Location: Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks and Boone, North Carolina
Alas, after our hiking adventures we had to press on towards our new home. Of course, we couldn’t resist picking an exciting route. We chose to travel 99% of the way entirely on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Why, you ask? Because it’s “America’s Favorite Drive,” of course! Well, actually, that and we didn’t want to have to drive more than 45 mph in our moving van, we wanted the road mostly to ourselves, and we wanted to make ample stops- preferably scenic ones.
What exactly is the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP)? Well, I don’t know if it was our favorite drive, but it was certainly unlike any other road we’ve driven on. It’s 469 miles of pure scenic beauty that meanders from Charlottesville,Virginia in the north to Gatlinburg, North Carolina in the south. It’s a slow-paced, relaxing drive with tons of overlooks and short hikes right off the side of the road! The entirety of the route reveals both long-range vistas and close-up views of mountain peaks and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The National Park service protects the diversity of plants and animals along the Parkway, so we were spared the customary road trip views of fast food joints and gas stations!
We didn’t need to head as far south as Gatlinburg before heading east towards Raleigh, so we chose Boone as our end point. We had only 2 days to traverse those 300 miles, so we had to pick and choose our stops carefully. Using the Blue Ridge Parkway iPhone App (yes, they have an actual trip planning app), we learned that the BRP is divided up into 4 Districts- 2 in Virginia and 2 in North Carolina. We thoroughly experienced the first 2 of them on this trip.
The two that most of our images show are the “Ridge District” and the “Plateau District” that leads up to the North Carolina border. The Ridge District offers the highest elevations and stunning mountain views and scenic day hikes through the hilly terrain and the Plateau District highlights the cultural experience of Appalachia, with mills, music, and agriculture demonstrating how people have interacted with the landscape over time. We felt that between the two, we had struck a good balance, and picked about 10 stopping points at each.
Now, I will spare you the details of each stopover, and instead I’ll highlight a few of our favorites! The stops are bolded (in case you want to plan your own trip!)
Views were plentiful in the Ridge District, but few were as miraculous as the Peaks of Otter. The Peaks (Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill) are surrounded by Thomas Jefferson National Forest and are blanketed with hiking trails. They offer one of the few places on the Parkway with a lodge filled with outdoor gear, a tap room with local brews, and a restaurant with major window eye-candy. We stopped for one of our longer hikes to the top of Flat Top Mountain, and had an amazing post-hike lunch at the lodge culminating in a magical slice of blackberry cream pie. We also made a stop to see the stunning reflections of Otter Creek, where you can go boating and fishing, or stop at a picnicking site. As you can see, I went a little camera-happy here.
The Plateau District is flatter, and instead of views, offers up interactive exhibits where the traveler can learn about the history and the lives of the people within Appalachia. Some notable highlights are Mabry Mill, where you can eat buckwheat cakes and stroll through Ed Mabry’s mill and blacksmith shop. You can also watch demonstrations of Appalachian crafting techniques. Another stop is the Blue Ridge Music Center, which sadly did not have live music when we arrived. On the weekends you can catch a Mountain Midday Music concert featuring the best bluegrass, old time, and gospel music in the region. The visitor center has a neat exhibit on the “Roots of American Music” providing a historical introduction to the music that is so much a part of the regional experience. One of my personal favorite quick stops was Puckett Cabin. You can tour the home a midwife who delivered over 1,000 babies in the region successfully. Sadly, she herself was never able to have children, having several miscarriages. The stop overlooking the North and West Railway displays a sprinkling of homes next to the first laid rails in the region. The track from Lynchburg, VA to Bristol, Tennessee was completed in 1856.
After so many hours on the road with our trusty moving truck, we were anxious to get to Boone. What made us choose Boone for a day-trip? Despite being nestled in the mountains, and the site of the gorgeous Appalachian University Campus, the town is known for it’s amazing music and historical roots. It’s an outdoor town to be sure. The University mascot is the mountaineer! Never have a been to a place where everyone looked ready for a long hike, bike, kayak, or day out in the wilderness. Unfortunately, we were burnt out on wilderness and looking for a square meal and a day in town.
After spending the night in our campsite, we bit farewell to the mountains. We visited Stick Man Bread Company for some coffee and quiche on King Street. We paid a customary visit to the memorial statue of Doc. Watson (covered in flowers from loyal fans). We stopped for supplies at Mast General Store, some local craft, record, and antique shops, and the infamous Boone Drug. This is where one of my favorite bands, Old Crow Medicine Show, was busking before they were discovered by Doc. Watson’s daughter. We paid a visit to the Appalachian History museum before picking up some Local Lion Donuts for the road.
We didn’t get to do the hike up to neighboring Blowing Rock or pay a visit to Grandfather Mountain State Park (the site of the Highland Games). Plans for next time, since we definitely want to return to this gorgeous town in the hills!
We hope to take a short trip and complete the remaining districts on the Parkway sometime this year! Either way, I highly recommend a day or two on the road like no other.
Have you driven the BRP? What are some of your favorite spots? Here are some photos from ours! Enjoy!
Hope everyone’s ready for back to school. I know I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to summer.