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Carolina-Tennessee Road Trip: Motorcycle Diaries
Here, backpackers soak beneath gushing waterfalls. Fly fishermen unfurl lines in deep pools. And rafting guides brave roller-coaster rapids in locally made kayaks.
Text by Christopher Percy Collier   Photograph by Eric Horan
Photo: Rafting the Nantahala River
ROUGH RIDER: Paddling the Nantahala River's Class II rapids

Road Trips:  California  |  New York  |  North Carolina-Tennessee  |  Utah

No windows. No doors. No roof. On a petrol-sipping motorcycle, you're always outside. And that's precisely the point when touring the rugged North Carolina-Tennessee border. Here, backpackers soak themselves beneath gushing waterfalls. Fly fishermen unfurl fluorescent lines in deep pools. And off-duty rafting guides brave roller-coaster rapids in locally made kayaks. Embark on a two-wheel expedition with a tent, sleeping bag, and fly rod bungeed to the rear, and you won't miss a thing on account of poor visibility.

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Map: Tennessee-North Carolina road trip

1) PADDLE: Fontana Lake
Eleven miles (18 kilometers) in four hours. That's the summertime cruising rate through the Cades Cove section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Trade road rage for rippling waters by renting a canoe from Fontana Village Resort at Fontana Marina, just inside park boundaries. From there it's a three-hour paddle on Fontana Lake to primitive Eagle Creek Campground. Rest assured: The only delays you'll experience will be voluntary.
 
2) BACKPACK: Joyce Kilmer
Tree-hugging takes a foursome in North Carolina's 17,394-acre (7,039-hectare) Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Area, home to one of the largest remaining virgin forests in the East. For an introduction, hike the mostly level, two-mile (3-kilometer)  Joyce Kilmer Recreation Trail in the eponymous forest. For the full tour, backtrack 15 miles (24-kilometers) to Cheoah Dam and hike the 13.3-mile (21.3-kilometer) Slickrock Creek Trail. With an elevation gain of nearly 4,000 feet (1,219 meters), it's one of the toughest, most gratifying hikes in Appalachia.
 
3) FLY-FISH: Tellico River
On the trout streams of the southern Appalachian Mountains, all you need are a half dozen fly patterns. One of them, the Tellico Nymph—now widely used on rivers throughout the U.S.—was developed on Tennessee's Tellico River, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of the Slickrock Creek Trailhead. Connect with fly-fishing guide John Champion of Telliquah Outfitters, in Tellico Plains, and he'll show you where to float this turkey- and hen-hewed stonefly. First stop: the North River, a freestone stream replete with mossy ledges, steep drop-offs, and beaver ponds. "We call it ninja fishing," says Champion. "The reward is a 20-inch (51 centimeter) wild brown trout." Pitch a tent by the river in North River Campground and cast stealthily until the sun goes down.
 
4) SELF GUIDE:
The Nantahala
It's not the rapids. What makes the Nantahala River one of the best loved flows in the U.S. is its unrivaled river culture. Glimpse the life of a guide (if only for a day) by rafting the Class II waters on your own. Shove off below the Nantahala powerhouse and, eight miles (13 kilometers) downstream, brace yourself for the final rapid: Class III Nantahala Falls. At night get pampered at the Nantahala Village Resort and Spa, a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the take-out on Route 74.

OutfittersFontana Village Resort ($50 a day for a canoe; www.fontanavillage.com); Telliquah Outfitters ($350 for a day-long, two-person fly-fishing trip; www.telliquahoutfitters.com); Nantahala Outdoors Center ($21 a day for a raft; www.noc.com)
 
Parks and Permits: Great Smoky Mountains National Park(www.nps.gov/grsm); Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Area(www.ncnatural.com)
 
Lodging: Nantahala Village Resort and Spa ($99; www.theblueridgehighlander.com)

Road Gear

The Bike

The 110-horsepower BMW 1200 RT sports tourer ($17,050; www.bmw.com) settles brilliantly into the tight twisties of the southern Smokies. Want a little more pine-scented air in your face? Adjust the automatic windshield for natural AC. For a mountain drive, spring for the high-capacity-luggage option ($675) to hold your tent and fly rod, and the GPS navigation system ($1,099) to sort out which squiggly line leads where.

The Shades
Fonda wore Ray-Bans in Easy Rider. Schwarzenegger sported black Gargoyles as the Terminator. Our pick for a blockbuster in the mountains? The durable, versatile Serengeti Rieti Drivers ($120; www.serengeti-eyewear.com).

The Shelter
Sure, it's roomy at night. But the single-person Sierra Designs Baku Tent ($230; www.sierradesigns.com) can also be clipped together in less than a minute when a storm rolls in. Stow items loaded onto your bike beneath the integrated rain fly and watch the rivers swell.

The Fish Finder
With a four-piece Sage VT2 fly rod ($385; www.sageflyfish.com) strapped to your bike, there's nothing stopping you from pulling over and exploring each and every trout stream in Appalachia. At full length the rod measures a hair less than eight feet. When broken down, it fits into an arm-length tube.
 

More Energy-Smart Adventure Road Trips and Gear
 California: The Green Miles >>
 Utah: 4x4 Required >>
 New York: Family Values >> 

Back to Road Trips Main Page >>

Map by Steve Stankiewicz

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