NC-197 can be somewhat confusing because it is divided into three sections and the three sections are very different from each other. Section 2 has been described in other riding routes from this blog as a way to get to Burnsville and to ride NC-80. Here are the three sections:
Section 1. NC-197 north heads back to Erwin, TN.
Riding south on NC-226 to Red Hill, NC-197 north will be on your right before you reach the Red Hill gas station. Turn right and you will have a fun curvy road experience as you pass through Poplar, NC. NC-197 north will take you to the border of NC and TN and then turn into TN-395. Ride TN-395 (Rock Creek Road) all the way back to Erwin. Both roads NC-197 and TN-395 are challenging and fun. Combining the ride on NC-226 south from Unicoi (TN-107) and then turning onto NC-197 north will give you a super fun ~50 mile loop ride with not much traffic.
Section 1 – NC-197 north
From intersection of Harrell Hill Rd and NC-226 S
Head southwest on NC-226 S, go 1.4 mi.
Right onto NC-197 N. Go 6.9 mi
Right over RR tracks to stay on NC-197 N Go 8 mi passing through Poplar, NC
Straight onto TN-395 W/ Rock Creek Rd Go 6.2 mi to stop sign in Erwin
Right onto N Main Ave Go 0.5 mi
Left onto Harris Hollow Rd Go 0.3 mi
Right to merge from I-26 Entrance 36 onto I-26 W towards Kingsport/Johnson City
Section 2. NC-197 south from Red Hill, NC to Burnsville
This section of NC-197 consists of wider turns and most likely more traffic. There are a few passing sections and if you can pass the slower traffic, this section of NC-197 can be really fun. You will also have a great view of the North Toe River to your right in the first few miles of the ride. You will turn left following the sign “To Burnsville” when the road turns south, away from the river. (If you went straight instead, that would put you on Green Mountain Rd. Green Mountain Rd would eventually connect to NC-197 north which would take you to Erwin, TN.) The ride on NC-197 S however ends at a stoplight in Burnsville. Turn right to get to downtown Burnsville for lunch. The Garden Deli is a great lunch stop.
Section 2 – NC-197 south from Red Hill, NC to Burnsville, NC
From intersection of Harrell Hill Rd, Red Hill, NC and NC-226 S
Head southwest on NC-226 S Go 1.5 mi
You will see a sign for NC-197 N on right; do not turn there.
Continue straight on NC-226 S for another 30 ft.
Right onto NC-197 S just after Red Hill gas station. Go 4.5 mi.
Left to stay on NC-197 S (follow sign to Burnsville). Go 6.7 mi to stoplight in Burnsville.
Section 3. NC-197 south from Burnsville, NC to Jupiter, NC
This section of NC-197 is very twisty, and the road turns to gravel for about 4 mi after you have completed the majority of the curves. It will then turn back to pavement when you get close to Barnardsville. If you don’t want to ride the gravel section, there is a gravel turn-around (where hunters park during hunting season) so you can turn around and head back to Burnsville. We have ridden this section of NC-197 only once due to the 4 mi of gravel road. I sure wish they would pave it because then we would have more riding route options for riding near the French Broad River.
Section 3 – NC-197 south from Burnsville to Jupiter, NC
From stoplight in Burnsville at intersection of NC-197 (from Red Hill) and US-19E
Left on US-19E S heading towards downtown Burnsville. Go 0.7 mi.
Left onto Pensacola Rd/ NC-197 S/ N Fork Rd Go 13.7 mi.
Then NC-197 S will turn into a gravel road for 4.0 mi; continue straight.
NC-197 S will then turn back into a paved road for another 7.1 mi.
NC-197 S turns into Barnardsville Hwy. Go another 6.0 mi on NC-197 S to I-26 Exit 15 (in NC)
NC-197 turns into Jupiter Rd if you continue straight crossing under I-26 overpass.