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What's in a Name?
By James and Dorothy Richardson
Through the mountains of east Tennessee and western North Carolina, U.S. 64 is known by a variety of names with those highway monikers describing a little about each area’s features and heritage.
Just in that area of Tennessee and North Carolina, U.S. 64 carries with it several distinctive names, like the Appalachian Highway and the Southern Highroads Trail.
The U.S. Forest Service has incorporated Highway 64 into its first Scenic Byway—the Ocoee. North Carolina, which has its own state scenic byway system, and the U.S. Forest Service combine Highway 64 into part of two other byways that stretch through the western part of the state—the Mountain Waters and Forest Heritage Scenic Byways.
Because it shares so many names must have some significance. It is a very scenic stretch of highway and has many attractions for visitors.
Parts of U.S. 64 are quite curvy, some with hairpin turns, and afford some very exciting views. All of U.S. 64 is accessible by large trailers, however care should be exercised in some areas.
Between the towns of Ocoee in southeast Tennessee and Brevard in western North Carolina, U.S. 64 crosses the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, a chain of the Blue Ridge. The Cherokee, Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests offer the backdrop for the highway vistas.
These scenic byways incorporate parts of U.S. 64 and other highways to offer travelers interesting and picturesque side trips. Along these routes there are many opportunities for outdoor adventure and education.
Ocoee Scenic Byway
The Ocoee Scenic Byway is only 26 miles long, but there are lots of activities packed into that short distance. The byway extends from the just east of Ducktown, Tennessee, along U.S. 64 and the Ocoee River up Chilhowee Mountain along Forest Service Highway 77.
The Ocoee was the first National Forest Service Byway established in the nation. It winds through the Cherokee National Forest, passing along Parksville Lake and through the Ocoee River gorge. The route up Chilhowee Mountain offers great views of the Ocoee River and Parksville Lake. At the top is Chilhowee Recreation Area with a lake, a campground, and other activities. Parksville Lake Campground offers the camper complete services including full hookups.
Besides scenic views, the byway has a variety of recreational opportunities. Parksville Lake provides swimming, boating and fishing. There is a marina at the lake.
The Ocoee River attracts whitewater enthusiasts. Canoeing, rafting and kayaking are popular activities. Several outfitters offer packages for visitors. Fishing is also a popular sport in other areas of the Cherokee National Forest. Check with the forest service station at the foot of Chilhowee Mountain before the byway begins its climb upward.
Because the area was once inhabited by Cherokee Indians and was the site of several Civil War campaigns, the historical value is significant. A little farther eastward along U.S. 64, signs of the Old Copper Road (another name shared by U.S. 64) are visible. This road was used by horse-drawn wagons to transport copper ore from Ducktown and nearby Copperhill to markets.
Forest Heritage Scenic Byway
The Forest Heritage Scenic Byway is a 79-mile loop incorporating U.S. 64, U.S. 276 and North Carolina State Route 215. From U.S. 64 at the junction of state Route 215 head north to begin the byway.
Through the Pisgah National Forest there are numerous vantage points as the road ascends from about 2,400 feet in elevation at U.S. 64 to 3,800 feet at Pinhook Gap.
At two points the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses this scenic byway—once along the northern portion of state Route 215 and again at U.S. 276 as the scenic byway continues southward after intersecting with U.S. 276. On U.S. 276 travel southward toward Brevard, North Carolina. Along the route there are several points of interest. The Cradle of Forestry is a visitor center and exhibit with trails. The Cradle of Forestry commemorates the beginning of the first forestry education facility. This was an idea of George Vanderbilt, grandson of the railroad baron Cornelius Vanderbilt.
A short distance southward is a popular natural attraction—Sliding Rock, where one can literally “slide” down the slippery rock. Just south of Sliding Rock is one of the most popular waterfalls in the area. Looking Glass Falls is right beside the road that lends to its popularity. The waterfall is a 65-foot plunging falls with stairs to its base. There is a parking area along U.S. 276 for stops.
Several campgrounds are within in the Pisgah National Forest and some are along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. The most convenient to U.S. 64 and the byway is Davidson River Campground along U.S. 276. From Brevard on U.S. 64 go east to U.S. 276. Turn north onto the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Go one and a half miles to the campground.
Mountain Waters Scenic Byway
For a little over 61 miles the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway winds through some of the most beautiful countryside in the Southeast. It leads the traveler through hardwood forests, two river gorges (the Nantahala and the Cullasaja), the huge Nantahala National Forest, and rural landscapes. The byway follows U.S. 64 from Highlands to just west of Franklin.
The first seven and a half miles follows the Cullasaja River and Gorge. The winding US 6.4. gives spectacular views along the way. Don’t forget to occasionally look back up the gorge for a double dose of great views. That advice is for the passengers, not the drivers.
There are occasional pullouts for viewing. Notable waterfalls along the route are Bridal Veil Falls, directly on U.S. 64 just west of Highlands at another pullout that allows vehicles to actually drive beneath the falls. Bridal Veil Falls is a fine 120-foot “veil” of water. Just west along U.S. 64 is a parking area for Dry Falls on the left (south). Be watchful because the turnoff sneaks up on you. This waterfall is a 75-foot roaring falls. The name comes from the fact that the pathway behind the falls allows visitors to walk and stay dry.
Just west of Franklin the scenic route turns right, or north, onto old U.S. 64, and then left (west) onto state Route 1310, which is called Wayah Road. This road pretty much parallels Wayah Creek for about six miles. Along Wayah Road there are two picnic areas—the Arrowood Glade Picnic Area along Wayah Creek and the Wayah Crest Picnic Area at Wayah Gap.
An interesting side trip in this area is to Wayah Bald. From Wayah Gap follow Forest Service Road 69 for a little over a mile to Wilson Lick Ranger Station. Built in 1913, Wilson Lick was the first ranger station in the Nantahala National Forest. Continue another three miles along Forest Service Road 69 to Wayah Bald. There is a short paved trail to the Wayah Bald Fire Tower, a historic “monument” built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Be careful climbing on monuments. The tower provides a panoramic view of the southern Appalachian Mountains of Georgia, Tennessee, and both the Carolinas. There are two notable trails that cross the mountain at the fire tower—the Appalachian Trail and the Bartram Trail (named for William Bartram who is today recognized as one of the first spiritual naturalists).
Back on the scenic byway, Nantahala Lake is located six miles west of Wayah Gap. With its 26 miles of shoreline, it offers many opportunities for fishing and boating. There are boat ramps available. Feeding the Nantahala Lake is the Nantahala River, which has good trout populations. Above the powerhouse, a catch-and-release policy is in effect from spring to early summer.
Along the Nantahala River Gorge, excellent whitewater rafting and kayaking is available. There are several commercial outfitters that operate along the lower end of the Nantahala. A platform along the last series of rapids allows spectators to witness the rafts and kayaks as they maneuver the last series of rapids.
Continuing along the scenic byway, FR 1310 intersects with U.S. 19. Turn north toward Almond for the conclusion of the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. These three scenic byways all touch U.S. 64 and demonstrate the diversity of this part of the countryside. However, there is no good way to travel all three byways without retracing some of the route along U.S. 64. Plot your maps with the layout of these byways, select your approach and you final destinations, and try to incorporate one or more of these truly scenic byways into your travels.