A Parkway Day (or Two) in the High Country

Blowing Rock to Asheville

Legend, history and breathtaking scenery combine to make this a day trip to remember! (Or if you care to "mosey," this could become a 2-day trip!)

The Blue Ridge Parkway, "America's Favorite Drive," takes visitors through forests, past waterfalls, and into small towns all along its 252-mile route from Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains. Take your time in exploring this very special section of the Parkway!

Blowing Rock

Start your journey in the Village of Blowing Rock, where numerous art galleries, shops and specialty restaurants delight visitors and residents year-round.

Visit the real "Blowing Rock," an immense cliff overhanging Johns River Gorge 3,000 feet below. The rocky walls of the gorge form a flume through which the northwest wind blows with such force that it returns light objects cast over the void. A Ripley's "Believe-It-Or-Not" cartoon depicted this as "the only place in the world where snow falls upside down."

Legend has it that the strong wind of the Blowing Rock was responsible for saving the life of a Cherokee brave who'd thrown himself from the cliff, despondent over having to leave his lover in loyalty to his tribe. It was the wind that returned him back up the cliff and into his lover's arms. Admission fee.

Moses H. Cone Memorial Park

This lush park preserves the country estate of Moses Cone, a prosperous textile entrepreneur, conservationist, and philanthropist of the Gilded Age. Its centerpiece is Flat Top Manor, a gleaming white 20-room, 13,000 square foot mansion built in 1901 in the grand Colonial Revival style.

The Manor is now the home of the Parkway Craft Center, one of five shops of the Southern Highland Craft Guild which features handmade crafts by hundreds of regional artists. Throughout the season, local artists demonstrate crafts such as quilting, embroidery, weaving, pottery, glass-blowing, and woodcarving on the front porch of the Manor (call the Parkway Craft Center for the daily schedule).

Twenty-five miles of carriage trails wind through the fields and forests of the 3,500-acre estate. The trails are open to the public for walking, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Free.

Julian Price Memorial Park

 Named in honor of Julian Price, an insurance executive who purchased the acreage in the late 1930s and 1940s to create a retreat for the employees of his insurance company, this park is another popular destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Nestled at the foot of Grandfather Mountain, the park include Price Lake, into which Grandfather Mountain is reflected on sunny days. Free.

Grandfather Mountain

At 5,946 ft above sea level, Grandfather Mountain is the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is also North Carolina's newest state park. Once privately owned and operated, the park is not only a long-time favorite scenic travel attraction, but also a globally recognized nature preserve.

In addition to beautiful mountain scenery and famous Mile High Swinging Bridge, it provides environmental habitats for native wildlife such as black bears, river otters, cougars, eagles and deer. A Nature Museum features exhibits about the natural history of the region, with a theater that shows nature movies made on the mountain. There is also a restaurant and gift shop in the museum.

Grandfather Mountain sports some of the South's best alpine hiking trails, with more than 12 miles of maintained trails ranging from easy nature walks to strenuous backcountry challenges. Over 100 picnic tables and grills are scattered throughout the park. Admission fee.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Hugging the contours of Grandfather Mountain, the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most complicated concrete bridge ever built. At an elevation of 4,100 feet, its sweeping "S" curve gently takes travelers around the mountain, rather than cutting through it. The ride is both thrilling and safe and presents motorists with magnificent views as it seemingly leads toward the sky.

If you choose to make this journey in two days, there area numerous lodging and dining opportunities to choose from in nearby Banner Elk, Linville, and Linville Falls. See the links below for more information.

Linville Gorge and Falls

Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 316.4, the Linville Falls Visitor Center gives access to both the Falls and Gorge. Linville Falls drop a total of 90 feet in a multi-level cascade and can be viewed from several overlooks along two trails that lead from the Linville Falls Visitors Center.

The Linville Gorge is the deepest and one of the most rugged and scenic gorges in the Eastern United States. Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the East, it is protected by the 12,000-acre Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, one of the first to be included in the National Wilderness System with the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Free.

