We left Robbinsville about 4 pm taking an easy drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway from Balsam Gap to Mt. Pisgah . There was very little traffic and a beautiful evening to see the distant scenery. We arrived at Mt. Pisgah Campground at about 7:30 pm and were glad it was sparsely populated with campers. We found a perfect RV site (RV 14 Loop A) which offered privacy and no one within 3 campsites of us. Ron rounded-up firewood left at sites by previous campers and Nancy took a quick park tour on her bicycle. There was some construction to upgrade the park, but overall it was in good condition. Many of the sites were marked as RESERVED for the coming weekend. We suggest that you make reservations via phone for holidays. On the web go to www.ReserveAmerica.com and search for Mount Pisgah Campground.
Evening rain kept us from getting the motorcycles out, but our main agenda was eating and adult beverages, so no problem. Light rain throughout the evening made for good sleeping weather in the RV. We awoke to fog and more drizzles, but could see spots of blue sky peaking through the clouds. It is a 20 mile downhill ride all the way to Asheville , going through nine tunnels. Nancy couldn’t resist and took her bicycle on a downhill thrill ride in the fog. She does have lighting on both the front and back of the bike, giving her good visibility in tunnels and clouds..
Our next destination was the Bear Den Campground, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway between Marion on the south and Spruce Pine on the north. The parkway north of the campground has been closed due to last years heavy rains from hurricanes. We accessed the campground by taking 226 North to the Blue Ridge Parkway and then heading north on the Blue Ridge Parkway approximately 6 miles to the campground entrance. The entrance is only marked with a small road sign “ Bear Den Campground Road ”. The access road is hard packed gravel with one sharp switchback. Take it slow if you are in an RV or pulling a trailer. Sportbikes and cruisers should take the access road with caution. We had no problem with our KLR 650s and 28 foot RV.
We found the campground about one third full on a Tuesday morning, but a full house was expected for the July Fourth weekend. The campgrounds are heavily wooded with a small lake and swimming area, shower rooms, and camp store. Sites are available for all types of camping from tents to full size RV’s. Another unique point about this campground is the availability of portable hot tubs at your campsite. Rental is $45 per day with a 2 day minimum. With reservations they will be set up when you arrive. Not quite as nice as our hot tub at home, but the comfort was well worth the extra expense.
THE RIDE DAY ONE: We used Hawk Hogebak’s Motorcycle Adventures In the Southern Appalchians (#2) to plan our route. We met Hawk at the most recent Honda Hoot and have been using his excellent travels books for years. We offer them for sale in our on-line store. Volume 2 covers Asheville North Carolina , The Blue Ridge Parkway, and North Carolina High Country which is basically our area of interest for this trip. We chose the Burnsville Loop (page 110) which covers 70 miles from Burnsville North Carolina to Erwin Tennessee and then back to Burnsville .
Jumping off the Blue Ridge Parkway we took NC 226 North to Spruce Pine and then US 19E west (this is somewhat confusing there is a 19E and a 19W and they both go east and West) to the beginning of the loop at Burnsville. We encountered moderate traffic during this first part.
Turning north on NC 197 we immediately escaped the traffic and found good twisties all the way into Tennessee . Be extremely careful as you are following the Toe River between Green Mountain and Red Hill, there is a very sharp left turn onto a one-lane bridge that can catch you by surprise. The best section was north of Poplar North Carolina approaching the Tennessee state line. The downhill into Tennessee on TN 395 (197 turns into 395 at the state line) was pretty good too, but there was a nasty guardrail that sternly stared at us and made us behave.
We took a quick loop through the Rock Creek Recreation Area. It looked like a good place to camp and many of the sites included electricity. Downside was the crowd and lack of privacy at the sites. TN 395 takes you into Rock Creek Tennessee where you turn left on TN 107 and head south into Erwin.
In Erwin take a right staying on TN 107 and catch I-26/19W South. Two exits south take 19W South and in a few miles the fun begins. We knew it would be good when we spotted the Truck Warning sign. We found great curves all the way back into North Carolina . Taking this road we imagined bootleggers running from Johnson City to Asheville in their old hopped-up jalopies running the mountain roads full out like in the movie Thunder Road. Some of the crossroads still have the old dilapidated general stores and gas stations that served these rural mountain areas in the past. We passed=up a few stops such as Snake Bite Hollow and the Church of the Holy Brethren. We wondered if there might be a connection between the two.
US 19W joins US 19E which we took east through Burnsville and then NC 80 South heading for Mount Mitchell . On NC 80 you’ll pass the beautiful Mount Mitchell Country Club Golf Course.
After about 6 miles NC 80 gets fun. We hit some heavy rain and had to take it easy through the tight uphill turns. At the Blue Ridge Parkway we headed back north (south bound was closed to Mount Mitchell due to another land slide). Nancy got sleepy running the Blue Ridge Parkway’s easy left and right curves, so we jumped off at Little Switzerland and took NC 226A paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway. This little gem turned out to have a fun section of twisties. We then jumped back on the Blue Ridge Parkway and beelined for the hot tub.
TOTAL TRAVEL DISTANCE: 140 miles
TOTAL TIME: 4 hours which included stops for fuel, lunch and photos.
BEST ROADS: NC 197 near the state line; US 19W on the Tennessee side; NC 80 near the Blue Ridge Parkway; NC 226A near Little Switzerland.
WORST ROADS: NC 226 into Spruce Pine (traffic and construction); US 19E from Spruce Pine to Burnsville (traffic).
MOST SURPRISING: We saw only two other motorcycles on the back roads all day!
RECOMMENDED READING FOR TRIP PLANNING: Motorcycle Adventures in the Southern Appalachians II by Hawk Hagebak. CLICK HERE for more information.