Sunday, September 22, 2013

Skyuka Mountain Road

A while back, I heard that retired local professional cyclist George Hincapie and lots of other bicyclists like to ride a certain road up near Columbus North Carolina, about 55 miles from home.  Its name is a bit unusual, as you may already have noticed above -- Skyuka Mountain Road.

From SKYUKA.ORG website: "The name Skyuka is used to identify the mountain ridge rising to the north of Tryon, NC, consisting of Warrior, Round, and Miller Mountain to the west, Tryon Peak, and White Oak Mountain to the east. One or more of these mountains were named for the Cherokee chief Skyuka who signed a treaty with the British in 1767 defining this mountain ridge as the line of demarcation between Cherokee and British territory."

Now you know.

I Googled the road and gazed at its tortured path.  Since it wasn't far away, I mapped out a route to see this wonder of roadbuilding expertise.  I have been to Columbus, Tryon, and some other towns nearby before on the bike, so off I went on this route.  The roads of interest are around Pushpins D through G:

View Larger Map

From home in Easley South Carolina, the route starts out easy on SC-135, SC-186, then SC-414 to Pushpin B on the map.  From there it is a few miles on US-25 to Old US-25, heading to Saluda North Carolina at Pushpin C. 

I have been to Saluda many times.  The road going there is steadily uphill, and mildly twisty.  My friend Ryan showed me the way one day back in March of 2008, about six months after I started riding.  Unfortunately, the road surface is not very good, with lots of bumps and one or two heaves that threaten to throw a rider off his bike if he doesn't happen to be holding on very well.

I turn right in Saluda onto NC-176.  If I were to follow this road for a few miles it goes down the Saluda Grade to a place called Melrose.  This section of road is much more fun going the other way -- up the grade.  It is wide in many places with slow vehicle lanes, and the surface is good enough to promote some spirited riding.  Be careful, though, there are some pavement defects that can step your tires sideways, and give you more of a thrill than you expected. 

Today, I elect not to take 176, and, instead, turn right onto Pearson Falls Road.  It immediately becomes well-groomed gravel that is easy to ride on almost any bike.  There is little traffic, and it winds its way through a forested area roughly parallel to the railroad track that is the steepest in the United States.  I've been through here before, so I know what is ahead.  There is an interesting tunnel under the tracks that is also a bridge carrying a creek beneath its roadway.
2009 photo
Another direction I could have gone from Saluda is on the most contorted road I have ever been on, Green River Cove Road.   My then new friend Ryan lead a group ride about three weeks after my first trip to Saluda with him that included Green River Cove Road -- and he took us downhill on it! I recall forcing myself to look almost backward around the hairpin bends.  I wobbled down with a death grip on the bars, but finally made it to the bottom, and onto a much easier stretch.  Oh.  In addition to Ryan, the other riders in the group included a fellow, Don, who was 74 years young at the time.  He was quite a good rider on his standard bike. 

Back to today's ride.

Pearson Falls Road passes Pearson Falls, a little private park with a nice waterfall, then connects again to NC-176, and I head east toward Tryon.  This stretch of road has pavement heaves every few hundred feet, so it is not a pleasure to ride it.  Soon enough, though, I reach NC-108, and the start of Skyuka Road, which connects me to Skyuka Mountain Road in about a mile, just after crossing over I-26/US-74.  Skyuka Mountain Road begins with a steep upgrade, and the switchbacks start almost immediately.  This one is just after Pushpin D on the map: 

Click on the link beneath the map to enlarge it so you can see how twisty the road really is. 

Here is a video done by Golden Carper in July of 2010, going the same way I went. 

I reach the top, and this wonderful panorama unfolds before me:
Click the pic to see it larger.
These views are at Pushpin E, where Skyuka Mountain Road ends and White Oak Mountain Road begins.  Somewhere down there is Holbert Cove Road, where I've ridden before.  


I stay a few minutes to take in God's creation below me.  Right next to this little gravel pulloff, there is a large house...
...with this sign:

I understand, even with the poor grammar.  ...and I don't plan to stay the night anyway.  

I continue on a short way, and find another great view, across the road from a large group of condominiums. The view:
Click the pic to see it larger. 
That is Columbus North Carolina down there.  I again stop and drink in the scenery.  Wow!  This is at Pushpin F.  