The Orchard at Altapass

The Historic Orchard at Altapass is a 101-year-old apple orchard built by the Clinchfield Railroad just after the turn of the 19th century. Now an Appalachian Cultural Center, the Orchard offers authentic mountain music, old fashioned storytelling hayrides, a Monarch Butterfly Conservation Center, and of course, apples. Open May 1-Nov. 1. Free, except for hayride.

Museum of North Carolina Minerals

The mountains near Spruce Pine are among the richest in minerals and gems in the United States, and more than 300 varieties are showcased in the Museum of North Carolina Minerals, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 331. Free.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Continuing south on the parkway will bring you to Mount Mitchell State Park. Lofty Mount Mitchell is in the Black Mountain range and rises to an elevation of 6,684 feet, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River. It was named in honor of Dr. Elisha Mitchell, an educator and scientist from Chapel Hill, who died while climbing the mountain in 1857 in his effort to prove it was the highest peak in eastern North America.

The Park contains extensive spruce-fir forest, an ecosystem that is common in northern climes, but which is only found in a narrow band in the Appalachian Mountains. Many uncommon and more northern species have their habitat here. The Park offers numerous hiking trails as well as a museum, restaurant, and gift shop. Free.

The Parkway south of Mount Mitchell has been closed recently for repairs and may not be open until summer 2009. Even then, there will be road construction through 2010. If you choose to make the trip to Mount Mitchell, it would be best to return north on the Parkway about 10 miles to descend the mountain at NC 80, which winds down into Marion. It is a scenic drive that takes travelers past the beautiful private Lake Tahoma. At the intersection of NC 80 and NC 70, a right turn will take you to Old Fort, a left to Marion. Interstate 40 is a short distance to the south, where you can continue into Asheville.

If you choose to continue traveling south if the Parkway is open, here's what's next:

Craggy Pinnacle

Worthy of a short stop and a hike through a rhododendron "tunnel" for the breathtaking view, Craggy Pinnacle is accessed at the Craggy Dome Overlook at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 364. The moderate 1.4 mile hike takes you to one of the most spectacular, 360 degree views on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Most beautiful in rhododendron season, usually mid-June. Free.

Craggy Gardens

Among the hundreds of scenic viewpoints in Western North Carolina, one of the most dramatic is at Craggy Gardens at Parkway Milepost 364.6. Stunning vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains stretch far into Tennessee to the west and to mid-North Carolina to the east. These views can be enjoyed from the parking area near the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, or along nearby hiking trails. Picnic tables are popular with travelers who wish to take time to savor the scenery over lunch or snacks. On clear nights, the area is also a perfect place for stargazing.

In early summer, Craggy Gardens becomes a mountain-sized bouquet when the rhododendron thickets on the upper heights cover the landscape in pink and purple. Free.

Folk Art Center

Located at Milepost 382, the Folk Art Center is home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild. In addition to an extensive retail store featuring the work of some of the finest craftspersons in America, the Center has two galleries with changing exhibits, and frequent craft demonstrations. Free.

Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center

Not your average visitor center, the Parkway Visitor Center at Milepost 384 is a destination unto itself, with exhibits about the Parkway, the region's history, and the unique culture of Appalachia. A 24-minute high definition movie, "America's Favorite Journey," plays every half hour in the state-of-the-art theater. Free.

Contacts for accommodations, restaurants, and shopping:

Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce
877-750-INFO (4636)

Avery/Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce
1-800-972-2183
(828) 898-5605

Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce
1-800-227-3912
(828) 765-9483

McDowell County Chamber of Commerce
(828) 652-4240

McDowell County Tourism

1-888-233-6111
(828) 668-4282

Black Mountain Chamber of Commerce
1-800-669-2301
(828) 669-2300

Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau
(828) 258-6102

High Country Host (Northern mountain region)
1-800-438-7500

Blue Ridge Mountain Host (Central mountain region)
1-800-807-3391