Nancy and I needed a few days of R and R midsummer, so we took off to explore some new roads in the Valle Crucis area of North Carolina . Located about an hour and a half north of Asheville , the area looked interesting and we wanted to revisit one of our all-time favorite bad roads, NC 194 between Valle Cruses and Banner Elk.
Nancy found a bed and breakfast that she wanted to try and the owners were even Tail of the Dragon fanatics with a link to our website on theirs. We are not exactly bed and breakfast types, but thought we’d give the Valle CrucIs Bed and Breakfast a try. They had a hot tub which made our decision much easier.
On arrival we were warmly greeted by the owners Suzanne and Damon who showed us our room and gave us some good hints for local roads to explore. We brought our KLR 650s so we could handle just about anything. They are set-up for the street with Scorpion tires (90% street), jetted carb, Scorpion pipe, fork stabilizers, gear mods and tuned by the legendary Ken Wheeler of Wheeler’s 129 Performance. Both bikes dyno out at 40 hp, well over the stock 30 hp or so. The Kawis are our favorite bikes on the Dragon even though we have a Tuono, F4I, R6, and a pair of FZ1s. They are just plain fun to ride.
After unloading we headed out to do some exploring. We brought Hawk Hagebak’s book Motorcycle Adventures in the Southern Appalachians Vol 2 which details the roads in the northern part of North Carolina . We always take one of his excellent books when riding anywhere in the Appalachians . So we were not going out blind.
Heading north on SR 1112 (Broadstone Road) through the small community of Valle Crucis we had to force ourselves to bypass the turn for NC 194 south, a road we planned to get to later in detail. It was mid-afternoon so we stopped for a quick sandwich at the Creekside Deli in Valle Crucis. We didn’t see any creek, but the tuna was out of this world and the hamburger not too bad.
We then took NC 194 north passed the famous Mast General Store which has been in business since 1883 and then turned left on Mast Gap Road (SR 1117). We were inspired by the beautiful gardens and flowers that adorned both sides of the road.
Nancy and I really enjoy these back country roads because of the old houses, bountiful vegetable gardens and old time homesteads that we see. This is no place to “tear it up”, so we just relax and enjoy the sights.
We followed Mast Gap Road up to US 321, took a left and then a quick right onto Old US 421 (SR 1223). We passed the communities of Sherwood, Amantha, Mast and Mabel before turning left on North Fork Road which became gravel after a mile or so. The maps showed this crossing into Tennessee and we have no problem with unpaved roads, so we climbed and passed some rarely seen farms. At the gap there was a large modern building with a new sign proclaiming it as Seasons Farm. Heading down a few miles we found Tennessee and pavement again.
Two general rules that we have learned in touring the backroads can prove important. One is that if you start seeing less affluent properties it is likely a dead end road. Rule number two is that intersecting roads usually point to the best way out. In other words the angle of less than 90 degrees points to the main road.
We were now on Bulldog Road heading east towards US 421. A right onto US 421 and then a quick left onto Drakes Creek Road led us to a steadily climbing back road where rule number one came into play. We turned around and took a left back onto Drakes Creek and then found TN 67 that we were looking for. TN 67 east led us to the North Carolina border and NC 88 which had been much praised by other riders. We found it rather mundane and not even terribly scenic. We did pass through several areas that had to be the used car capital of the US . Just ride into one of the big bends in the road like at Dresden , see a local general store, and cars were parked everywhere. At first we thought there might be a local festival, but then we noticed the used car signs. Perhaps someone can explain this to us.
We turned south onto NC194 and decided to follow it all the way back to Valle Crucis. There were a few good sections and more used car lots before West Jefferson where US 221 joined 194. Once we turned off 221 and back onto NC 194 the road became great fun. There was some land clearing going on here which left mud and gravel on the corners, but it was still a good ride all the way to Todd. The road was even pretty good from Todd to Boone …… and then we hit the rush hour traffic in Boone.
We were patient and passed though Boone at a snails pace reminding us of how much we really appreciate where we live in Robbinsville. At Vilas we escaped the traffic and decided to blow off some steam by running the worst/best road in North Carolina . NC 194 south from Valle Crucis.
NC 194 in its three miles of climb to Matney has more hazards than Pebble Beach . The pavement surface is rutted, patched, negative cambered, and unmarked in many places. The edge of the road has drop-offs, deteriorating asphalt, 18 inch tall posts with connecting chain link fence, asphalt berms, exagerated crown and even some barb wire fencing. There is one double switch-back that is unbelievably tight and steep. Want to see the action here? Rent the Shook Home called Sweet Retreat right in the corner. And you might meet some truck and trailer traffic with just inches to squeak by. NC 194 makes the Dragon look like a safety course. You’ll have to review the photos to even begin to understand.
We made a quick pass up and back on this fun road just to cool down before we went back to the B and B to get ready for dinner.
Suzanne had recommended dining at the Moonshine in downtown Boone. The restaurant is located in the original old jail and featured Mexican and Tai cuisine. We ate on the veranda and had several imported beers that were advertised as HG (high gravity) and according to the waitress would “put us on our asses”. It didn’t happen, but the hot tamales were excellent and prices very reasonable.
Back at the B and B there were chocholate chip cookies waiting for us at bedside. We headed for the hot tub and downed a few more brews. After a few minutes of TV just to catch-up on the news, we hit the big four-poster bed and fell right asleep.
Up bright and early there was coffee brewed and waiting. Suzanne and Damon appeared about 7:30 and began preparing breakfast. We gorged ourselves with fresh fruit, biscuits, bacon, sausage and eggs … way too much but what the heck.
We left the car and trailer parked at the B and B and took off for the day. Our first route took us back up NC 194 to Banner Elk. We noted some repaving going on just a short distance south of Matney and hoped they were not going to continue north and ruin our section of fun road on NC 194.
At Banner Elk we took NC 184 south to NC 105 and then headed south for Grandfather Mountain . There are several ski mountains at Banner Elk making it a year-round destination.
At Linville we turned onto US 221 north. This road takes you past the entrance to Grandfather Mountain , crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then winds it way to Blowing Rocks. We named this route the Men in Skirts to Skirts in Bentley Run. Linville is the home of the annual Scottish Games and Blowing Rocks is quite ritzy.
The two mile climb to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain is quite twisty, but we encountered slower traffic and found it impossible to pass. We have been to Grandfather before and we highly recommend it to riders. It costs $14 per adult and then you ride to the top on a very tight, twisting roadway. It is nearly always windy and cold (10 degrees below nearby temps) as you explore the top, so take some warm clothes.
Crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway we lost the slower traffic and picked-up speed heading through some great twisties on the way to Blowing Rock. There were a couple of tight turns, but most were sweepers with some unique sights such as roadside waterfalls, jutting rocks, and wildflowers. We encountered very little traffic for some eleven miles until we neared Ansley. The pavement is is excellent condition.
After a Red Bull in Blowing Rock we decided to return to the Blue Ridge Parkway by the same route, US 221. Once again the road was devoid of traffic and great fun.
Trying to find another way back to Valle Crucis we headed north on the BRP across the scenic viaduct bridge which hugs the steep slopes of the Pisgah National Forest . We took a left onto the gravel Holloway Mountain Road (SR1559) and eventually found pavement after a few downhill miles.
We got back onto NC 105 for our return to the Valle Crucis Bed and Breakfast.