Explore North Carolina’s “Road to Nowhere,” three hours from Charlotte

Just follow the dead end signs on the outskirts of Bryson City.

The entrance to the Road to Nowhere is a quick 2-minute walk from the parking lot.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Axios) - If you’re looking for North Carolina’s famous “Road to Nowhere,” just follow the dead-end signs in the outskirts of Bryson City.

The graffiti-filled tunnel to you-guessed-it nowhere is a quirky, but fun tourist attraction a little over three hours west of Charlotte.

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Backstory: Around the time of World War II, Swain County gave a majority of its land to the federal government to build the Fontana Lake (and dam) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Residents were forced to move and the road that once connected the tunnel was buried. The federal government promised to rebuild the road at the time, but over time, it proved too expensive and posed environmental challenges so the “Road to Nowhere” remained. (Hey, history buffs — go deeper here.)

How to get there: The Road to Nowhere is about a 15-minute drive from downtown Bryson City, located about six miles into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll know when you get there because, well, the road just ends.

What to expect: After you park, walk toward the 1,200-foot tunnel. Once inside, you’ll want to pull out your phone flashlight (or a real flashlight if you wanna be fancy) so you can see the array of graffiti.

  • Walking through the tunnel takes about 10 minutes. Go slow and take in the darkness and eerily silence until you get smacked with sunlight on the other end.
  • From the other end of the tunnel, you can continue on and hike for a few miles — here’s a 8.4-mile loop option or a 3.2-mile loop, both via AllTrails. I opted for neither and just roamed around for about a mile.
  • Climb up to the top of the tunnel for a unique vantage point and more graffiti.
  • And then walk back through.

[Related Axios guide: Definitive hiking guide: The 16 best hikes around Charlotte]

Photo opps: A cool, spooky tunnel also makes for great social media fodder. Some options:

  • Pose at the center of either entrance to the tunnel.
  • Find some eye-catching graffiti close to either entrance to make sure you have enough lighting.
  • Have someone climb to the top of the tunnel and take a photo of you from above or vice versa.

Zoom out: The Road to Nowhere is located near Bryson City, which has plenty else to offer.

  • Eat: The Rice Wagon food truck travels between a few venues in town, and it’s worth tracking down for the ahi tuna alone.
  • Drink: Grab a seat on the rooftop at Mountain Layers Brewing in downtown Bryson City. There’s often live music, and there’s always good views of the mountains and for people-watching.
  • Do: Hike Deep Creek, which is a moderate 4-mile loop trail that will take you past three waterfalls.

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