Embracing fall colours on Appalachia’s Blue Ridge Parkway

My legs shook as I crossed the swinging bridge stretching throughout a deep gorge on Grandfather Mountain. On the midpoint, I heard applause from the far facet of the metal span. Had been fellow bridge-walkers cheering me on, or congratulating these forward who’d efficiently crossed?

Drawing nearer, I noticed a pair standing on a boulder on the finish of the bridge and witnessed the embrace, the kiss, the nod “sure.” Sensible man, selecting this spot and this season to pop the query. A mountaintop in North Carolina on the peak of fall colours makes an ideal place to suggest marriage because the gemstone hues of reds, oranges and golds gentle up the encompassing slopes.

However you need not plan nuptials to embrace fall alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway. Simply say sure to a mid-October street journey on this two-lane ribbon of asphalt the place the velocity restrict maxes out at 45 mph. I drove via tunnels of technicolor timber, stopped at roadside lookouts to gawk on the misty Blue Ridge Mountains draped in autumn hues and hiked the net of forest trails spiraling off America’s longest linear park.

Constructed as a piece venture in the course of the Despair, the parkway meanders 469 miles on the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. Operated by the Nationwide Park Service, it hyperlinks Shenandoah Nationwide Park on the north with Nice Smoky Mountains Nationwide Park on the south. Stanley Abbott, the parkway’s panorama architect and first superintendent, envisioned a freeway laying gently on the land with few straight stretches. No billboards. No large industrial automobiles.

Taking detours

Driving your entire size of the parkway might take greater than per week relying on stops alongside the best way. I had just a few days, so I selected to navigate the center part between southwest Virginia and northwest North Carolina. Detours not solely led to worthwhile points of interest however to road-trip requirements as a result of there aren’t any gasoline stations on the parkway, meals and lodging are scarce and cell service is almost nonexistent. Missing a dependable GPS, I used the parkway’s Mileposts to mark distances. Numbers start at zero on the north finish and improve touring south.

I started my journey in Roanoke, Virginia, largest metro space on the parkway. At Milepost 120.4, I detoured at Mill Mountain to face on the base of the Roanoke Star. At 88.5 ft tall, the steel construction claims to be the world’s largest free-standing illuminated man-made star. It was constructed in 1949 as a vacation ornament and have become a logo of Roanoke sitting 1,045 ft above the town. I took time to benefit from the view earlier than visiting close by Mill Mountain Zoo. Marking its seventieth anniversary this yr, the zoo serves as a sanctuary for rescued animals.



Sections of the parkway shut for repairs as I quickly realized when indicators warned me heavy rains induced a slope failure forcing a detour from Milepost 121.4 to Milepost 135.9. Updates on closures are posted on the parkway web site, nps.gov/blri.

Fall colors usually peak around mid-October on the Blue Ridge Parkway, starting at the highest elevations.

Fall colours often peak round mid-October on the Blue Ridge Parkway, beginning on the highest elevations.
– Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

Ups and downs of leaf-peeping

I arrived on Oct. 12, 2021, at Mabry Mill, Milepost 176.2, anticipating to see gorgeous fall colours on the most photographed spot on the parkway. Sadly, the leaves had solely begun to show. Elevation on the parkway varies by greater than 5,000 ft and timber flip first on the highest ranges. Mabry Mill, at 2,913 ft, had but to achieve its peak autumn show. Regardless of. The still-working 1903 mill didn’t disappoint, nor did Matthew’s Cabin the place nationwide park rangers sat spinning wool and dealing a loom as pioneers right here as soon as did.

Simply down the street, I detoured to my lodging for the night time, Primland. Based because the 12,000-acre non-public property of a French billionaire, it’s now among the many Auberge Assortment of luxurious resorts. I arrived in time to expertise maybe its most uncommon amenity, a mountaintop observatory the place two huge telescopes are educated on stars and planets.

On the street once more, the Blue Ridge Music Heart merited a cease at Milepost 213. I might have spent all day on the “Roots of American Music” exhibit studying about conventional Blue Ridge devices and tunes of long-ago inhabitants who shared their African, Scottish, Irish and English cultures. A band performed on the breezeway of the Heart; full concert events are held on weekends in an amphitheater.



About these weekends: Keep away from them in the course of the fall. This part of the parkway, from the Music Heart south via North Carolina, will get twice as a lot visitors as in Virginia. Autumn is excessive season and weekends convey the most important crowds of leaf-peepers like me. Vehicles, bikes and RVs compete for house at scenic overlooks and gradual visitors to a crawl.

