It has been a busy summer on the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2019 for the National Park Service, which looks over this amazing roadway. Since the spring, crews have been repairing and repaving the Parkway in the section that surrounds Boone, N.C., and they have stayed steady with their work.
To their credit, the National Park Service developed a plan where only be one lane at a time would be blocked off as the road repairs and repaving continued, keeping this beautiful trail open to the public all summer long. By now, the Blue Ridge Parkway should be repaved and awesomely smooth well south of our section of it. The popular and historic Moses Cone Manor has also been renovated this summer, with mansion tours and the gift shop ready for visitors.
That is good news for travelers from around the world who come to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the wonderful display of fall foliage that will brighten the trees with colors in our section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in October.
The BRP is perhaps the most traveled scenic road in all of America. Beginning on top of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, the 469-mile long drive was built to ride the high ridge lines of the Blue Ridge Mountains to showcase the immense natural beauty of the region.
As it winds its way from Virginia through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, the road is marked by mileposts which come in the form of white blocks with numbers on them that are seen on the roadside as you travel. Built during the Great Depression and sanctioned by President Roosevelt, the BRP has a historic aspect to it as well as the beautiful stone archway bridges found throughout the length of the roadway were built by the WPA workers of the day.
Ultimately, however, it is the incredible vistas and views that make this road a destination for tourists from all over the U.S. as well as the world.
The section of the BRP that runs through the Boone, Blowing Rock and Banner Elk regions of Western North Carolina is considered one of the more picturesque of the journey and there will be much to do along the way in the fall of 2019.
While the Rocky Mountains are taller and majestic than our eastern mountains, much of what you see above a certain height in that mountain range is all rock. The Appalachian Mountains found here, however, are millions of years older and at one point were even taller than the Rockies. Because the Appalachian Mountains have been eroded by nature to a lower elevation, they are covered by some of the most diverse forests in North America. The fascinating truth is that there are more species of trees found in just two acres of Appalachian Mountain forests than exist in all of the western U.S. And, when fall foliage season hits here, those thick forests found on our part of the BRP will come alive with leaves that glow with a multitude of dazzling pigmentation, something that does not happen in the Rockies.
As a result, visitors from all over the world come to the High Country to watch the turning of the leaves and to experience the many activities, unique businesses, live music, breweries, wineries and festivals that take place here during the fall months.
Some of the autumn festivals to look for include the 42st annual Woolly Worm Festival on the third weekend in October (woollyworm.com), the highly anticipated Valle Country Fair and its arts and crafts, food and music, which happens on the same weekend (vallecountryfair.org), and more.
As the attractions found on various sections of the BRP are highlighted below, we will travel from north to south. The northern end of our journey starts with the Deep Gap exit of the BRP that is located at milepost 276. That turnoff will put you onto U.S. 421, which is the exit to use to get to the lovely mountain college town of Boone, where there is much to do as far as food, live music, shopping and more.
Boone hosts three craft breweries and is a good base to explore even more breweries in next door Ashe County and Avery County. During the fall months, Appalachian State University hosts many college football games in Kid Brewer Stadium as their Mountaineers team takes on their rivals. The tailgating before and after the games on campus and at the many local pubs in the area can be a very fun time.
At milepost 294 on the BRP you will find the aforementioned Moses Cone Manor. The old house and 1,000-plus acres of wonderful land was turned into a park many years ago. There you will find a gift shop filled with works made by artists specifically located in the Appalachian Mountains. Now that the Moses Cone Manor house has been renovated inside and out, it is a great time to visit the grounds. Once there, from the parking lot of the house, you can easily find the Fire Tower Trail which crosses underneath the BRP and heads toward a fire tower that overlooks the city of Boone.
For those wanting to get off the BRP for a while and explore another unique mountain town, look for the exit onto U.S. 221 just past the Moses Cone Manor, which leads you to the famous hamlet known as Blowing Rock. There you will find tourist attractions, a museum and lots of shopping and many fine restaurants.
Back on the BRP, at milepost 296 you will find Price Lake and its campground, amphitheater, a picnic area and boat ramp. A good place for family camping until the season closes on Oct.27, there is a lot to do at Price Lake and in the surrounding areas.
At milepost 299 of the BRP, you will find the beginning of a run of more adventurous hiking trails that begin at various parking lots found on the both sides of the road. One of the first ones you will come across will be the Boone Fork Trail found on the right. Exploring the northern side of Grandfather Mountain, it is a moderate, mostly level trail that is a beautiful five-mile roundtrip.
For those not in the mood to hike, on the left at milepost 301 is a pull-over known as the Wilson Creek Valley View. Whether you stay in your vehicle or walk along the edge, the view is magnificent, especially if the sun is shining on Wilson Creek Gorge down below at sunrise or right before sunset.
