TOTD – Moonshiner 28

Stretching from US 129, at the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap, Moonshiner 28 winds its way southeastward 103 miles, through Franklin and Highlands, North Carolina, before turning southward into Georgia and South Carolina and ending at the sleepy town of Walhalla, SC.


This road is steeped in local history. Once one of the major runs for moonshiners with revenuers hot on their bumper, the road today boasts some great tight turns, wide sweepers and unsurpassed scenery. Mountain vistas, waterfalls and secluded lakes appear around nearly every corner. You can find good food, accommodations of every type and unique shops with unusual antiques and crafts created by mountain artisans. The road width, condition and scenery will change frequently, as you wind through different towns along the way.


NC 28 shares the roadway with other routes such as US 19, US 74, US 64 and others, as it makes its run through three states. Although this ride is suitable for any skill level, even experienced riders will need to be wary of some decreasing radius corners (corner tightens) that are clearly marked as ’10 mph’ corners and should be respected.


There are a great number of interesting places to see along the way. And I find new ones every time we ride it. Fontana Dam and Fontana Village are just a quick departure from your path and offer great overlooks. Just past Fontana Dam, you’ll see Rainbow Falls on your right. Most of the time the falls are just a trickle.


View from  Moonshiner 28 near Lauada, North Carolina

Near Bryson City, you will find “The Road to Nowhere” a few miles north on US 19. The Fontana Dam Project resulted in the destruction of NC 288 in 1943. Some 1,300 families had to be relocated. In the process twenty-eight cemeteries were moved to higher ground on the northern side of the lake. The Federal Government promised to build a new road along the north shore so families could access these cemeteries.


Road to Nowhere, Bryson City, North Carolina

By 1969 the road from Bryson City had only been extended for 5 miles and the remaining twenty-six miles was never completed. Swain County, North Carolina, has been in negotiation with the Federal Government for decades over what has become known as “The Road to Nowhere”. Descendants of those buried across the lake must take boats and hike to visit the gravesites, after reaching the dead end some 9 miles off Moonshiner 28.


Tunnel at Gold Mine trail

Tunnel at the dead end of The Road to Nowhere, Bryson City, North Carolina

Shortly outside of Franklin, NC, Moonshiner 28 will eventually join US 64 and you are on your way to Highlands. The first six miles are boring, small industrial sprawl with typical local traffic. Watch out for cars and trucks turning into or out of businesses and side roads.

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Moonshiner 28, North Carolina

After passing Buck Creek Road on the left, hang on. The Moonshiner climbs sharply with Cullasaja Gorge off to the right and rock cliffs to the left. The road narrows with a metal guardrail the only protection from a 250-foot plunge into the gorge. This roadway was cut into solid granite by workers dangling from ropes and drilling 10 feet into the rock to place dynamite charges. The road was graveled and opened in 1931. In those years, it must have been one hairy ride. It took several years before Highway 28 was paved. The turns are so narrow that 18-wheelers cannot negotiate the corners today.

There is a small pull-off on the right where you can stop to view Cullasaja Falls, which drops more than 250 feet in a series of cascades. The small parking area is only large enough for two cars, but a motorcycle can squeeze in, if you are careful. Pavement along here has some heaves and cracks to watch-out for.



Cullasaja Falls, Highland, North Carolina


Moonshiner 28 follows the Cullasaja River for the next eight miles into Highlands, NC. One of the most popular stops is Dry Falls, where after a short hike you can walk underneath the 75-foot falls. 


Dry Falls, Highland, North Carolina

Don’t care to get off the bike? Go another mile and actually ride under Bridal Veil Falls. Moonshiner 28 used to go right under the 120-foot falls, but a bypass was made and today there is a pull-off from the main road.


Bridal Veil Falls, Highland, North Carolina

Heading south out of Highlands, the road once again is designated only as NC 28. Soon you cross the Eastern Continental Divide, which demarcates the two watersheds of the east coast: The Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.

It is not too long before you encounter some more great twisties, on what is also known as Walhalla Road. After one turn, the giant rock of Satulah Mountain towers into the sky ahead of you. Good pavement and good scenery all the way to the Georgia border 6 miles distant. In those six miles the elevation drops 1500 feet.


Satulah Mountain, North Carolina

Once into Georgia the turns get even tighter, but the pavement has many tar snakes – no big deal, but they do bother some riders. Another 6 miles of good riding and you reach the intersection of Warwoman Road. The first three miles of Warwoman are worth an out and back for some good turns.

Two more miles and you cross the Chattooga River into South Carolina. The Chattooga is designated a Wild and Scenic River and is a popular rafting and kayak destination. The road from the state line into Walhalla is a mix …. some very tight decreasing radius downhill turns, some good sweepers and some blah coming into town two-lane. Pavement is good with a few rough spots to watch-out for.

A discovery in 1963 found an abandoned tunnel here being used by moonshiners. The set-up was quite intricate, with a small entrance partially covered with rock to keep away the nosey, a stream midway in the tunnel that required a boat to cross, and the still at the far end with just a small opening to allow the smoke from “cooking” to escape. 


Stump House Tunnel, Walhalla, South Carolina

But do not dally. Remember, this is 103 miles one-way. You have a long return trip ahead of you. You can return the same way you came and still find numerous things to see, or you can take any number of routes heading east and north to eventually connect you back to NC 28 or US 129 south of Robbinsville.

The final entry in this series will be a recap of the ‘Tail of the Dragon’ itself, with some reflections, advice, and anecdotal stories to wrap things up.

2 Responses to “TOTD – Moonshiner 28”
  1. I don’t want this to be over!!!!

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