Earlier this summer Jon and I started working on the section of USBR 21 that will connect Knoxville to Chattanooga and the Georgia State Line and will soon be working on the link from Kentucky to Knoxville. There are three phases to implementing a US Bike Route — planning, designation, and promotion — we are in the planning phase, requesting public comments. USBR 21 is being undertaken by Bike Walk Tennessee. Anyone with feedback on the proposed route, can email Matt Farr at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The gpx track for the main route includes map, elevation and cue sheet. There are also spurs to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Foothills Parkway; Tellico Plains; and the Cherohala Skyway. Click on the links for their respective gpx tracks:
— Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with an alternate route for those that would like to ride up and over the Foothills Parkway (gpx track) and then connect back to the main route.
— Tellico Plains and the infamous Cherohala Skyway (gpx track).
We’re excited about this beautiful touring route that travels along bucolic backroads, winds through main streets not on the beaten path, and shares a glimpse of historic Tennessee along the way. The route is currently 152.2 miles one-way, excluding spurs. The criteria used in planning a USBR is that the route should attract touring cyclists to scenic destinations and cultural attractions and it should connect cities and/or transportation hubs. We feel that this route accomplishes these specifications.
Overview of Main Route:
The proposed route starts in downtown Knoxville then heads south winding along pastoral backroads through Knox County and Blount Counties. The route turns southwest to travel along the southern most tip of Maryville, riding by several farms that offer seasonal markets for local produce. After crossing US 129, the route fringes Kyker Bottoms Wildlife Refuge on the way to US 411. Although a busy road, US 411 offers wide shoulders and access across the Tennessee River (Loudon Lake) into the town of Vonore in Monroe County. Here, there are several options for refueling before the route returns to the less-travelled backroads.
The route travels through the quaint town of Madisonville where accommodations are available. Heading towards Athens, there are many pastoral farms along the route. On the outskirts of Athens, cyclists will ride past the legendary Mayfield Dairy Farms (registered as a Century Farm) and Goldie Denton Mayfield’s old Farmstead. After a refreshing scoop of ice cream at the Mayfield Visitor’s Center and an optional quick tour of the dairy plant, the route continues through Athens’ historic downtown. Surprisingly, this next section, between Athens and Calhoun, by east TN standards, is relatively flat! This segment rides by Spring Briar Farm, built by the Getty family in the 1820’s, and Getty’s Mill just across the road, built in 1859.
There are very few busy roads on this route, but unavoidably, Bowater Road, is the best option for traveling through the town of Calhoun and crossing the Hiwassee River. This 3-mile section has no shoulder and is fairly busy, but the three times I rode this route, drivers moved over to provide me safety space. Bowater Road connects with US 11, but this busy road provides shoulders. Shortly after crossing the river, the route returns to quieter roads through historic Charleston. History buffs will enjoy the historic settings along this section of the Civil War Trail and the short section of Historic US 11 with it’s predecessor, the concrete highway! And something you won’t want to miss — from Market Street, turn west on Cass Street, then glance to the left — you’ll think you’re in Charleston, South Caroline not Tennessee, as you gaze upon a bald cypress swamp!
Leaving Charleston, the route enters the northern border of Cleveland on quiet backroads with easterly mountain views. The route then merges onto the busier US 11, for approximately one mile, before jaunting through a neighborhood to connect with the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway. The paved 4-mile greenway travels to the heart of Cleveland’s historic downtown, bypassing busy streets, while providing access to parks, grocery stores and eateries along the way.
From Cleveland, the route heads west on TN 312 then returns to gently rolling backroads for 5 miles before reconnecting with TN 312 for the climb up and over Mahan Gap. There are options for refueling on the other side of the mountain. A couple miles further west, the route once again turns off to quieter roads. Connecting with TN 58, the route heads south towards Chattanooga. Although a busy road, there are wide shoulders that skirt along Harrison Bay. Coming into the city of Chattanooga, the route turns onto the Tennessee Riverpark at the Chickamauga Dam and runs alongside the Tennessee River on an 8-mile journey to downtown.
Overview of Optional Spurs:
The Great Smoky Mountains Spur continues south on Old Walland Highway at mile 20.7 towards Townsend and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here, cyclists will find a host of eatery and lodging options. This area features a wealth of outdoor activities: hiking, fishing, tubing, whitewater paddling, and horseback riding, along with a wealth of sight-seeing options. There are two options to reconnect with the main route: retrace the spur route back to Old Walland Highway and the split for Townsend; or take the Foothills Parkway Spur which parallels the main route, traveling along the backbone of Chilhowee Mountain. The 16.5 mile ride up and over the Parkway provides incredible mountain vistas of the Smoky Mountains and the valleys below. The route continues on US 129, skirting the edge of Chilhowee Lake along the way. There are options to refuel along this section before connecting to the main route.
then skirts Chilhowee Lake winding along US 129 where it connects with the main route.
The Tellico Plains and Cherohala Skyway Spur splits on Niles Ferry Road at mile 57.2. You will note on the cue sheet/map that there are two options — a short 21.7 mile option and longer 35.9 mile option. In the town of Tellico Plains, cyclists will find lodging and restaurants. This peaceful mountain town is the gateway to the Cherohala Skyway and the Cherokee National Forest. Outdoor recreational opportunities are plentiful: hiking, camping, swimming, paddling, fishing, and more. The route returns and reconnects in the town of Madisonville. The Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile National Scenic Byway and National Forest Scenic Byway that connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina.The skyway starts at 800 ft. in elevation, and climbs over mountains to 5,390 ft at Santeetlah Overlook on the state border, with 21 miles of the Skyway in southeast Tennessee and 15 miles in North Carolina.
Maps and cue sheet links:
Click here for a link to the full route, map and elevation along with the gpx track.
We invite cyclists to ride the route, or sections of the route, and share suggestions and comments. Please direct comments and questions to Matt Farr, Executive Director of Bike Walk Tennessee at email@example.com. We also invite you to join the US Bike Routes 21/121 and 80 Facebook Group page.