http://www.noc.com/). From one person inflatable kayaks (called a “ducky” in the rafting world) to a half day guided raft trip, there is something for everyone and every skill level. Rather not worry about treading on the ferns on the forest floor or bumping into rocks in the rapids? Get a bird’s eye view of Nantahala on a zip line tour (http://www.wildwaterrafting.com/nanzip.php) instead. Check around with different companies before you book, some have specials if you bundle more than one activity or can plan a trip during a slower season.
For lodging and fun outside of the Forest, take US-19 N/US-74 E twenty miles to Bryson City (expect the drive to take more like forty five minutes with slow traffic on some winding roads around Nantahala). It’s a great base camp for your trip to Western NC since it offers lodging ranging from hotels and motels to bed and breakfasts. Use the search engine here to find out what kind of accommodation would suit you the best: http://www.greatsmokies.com/. It’s also a great resource for anything else you want to know about Bryson. The city offers visitors a charming downtown with historic houses, mountain crafts and authentic restaurants all within walking distance (which is a plus once you find out about the local beer from Nantahala Brewing Company). Start on Main Street and head East to Everett Street to make sure you hit all the sweet shopping and dining spots. Just take time to pause near the river at sunset to catch the best view of the cityline and surrounding mountains.
If you have a free afternoon and want to see the mountains in a truly unique way, look into the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (https://rezweb.com/gsmr/). Unlike the Nantahala Bikeway, this track is 53 miles, 2 tunnels and 25 bridges of very active railway that will take you on a trip back in time and through the mountain scenery. Your train loving kids (and adults too!) will go crazy for a ride in a restored, vintage coach from the 1920’s or an open air gondola. Splurge and spend a 4 hour ride around the Nantahala Gorge in first class, which includes a lunch served by the car’s private attendant and a souvenir tumbler and tote bag. Whatever you choo-choose, you’ll ride in style!