The condos:

There are a lot of other roads up here, but most of them have gates across them to keep the likes of bikers out.

Before the houses and condos were built was the thirty-two room Skyuka Hotel.
Photo from GoUpstate article by
It was built in the 1880s and torn down in the 1940s. 

On its foundation, a Dining and Recreation Hall was built for the later YMCA Camp Skyuka.   The camp opened in 1954, but closed in the mid-1980s. 

A few of the buildings that were part of the camp have been converted into houses and to other uses, including the Skyuka Mountain Lodge.  The former Dining and Recreation Hall mentioned above is currently for sale -- $579,000 -- if you are interested. 

The location of the lodge is right here:

View Larger Map

A history of the area may be found in an article on the website for the homeowners association of what is now called Camp Skyuka. 

Back to the ride, the trip down. 

The road from Pushpin F, White Oak Mountain Road, is not as long or as twisty as Skyuka Mountain Road, but it is just as scenic, maybe more. One neat thing is a large waterfall, right next to the road. 

This is Shunkewauken Falls, which drops 500 feet down the mountain.
Photo by Zarrendragon on Photobucket
That is a much better picture of the falls than I took because the trees obscured the view, but there was much more water when I was there because of recent heavy rains.   Be careful if you stop to look, as there are few places to park safely. The spot where the photo was taken is at the sharp turn to the right and below Pushpin F, below. 

View Larger Map

By the way, there is a short stretch of one-lane road to the left of Pushpin F.  Apparently there was not enough room to make it two lanes wide. 

I couldn't find a video showing the route down, but here is a video from LetsRideClyde (Terry Taylor), going up, the opposite of the direction I rode.  For reference, the waterfall is at 7:05, the one-lane section is at 8:29, and the condos are at 8:53. 

I make it down and travel on my way toward home.  The views from on high are still fresh in my memory.

The roads back are pretty easy, and I am enjoying them, too.  You can grab and move around on the map below to see other points of interest.  If you have time, don't miss Poinsett Bridge and Pleasant Ridge County Park along the way. 

Recap Map:

View Larger Map and Scroll Around

I only rode 129 miles today, but I saw some great sights.  Come along next time for more interesting roads and sights in the Upstate of South Carolina, and in western North Carolina. 

Other Riders' Rides Up and Down

  • Golden Carper rode up White Oak Mountain Road in 2010, opposite of my route.  (He misnames it, in his title.)  The one-lane section is at 4:48, and the crest is at 5:26. 
  • kalafroski rode up White Oak Mountain Road in 2010 on his supermotard, the reverse of my route.  The waterfall is at 4:10, the one-lane section is at 5:28, the summit is at 6:28.  
  • Terry Taylor of LetsRideClyde rode down Skyuka Mountain Road, opposite of the way I came, starting from Pushpin F.  The previous overlook, the one with the ungrammatical sign, is at 2:03 in his video.  
  • Terry Taylor's website, LetsRideClyde, has GPS overlays that show good motorcycle routes and Points of Interest [POI].   There are also ride videos on roads in North Carolina.  




SonjaM said...

Looks like there are some very nice twisties, and bonus you can take another way down. What a view.

It was a similar view on an ocean of trees that made me fall in love with Canada many years ago.
Now that I am residing the the Black Forest, Germany I have the forests but not the vastness of it...

rc5695 said...

Great write-up as usualy Bucky. Looks like a great road I'll have to get up there and ride sometime, with awesome views to boot. Yes, its a shame the watershed is getting so bad :(
I can't believe how good a memory you have. Don did do great riding with us. He went to be with the Lord a couple weeks ago; I attended his funeral. He was 80 something, and had ridden his motorcycle a few weeks before getting sick. It was remembered that he took off flying down the Blue Ridge Parkway on my yellow Suzuki Katana once. :)

Adam Owens said...

Great write up! I was actually on Green River Cove Rd a couple of weeks ago. I got stuck behind a line of 4 cars, but it was a cool road!

Terry Taylor said...

Bucky, just found your Blog and like what I see thus far. I'll have to stop in more often. Thanks for the plug about my GPS overlay maps too. I'm hard at work making more and also improving them. Need to update the website though. Glad to see someone liked it.