When visiting or living in the High Country, it isn’t hard to miss the mountainous views, especially during the fall. With the past year’s onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many found themselves locked away in the comfort of their own homes. However, when in the areas of Ashe, Watauga and Avery, the Blue Ridge Parkway has and will continue to offer a safe escape when in lockdown.
Totaling at 469 miles beginning at he southern end of Shenandoah National Park and swerving along the Blue Ridge Mountains all the way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway has become a staple in American scenery, becoming ground for tourists and locals all over the country.
“Last year, I personally saw and heard reports of so many visitors in some locations that cars were literally parked part on the road shoulder and part in the road, making the two-lane parkway only passable by one vehicle at a time,” said Amy Ney, communications coordinator for the Blue Ridge Parkway in response to 2020’s large outcome of visitors.
At the time of publication, Labor Day, visitors should expect to encounter a road closure in the Roanoke, Va., area. There are actually two sections of the parkway that are closed but are combined into one detour. The Parkway is closed from Milepost 112.2 to Milepost 115 and from Milepost 121.4 to 135.9. Visitors can still access Explore Park and Mill Mountain Spur Road from the south at Milepost 121.4.
“I usually recommend that southbound travelers exit the parkway at MP 106 (signed for US 460, but it is also US 221) and just take US 221 South through Roanoke to Adney Gap where there is a direct entrance to the parkway at MP 135.9 where the parkway reopens,” said Ney.
If you find yourself in the Ashe County area, you will be able to find two access points, NC Route 18 to Laurel Springs & North Wilkesboro (MP 248.1) and NC Route 16 to West Jefferson & North Wilkesboro (MP 261.2). Both offer breathtaking overlooks as well as the glorious autumn drive as the leaves begin to fall.
In Watauga County, a handful of entrance points grace the mountainous land including,
US Hwy 421 to Boone & North Wilkesboro (MP 276.4), US 421/US 221
to Deep Gap & Boone (MP 280.8), US 321/US 221 to Boone & Blowing Rock (MP 291.8) and US 221 to Blowing Rock (MP 294.6). These will lead directly into the Avery County/Newland Area.
Avery’s main access points are US 221 to Linville & Blowing Rock (MP 305.1) and NC Hwy 181 to Pineola & Morganton, NC (MP 312). To find more access points throughout the Blue Ridge Parkway, visit https://www.blueridgeparkway.org/parkway-map/.
As fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year, Ney says to look out for the highest points to capture the best views.
“We usually tell folks to expect peak leaf color in mid-October,” Ney said “But there are many factors that affect the timing of leaf change. Any trail or overlook that has a long range view will be great in fall because you can see foliage at different elevations and have a greater opportunity to see fall color in some level of progression. Leaves start turning first at higher elevations and on the northern slopes. So the lower elevations and drier southern slopes experience fall color change later.
“The amount of rainfall, daytime sunshine and nighttime temperature also add to the equation and fall storms can often blow the leaves right off the trees. As a visitor drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway, they will encounter a variety of elevations, aspects and ecosystems which receive varying amounts of rainfall and with varying temperatures.
“For example, from the James River in Virginia — the lowest point on the Parkway at 649 feet — to Apple Orchard, the Parkway climbs over 3,000 feet in just over 10 miles of distance. We always recommend that travelers visit a longer section of the parkway to see a variety of elevations and aspects so they will be sure to see color change somewhere along the way.”
In addition to her information, Ney provided certain hotspots on the Blue Ridge Parkway that are sure to fulfill your scenic desires.
Highlands (milepost 217-340): Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304), Linville Falls (MP 316.4), Doughton Park (MP 239-248) and Grandfather Mountain (MP 305.1).
Whether you’re looking for the perfect spot to take photographs, have a picnic, relax or drive into the sunset, the Blue Ridge Parkway is your getaway this fall.
For more information on the Blue Ridge Parkway and its offerings, visit www.blueridgeparkway.org.