36 Miles / 1900 Feet of Climbing
Follow the Tellico River deep into the Cherokee National Forest on this idyllic ride!
Potential Route Modifications: As an out & back route, this ride can be shortened to any distance simply by turning around at any point prior the State Line Campground. Turning around at Bald River Falls makes the ride 13 miles. Turning around at the Green Cove Angler Store makes the ride 26 miles. Another option for shortening the ride is to start the ride farther up the river at the Baby Falls parking lot, which is just past Bald River Falls. This option avoids the Bald River Falls traffic and reduces the ride to 23 miles. (The Baby Falls parking area also has pit toilet bathrooms.) If you want more miles, you can add 4 miles to the route by going past the State Line Campground and following the road to where the pavement ends. From the state line, it's about two miles to where the road turns to gravel, with the second mile involving some challenging climbing on double-digit grades!
We can't recommend this ride enough, as it offers a truly unique opportunity to ride alongside a gorgeous river through a national forest on a paved road for 18 miles! And if that weren't enough, it also has numerous restroom options along the way and even a convenience store in case you need a drink or a snack. And being an out & back that runs upstream, it works for cyclists of any level. Whenever you feel fatigued, just turn around and let gravity help you roll back to where you started!
While it is possible to start this ride from downtown Tellico Plains or the Cherohala Skyway Visitors Center, we find the five-mile stretch between downtown and the River Road turnoff to be a little uncomfortable with traffic, blind curves and no shoulder. So our recommendation is to start this ride at the Oosterneck Overlook, which is right before the River Road turnoff and offers ample parking. It also provides easy access to a refreshing plunge in the Tellico River after a warm summer ride! (The only downside to starting at the Oosterneck Overlook is that it doesn't have a bathroom. So consider stopping at the Cherohala Visitors Center or the Cherohala Market Exxon station for restrooms before starting the ride.)
Once on the River Road, it's a straight shot all the way to the North Carolina border. While following the river provides great scenery the whole way, it also means that you're heading uphill the whole way. Fortunately, the grades are easy, generally around 2-3%. The road does kick up in a few places, notably as you approach Bald River Falls and after you pass the trout hatchery near the North Carolina border. And, as noted above in the Potential Modifications section, if you go past the State Line Campground, you can challenge yourself on a brutal 1-mile climb with double-digit grades, some approaching 20%!
Traffic is generally light on the River Road, although a beautiful day has the potential to bring out tourists wanting a picture at Bald River Falls. So pay careful attention to traffic in the first six miles. (No one should be going very fast on the River Road, but they may still want to pass you.) Once you make it past Bald River Falls, the number of vehicles you'll see on this ride will diminish greatly. Not many tourists venture beyond Bald River Falls, so for the rest of the ride you should primarily only have to contend with trout fishermen and the residents of the tiny Green Cove community, which is around mile 13. (Green Cove is also home to the Green Cove Angler Store where you can grab a snack and a drink).
Another benefit you'll notice after passing Bald River Falls is the number of available bathrooms, starting with the Baby Falls parking area, which is about a quarter mile up the road from Bald River Falls. The farther up you go, the more parking and camping areas there are, most of which have bathrooms.
About a mile and half past the Green Cove community is the Tellico Trout Hatchery. Originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's, the hatchery stocks the Tellico River with over 70,000 trout each year! They also have a nice new deck overlooking the river which makes a good spot for a photo op.
But really, the whole ride is one big photo op, with gorgeous views the whole way. So take your time, take lots of pictures and soak up the scenery on this one-of-a-kind ride!
(And if you've worked up an appetite on the ride, there are several great local restaurants in Tellico Plains to help you recover!)