Elevation climbed as I drove south and autumn started to disclose extra of its finery. When building of the parkway started in 1935, the terrain had been scarred by logging, fires and erosion attributable to floods. Staff planted birches, oaks, crimson maples, dogwoods, sassafras and black gum timber. Now they blanket mountain slopes in a riot of autumn colours.

Excessive factors

On the city of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Mileposts 293 and 295, I could not resist seeing the pure phenomenon for which it’s named. The state’s oldest vacationer attraction, The Blowing Rock, sits on a jagged cliff perched above a 3,000-foot-deep gorge. Rock partitions kind a flume inflicting winds to blow again gentle gadgets tossed over the sting. The air was calm that day, so I contented myself with the view from the remark platform earlier than heading to close by Chetola Resort. On the entrance, I used to be happy to see fall foliage at its peak mirrored in a lake on the 78-acre property. After a snug night time’s keep, pleasing dinner and hearty breakfast on the resort’s Timberlake’s Restaurant, I used to be able to hit the street once more.

Timberlake's Restaurant occupies the ground floor of the former manor house at Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, N.C.

Timberlake’s Restaurant occupies the bottom ground of the previous manor home at Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, N.C.
– Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

At Linn Cove Viaduct, Milepost 304, I used to be shocked not solely by the sensible fall colours however by the feat of engineering required to create this 1,243-foot-long part of roadway wrapped round a steep mountain slope. The problem meant the viaduct wasn’t accomplished till 1987, making it the final hyperlink of parkway to open 52 years after building started.

One other detour took me a number of miles off the parkway to Banner Elk, North Carolina, identified for its Woolly Worm pageant drawing greater than 20,000 attendees on the third weekend of October. The worms — actually woolly bear caterpillars — are stated to foretell the severity of winter form of like Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day. Although it counts lower than 1,500 residents, Banner Elk has a number of fine-dining eating places, Sorrento’s Italian Bistro and old-school Stonewall’s amongst them, making it a stable base camp for exploring North Carolina’s excessive nation, woolly worms or not.

Chairlifts transport autumn visitors past trees displaying fall colors at Sugar Mountain near Banner Elk, N.C.

Chairlifts transport autumn guests previous timber displaying fall colours at Sugar Mountain close to Banner Elk, N.C.
– Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

At Sugar Mountain Resort, a chairlift glided previous a vibrant line of timber to the 5,300-foot summit the place I watched mountain bikers set off on trails down the ski run. I had my transient bout of acrophobia at Grandfather Mountain on the Mile Excessive Swinging Bridge extending 228-feet throughout an 80-foot-deep chasm. Midway throughout, a slat within the bridge ground marks the elevation at 5,280 ft, a mile. Tamer experiences at this nonprofit attraction embrace mountaineering trails, a nature middle and wild animal enclosure the place I watched black bears lumbering alongside a boulder-strewn garden at feeding time.

The Mile High Swinging Bridge ranks as the most popular spot at Grandfather Mountain, an attraction in North Carolina's High Country.

The Mile Excessive Swinging Bridge ranks as the preferred spot at Grandfather Mountain, an attraction in North Carolina’s Excessive Nation.
– Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

I had another mountain to climb. At Milepost 355.4, I left the parkway close to the doorway to Mount Mitchell State Park the place a drive up switchbacks and a hike to the summit took me to the best level east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 ft. On a transparent day, the view from Mount Mitchell stretches 85 miles because the Blue Ridge Mountains transition to the Black Mountains alongside the crest of the Appalachians south towards Asheville, North Carolina.

I might been informed to plan my journey for mid-October. Now on Oct. 15 I might reached the tip of the week, skilled the height of fall foliage and the best elevation alongside the parkway. Time to go away the leaf-peeping to weekenders and head residence.

• • •

Should you go

Data sources:

Blue Ridge Parkway: nps.gov/blri

Virginia’s Blue Ridge: VisitVBR.com

Go to Banner Elk: bannerelk.com

The place to remain:

Primland, Auberge Resorts Assortment: aubergeresorts.com/primland/

Chetola Resort: chetola.com

Greatest Western Banner Elk: bestwestern.com

The place to eat:

Timberlake’s Restaurant: chetola.com/dining-2

Sorrento’s: bannerelkvillage.com/sorrentos-italian-bistro

Stonewall’s: stonewallsrestaurant.com

• Data for this text was gathered throughout a analysis journey sponsored by lodgings, points of interest and customer bureaus alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.



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