TELLICO PLAINS, TENNESSEE
The 41 mile mixed-surface Bald River route circles the Bald River Gorge Wilderness east of Tellico Plains, Tennessee. The route starts and finishes on the Cherohala Skyway. It includes River Rd through the Tellico River Gorge and 18 miles of primo gravel through pristine federally protected forest.
Words like gorge, river and wilderness are clear indications of the nature of this route. The area is a delight for hikers, campers and anglers. There are many campgrounds along River Rd and opportunities for wild camping throughout the forest for those who want to make it a weekend. Sourwood campground is nestled against the Tellico River while Holly Flats campground flanks the Bald River with federal wilderness areas to either side.
The route can be ridden in either direction but is shown clockwise to take advantage of the relatively gentle uphill grade on the 19 miles of pavement through the Tellico River Gorge. It would be a sin to bomb this section and miss much of the scenery. Those who prefer a store stop later in the route however, may want to ride counter-clockwise.
Ridden clockwise, miles 19 through 36 consists of one long gravel sector with two notable climbs. An ascent over the shoulder of Sugar Mountain begins immediately after the turn onto gravel and is a warm up for the climb over the shoulder of Waucheesi Mountain. Old logging roads beg to be explored but there isn’t much evidence of human activity apart from the gravel itself. Bald River Rd passes between two pristine federally protected wilderness areas from mile 18.5 through mile 22.
Expect jaw dropping scenery in the gorge, especially in early November when the leaves are turning. The river will be thundering after a period of heavy rain. The gravel portion of the route features dense and moist hardwood forest and excellent quality road surface.
The route can be shortened to 31.3 miles by parking at the turnout on Cherohala Skyway as indicated on the map at mile 4.8.
- Fall foliage typically peaks in early November.
- Water is plentiful along the route but will need to be filtered.
- The summit of Sugar Mountain is accessible via an old logging road to the left at mile 19.8 on the map. The access road to the Wacheessi Mountain summit will be on your left at mile 26.9 on the map.
- Park at the Cherohala Skyway Visitors Center in Tellico Plains.
- Parking at the turnout on Cherohala Skyway near the intersection of River Rd will shorten the route to a little over 31 miles.
- Green Cove Outfitters on River Rd is the only commercial establishment on the route. They have basic convenience store food and drink.
- Pit toilets can be found at several campgrounds along River Rd as well as at Holly Flats Campground on Bald River Rd.