The Highways of North Carolina
N.C. 143 
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Photo: NC 143 at the state line (Matthew Sadler)
NC 143
N.C. 143  29 miles
The Road: Begins at NC 28 near Stecoah and ends at the Tennessee State Line, all within Graham County.
The route continues a ways as TN 165 to end at TN 68 in Tellico Plains, TN.
Towns and Attractions: Graham Co: Nantahala Nat'l Forest, Robbinsville, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Santeelah Lake, Cherohala Skyway

History: NC 143 appeared as new primary routing in 1979, replacing most of SRs 1211 and 1212.
In Aug 2000 (NCDOT), NC 179 was rerouted to its current routing (replacing more SR 1163), leaving behind SR 1172 (a year later it became NC 179 bus).
In Oct 1996 (per Steffora), NC 143 was extended west with US 129 around Robbinsville, then replaced SRs 1116 and 1127 for a while, then veered off at Santeelah Gap as new construction as the Cherohala Skyway through unspoiled areas of Graham County to Tennessee. The projected path shows up as a dotted Federal Aid Secondary (FAS) line on the 1987 Graham County map.

1982-83 official map
NC 143 appears
1982-83 Official
1997-98 official map
NC 143 extended to Tennessee
1997-98 Official

Comment: NC 143 never used the routing of NC 143 Business through Robbinsville, per the NCDOT change directive for creating NC 143 Business.
The Cherohala Skyway came along after my ability to travel to this part of North Carolina, so I will let Matt Steffora's comments about NC 143 speak for the road:
The Skyway can be best thought of as a baby brother to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Its primary purpose is as a scenic drive, rather than to serve any populated areas. Secondarily, the road can be used to access backcountry areas. But not all backcountry enthusiasts are entirely happy about this. From Allen De Hart's North Carolina Hiking Trails: "The road has mutilated and scarred the mountain areas with some artifical walls where grass and trees can never grow, and where the wilderness qualities are destroyed forever. Conservationists tried for many years to prevent its construction." Well, the road doesn't seem that terrible once you drive it. Heading west from Santeelah Gap, the Skyway wastes no time rising to 4000 feet, and it stays at least that high until it's well into Tennessee. Small brown signs indicate every 1000 feet in elevation. Also, most of the overlooks are named with similar signs.
Most of the views on the North Carolina side look north, into the Santeelah Creek valley. From the road, a few short trails lead to mountaintops and 360-degree views. The two best are probably atop Huckleberry Mountain (about 5500 feet) and Hooper Bald (about 5400 feet). The highest point on the Skyway in either state is near the 5390-foot Santeelah Overlook. The Tennessee side of the Skyway spends less time above 4000 feet, but lower down the road runs along the scenic Tellico River. Most of the best scenery is in North Carolina.
The Skyway has a 45-mph limit in North Carolina, the same as on most of the BRP. The speed limit in Tennessee is only 30 mph, but is widely ignored.
In some important ways, however, the BRP and the Skyway are very different. Whereas the BRP is owned and maintained by the National Park Service, the Skyway belongs to the NCDOT and TnDOT. The Skyway is also less accessible than the Parkway is, and not just because the Skyway is in an especially remote area -- it's an arduous trek just to get the Skyway in the first place. You either have to get to, then through, the town of Tellico Plains in Tennessee, or drive several miles of twisty backroads in North Carolina. Both states are addressing this problem. In North Carolina, 143 through Robbinsville is scheduled for upgrades in coming years, either by widening it or building a new bypass around town. In the longer term, nearby roads that access the Skyway will be upgraded as well. On the Tennessee side, a new 165 is currently under construction (as of late 1998/early 1999) that avoids residential areas of Tellico Plains.
Whereas Tennessee maintains its half of the Skyway in the winter, North Carolina does not, and while N.C. doesn't officially close the Skyway during bad weather, there's no use trying to drive it. This can be frustrating whenever it's not summer; your best bet may be to ask about the conditions at the Cheoah Ranger Station, which is located on N.C. 143 just west of where it leaves 129.
The Skyway is one of the few surface roads in North Carolina with mile markers.

Last Update: 8 March 2010

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