NOC’s pitch to travelers focuses on the southern route’s scenic splendor, as the route winds through the Nantahala Scenic Byway and the Ocoee Scenic Byway—both designated by the US Department of Transportation as National Scenic Byways. “For travelers able to circumvent the Knoxville area completely on their way to and from Asheville and Nashville, the southern detour provides a less-traveled and more scenic option than the interstate” says Charles Conner, NOC’s Marketing Director.
The southern detour is actually 17 miles shorter than the NCDOT’s recommended route, which requires travelers to take I-81 to Johnson City and I-26 back to Asheville, though the southern alternative does take longer due to two-lane roads in the river gorges. Starting from Asheville, the southern route goes West on I-40, exiting onto US 74 in Waynesville. From Waynesville travelers stay on the same highway all the way to Cleveland, TN (though US 74 becomes TN 64 upon crossing the state line). From Cleveland travelers take I-75 30 miles to Chattanooga, and then take I-24 to Nashville. Other than two-lane sections through the Ocoee and Nantahala River gorges, the entire route is four lanes.