At milepost 300, you will come across one of the more popular mountain trails on this section of the BRP called the Rough Ridge Trail. The parking lot is usually filled with vehicles, especially on a warm, sunny day, because this moderately difficult trail takes you to some stunning overlooks on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. The path can get crowded on the weekends and during peak leaf season, but the vistas are wonderful.
When you get back on the BRP and travel a little further south and you will experience one of the more famous sections of the road called the Linn Cove Viaduct. The last section of the BRP to be built, it is a curvy engineering marvel that shoots out over Wilson Creek Gorge. Before the main part of the viaduct begins, there will be a parking lot to the left called the Yonahlossee Overlook that provides a trail that runs alongside and underneath the viaduct and that walkway also provides some great views. On the south side of the viaduct is a visitor’s center filled with information about the Parkway and surrounding region.
For an even higher adventure, continue just a mile or so past the Linn Cove Viaduct and take the U.S. 221 exit to Grandfather Mountain State Park. There you will find many sights and activities for the whole family. For an entrance fee, the trip to the top of Grandfather Mountain will feature a wild animal zoo, trails to hike, a gift shop, restaurant and the famous Mile High Bridge to walk across. The views are stunning and on a rare, crystal-clear day you can see the skyline of Charlotte, 90 miles away on the horizon.
Weather permitting, Grandfather Mountain State Park is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving day and Christmas day. More information on entrance fees and opening and closing times of Grandfather Mountain State Park can be found at grandfather.com.
If you continue on U.S. 221 past the entrance to Grandfather Mountain, that will lead to the resort town of Banner Elk. Within a short distance of this mountain hamlet, you will find Sugar Mountain Ski Resort and Beech Mountain Resort. Depending on the weather, there are years when the cold winds show favor and skiing can begin before Thanksgiving weekend. Grandfather Vineyard and Winery and Banner Elk Winery are also found close by.
Back on the Blue Ridge Parkway heading south from Grandfather Mountain, the first parking ot on the left leads to the renowned Beacon Heights Trail at milepost 305, considered one of the coolest short hikes east of the Mississippi River. At milepost 308 is the also easy Flat Rock Trail on the right, which many hike at sunset for the photographic opportunities.
As you keep heading south, you will find a series of three exits leading to the Linville Falls and Linville Gorge attractions. The milepost 316 exit will take you to the Linville Falls Visitors Center, campground and picnic area. On the other side of the road a short drive further south is another picnic area called the Camp Creek Parking Area, which leads to a wonderful view of the double arch rock bridge that carries the BRP over the Linville River just before it goes over the edge of Linville Falls and into Linville Gorge.
For an easy and amazing views of Linville Falls and Linville Gorge, turn off the U.S. 221 exit at milepost 317 on the BRP. Once exited, turn left onto U.S. 221 and then take another left onto RT. 183 less than a mile ahead. About 7/10 of a mile on N.C.. 183, you will find a gravel road on the right with signs that will lead you to Linville Falls. The first parking lot you will see on the left leads to two short, moderate yet awesome trails that lead to different views of Linville Falls as well as the gorge itself, which extends for another 12 miles in the distance.
After that hike, back track and return to U.S. 221. At that three-way intersection, you can turn left onto U.S. 221 and you will soon find the entrance to the popular Linville Caverns just a short drive away.
When you return to the BRP, a lot of visitors stop at that section of road, either staying on U.S. 221 and head for Asheville or turn around on the BRP and return to the Boone, Blowing Rock and Banner Elk areas. But if you stay on the BRP and keep going south, this exceptional roadway will lead you to even more great views and fun stops along the way with new places to explore.
Just a mile past the U.S. 221 turnoff on the BRP, you will find the North Toe River Valley Overlook on the right that has a wonderful view of the sunset. Four miles further on the left, you will see an even more amazing vista at the infamous Bear Den Overlook. Bear Den Overlook will be full with traffic during peak fall foliage season, so it may be worth it to get there early in the morning and then explore the BRP in reverse heading back towards town.
As you continue further south on the BRP, you will find Crabtree Falls, Craggy Gardens, the town of Little Switzerland featuring the Switzerland Inn, Hotel and Spa, the Museum of North Carolina Minerals, the live music venue known as the Orchard at Altapass and more.
The Orchard at Altapass, located at milepost 328, will feature apple picking, hiking and live music from until the end of October.
Eventually, you BRP journey will lead you to the turn off for Mount Mitchell at milepost 355. At 6,684 feet in elevation, Mount Mitchell is the highest mountain east of the Rockies and the good news is that you can drive virtually all of the way to the top. The walk to the summit is only about 300 yards from the parking lot. Mount Mitchell State Park is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. until the end of October, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. from November to February, and will be closed on Christmas Day.
If you stay on the BRP and continue south to its end, you will eventually arrive at the city of Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountains further west.
There is much to take in on this truly special section of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the autumn of 2019. Have fun, be safe and go explore!