The bright blue water reflecting the cloudless sky above almost hurts your eyes when you gaze upon Lake Jocassee from Devils Fork State Park. The mountains on the far shore rise from the waters to form the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the great divide between mountains and piedmont, between twisty turns and long fast straightaways.
A community once existed under those serene waters. Movie fans may recall the opening scenes of the 1972 film “Deliverance” showing workers relocating a cemetery and building a new dam. The hydroelectic project here at Jocassee stood in for the fictional river in the Burt Reynolds classic. Upon the dam’s completion in 1973, the area sank beneath 300 feet of clear, cold mountain water.
For motorcyclists, the lake and surrounding attractions make for an unforgettable trip as the southern end of Jocassee sits near South Carolina 11, also known as the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway. This picturesque road crosses Upstate South Carolina along the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along this route, “The Blue Wall,” as the escarpment is known, holds hidden waterfalls, majestic views, a towering granite dome, and some of the best roads for two-wheeled exploration.
Devils Fork State Park, just a few miles off Highway 11, serves as the gateway to the man-made Lake Jocassee. Here, a ranger station and gift shop offer snacks and free Wi-Fi. Boaters and fishermen can check in before enjoying one of the most scenic lakes, which park officials say is filled with brown and rainbow trout, small- and largemouth bass and bluegill.
For motorcycle travelers, the park can become a great base camp for exploring the region’s wonderful roads. Lodging at Devils Fork State Park includes 20 villas, fully-furnished with kitchen appliances, air conditioning, satellite television, complimentary Wi-Fi. The park also contains two campgrounds, a swimming area with sandy beach and picnic shelters.
The lake’s clean, clear water also attracts scuba divers, who can explore the flooded remnants of the lost valley. In 2004, divers descended 300 feet into the lake to discover the remains of the Attakulla Lodge, a bed-and-breakfast that closed in the 1960s and sank beneath the waters after the dam was completed in 1973.
Just west of Lake Jocassee, Highway 130, also known as Whitewater Falls Road, begins its climb up the mountainside. As the road rises, winter riders can catch glimpses of the deep blue lake amid the faded autumn hues of nearly barren trees. A side detour on Wigington Road takes you to a stunning overlook where Jocassee stretches into Lake Keowee.
Bob Zimmerman, a retired import auto parts retailer, lives just north of Lake Jocassee in Sapphire, N.C. He knows the roads well, having traveled them often on a BMW R1200 GS and a Harley-Davidson Sportster.
“That’s actually a very pretty ride down that way,” Zimmerman said. There’s a cutoff about halfway down that cuts over and connects with 107. It makes a nice loop.”
Wigington Road, the cutoff Zimmerman mentioned, takes riders to a scenic overlook and to Highway 107, which is another wonderful mountain road running north-south between Walhalla, S.C., and Cashiers, N.C.
“I’ve ridden all over the West and this is some of the most beautiful riding in the United States, bar none,” said Zimmerman, who moved to the region from Sedona, Ariz., after founded a chapter of Big Brothers, Big Sisters. “I’ve done Baja, Mexico. I’ve done the Great Divide Ride from Canada down to Mexico. This riding around here is really hard to beat.”
Farther up Highway 130, chain-link fence and empty guard shack appears at the entrance to Bad Creek Reservoir and its hydroelectric station. Despite its fearsome look, visitors are welcome to enter. A small park overlooking the reservoir features a gazebo and some glorious views of the lake to the south. Lower Whitewater Falls, nestled against the hills to the northeast, peaks out from the mountainside’s folds. The nearby Duke Energy power plant generates energy by shifting water from Lake Jocassee below through a mile-long tunnel to Bad Creek Reservoir and releasing it back into the Jocassee.
Above Bad Creek, riders cross into North Carolina, and the road becomes N.C. 281, It takes sightseers to Upper Whitewater Falls. For a modest parking fee, leave your motorcycle in the large, level parking lot. Rest rooms are conveniently located next to the paved walkway up the hill to a viewing area to see one of the region’s most stunning waterfalls.
Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Here, the Whitewater River tumbles down a series of cascades, 411 feet at the upper falls located in North Carolina and another 400 feet in the lower falls across the South Carolina border. Those wanting a closer view can descend 154 stairs to a lower viewing area (and climb back up 154 stairs to get back to your bike).
Traffic along Whitewater Road is generally light, especially during the winter months. The curves invite a bit of spirited riding without being to technical or difficult. And a slow cruise just to enjoy the mountain scenery can be even more enjoyable for motorcyclists. Heading uphill from the falls, don’t miss the turnoff into Gorges State Park, one of North Carolina’s newer state parks and a pleasant place to stop and relax.
Gorges State Park spans from the South Carolina border to the top of the ridge near U.S. 64. It features a modern visitor’s center, restrooms and gift shop. The 7,700-acre park, open year-round and free to visit, also holds an interesting and informative exhibit on the history and ecology of the area. On any given weekend, expect to see other motorcyclists filter in and out. Some take advantage of the hiking, fishing and camping opportunities. Others just stop to enjoy the mountain scenery from one of the nearby picnic tables and plan which natural attractions to explore next. The park offers hikers access to the Toxaway River and Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls and Upper Bearwallow Falls. Some trails are open to horseback riding and mountain biking.
Yet for many motorcyclists, the best attraction is the winding mountain road itself. The combination of elevation changes, meandering curves and heavy roadside forests make riding Whitewater Road a pleasure. At the junction with U.S. 64, the Sapphire Country Store makes a perfect stop to stop off with gasoline and roadside snacks. From here, every direction holds possible routes to delight a motorcyclist. This section of U.S. 64 serves as the northern loop of the Southern Highroads Trail, a collection of roads crossing four states at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“I come up 281 and like to pick up Silversteen Road and Macedona Church Road,” Zimmerman advises. When it comes to picking out great roads, one should always take the advice of a local rider.