Joyce Kilmer Campout and Ride Information

Adapted from the Sacred Writings of Charles Feaux.

Directions from Huntsville: Take US 72 to South Pittsburg, TN. From here take I-24 East to Chattanooga and pick up I-75 North (toward Knoxville). Not long after clearing Chattanooga take the first Cleveland exit (Yahoo says it's exit #20) and proceed to US 64 East. Follow US 64 East to Murphy NC. At this point US 64, US 129, US 74 and US 19 are coincident. Take US 129 from Murphy to Robbinsville. In Robbinsville NC, 143 will join US 129. Continue through Robbinsville on 143/129. After about 1 mile, 143 and 129 split. Continue (left) on 143 to Santeetla Gap where the Cherohalla Skyway begins. At this point there will be a road coming in on the right. Take this road exactly 2 miles and find the Rattler Ford Campground on the left.

Driving distance is about 250 miles and takes anywhere from 4.5 to 5 hours. It’s a scenic drive for the most part and is an enjoyable trip. If you are on the south side of town, you can take Cecil Assburn east, cross 431 at Hampton Cove, and continue to Hwy 72. Traditional arrival time at Rattler Ford is after noon on Friday.

Cautions & Additional Directional Info: There are other ways to get there. The route through Tellico Plains will carry you over the Cherohalla Skyway. It climbs to about 5500 feet and provides an unparalleled panoramic view of the Nantahalla range. Descents are quite long and require lots of braking in a gear-laden vehicle.

After taking the Cleveland exit you may find yourself in downtown Cleveland but I'm sure you're smart enough not to let that happen. Also, 129 takes a sharp left over a bridge were it splits from 74,19. Miss it and you'll find yourself in the Nantahalla Gorge. Be sure and take 129/143 through Robbinsville. To continue correctly on 143 a LEFT hand turn off 143/129 is required. DO NOT TURN RIGHT ON 143! in Robbinsville.

There are two possible bottlenecks. One is the narrow, twisting road through the Ocoee Gorge. It can be quite congested on weekends. The other could be Chattanooga. In fact, in the Cherokee tongue, Chattanooga means "land of eternal roadwork."

Cell phone coverage is spotty at best or non-existent unless you are near a town or a tower.

Supplies & Stores: Robbinsville is dry, so those who imbibe would be well advised to stock up at home. Murphy and Andrews have the necessary supplies should one be so careless as to forget such an essential item. For food and other less essential supplies there's an excellent Ingles outside of Murphy (which carries beer and wine) and one in Robbinsville.

Cycling: The ~65-mile course for roadies is challenging and there are numerous climbs and thrilling, sweeping descents. Make sure your bike is in good shape for the conditions and that you have the necessary equipment (tubes, patches, pumps, tools, etc.) , skills, experience and stamina to do the ride. Bringing your fall/winter cycling clothes for layering is recommended, since the weather conditions can change. Bring energy gels and bars, sports drink, etc. since stores may be closed and eating places may not have reliable serving hours or the group you are with may not stop. A hydration pack is an ideal piece of gear. You can do the whole route or portions thereof. There are some mountain biking options in the area, but no organized, or even very loosely organized, MTB rides are planned. You would have to drive to MTB trailheads. Click to for area dirt rider’s info.

About Joyce Kilmer: Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest ( is located in the mountains of North Carolina and is contiguous with the Smoky Mountain National Park at Deals Gap at the extreme Southwest end of the SMNP. The area is home to some of the finest hiking/backpacking/cycling anywhere. The 2 mile hike through the only stand of virgin forest east of the Mississippi is not to be missed, so bring foot gear you can hike in. The 2 mile loop through the big trees is easy but most of the hiking as well as the cycling is strenuous.

Weather: Did I say mountains? You bet. Forget local weather reports. Dan can't help you here. BE PREPARED! It could rain or, at the higher elevations, sleet or possibly snow at this time of year. I ALWAYS bring rain gear, warm clothes for the evening, and riding gear appropriate for winter riding - just in case.

Campsite: The campground itself consists of a large, hard-packed, fine-gravel covered space with picnic tables, a cooking (charcoal) grill, fire pit, potable water, and two bathrooms each with a flush toilet, sink, and shower. If the demand is heavy and you're at the end of the line, the shower can prove extremely invigorating. NO ELECTRIC OUTLETS.

Distractions: Deals Gap (, on the ~65-mile ride, is the terminus of the legendary Dragon and the home of the Crossroads of Time Motorcycle Resort. This place is some sort of motorcycle source where motorcycles seem to virtually gush from the ground. There are so many motorcycles they don't seem to notice that our cycles don't have motors! What's the big deal you ask (no pun intended)? It's the Dragon - 11 miles of US 129 with 318 hairpin turns. Rice-rocket Ninja motorcyclists training for the Darwin Awards come from all over the world to train and be injured (or die) with honor here among their caring comrades at a rate of 1.3 deaths per year.

Rules & Regs: Each campsite has a 25 tent limit imposed by the Forest Service. There are other "rules" which the Forest Service would like you to observe. Their purpose is to control and/or reduce impact thus preserving the character of the place. The larger the group the more important this becomes. First: you'll notice that an area has been defined for the erection of tents. It may not be possible to stay within this area with a large group but it would be desirable to make an effort to do so. I know that some would like to have a more private site, but hell, if you're asleep you might just as well be sleeping at a Motel 6. Second: with regard to trash, cooking waste and other disposal problems, try to do as you would at home ( I assume this is a safe recommendation ). There are trash containers near the site and provision is made for recycling of glass and cans. Don't fall for the copout that it's OK to dump stuff in the woods if it's bio-degradable. Everything is bio-degradable over time, even people. Even if sanitation were not an issue, aesthetics would be. Ditto for cooking waste such as grease which seems to disappear when dumped on the ground - it doesn't. Third: please don't remove items for use at home. It’s probably illegal. Things like dead wood, flowers, plants, rocks, etc. There are rare and endangered plants in the area.