The North Carolina Mountains Feature
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Day Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway
Often called America's narrowest national park, the Blue Ridge Parkway's two-lane blacktop traverses some of the East's most dramatic scenery, soaring along the ridges of mile-high mountains and then swooping into lush alpine valleys, where restaurants, craft shops, stylish inns, and outdoor fun await.
While the entire 252-mile North Carolina section of the Blue Ridge Parkway is well worth your time, the 90-mile portion between Blowing Rock and Asheville offers the most appealing combination of dramatic vistas and things to do. Enter the Parkway from U.S. 321/221 between Boone and Blowing Rock. Almost immediately you're at Moses Cone Park, where there's a crafts center in the manor house and 25 miles of carriage roads on the former estate, winding through what's left of old apple orchards. Adjoining Moses Cone Park is Julian Price Park. You'll recognize it by the lovely small lake adjacent to the parkway. There is a 100-table picnic ground and several hiking trails.
Planning Your Time
April to early November is the best time to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. (In winter, sections of the Parkway sometimes close due to ice and snow.) This two-lane mountain road has a 45 mph speed limit, so don't plan on a quick trip. With stops you can easily spend a full day. If you want to break up the trip, Asheville and Blowing Rock have great hotels in all price ranges.
Most of the next 20 miles offers stunning scenery, with spruce and fir forests reminiscent of the more northern climates. The Linn Cove Viaduct is a marvel of engineering, and a small visitor center has displays explaining its construction. Grandfather Mountain, 2 miles south, has enclosures for black bear, panthers, and other local wildlife, a nature museum, and a mile-high swinging bridge that's a sure winner for kids.
At Linville Falls and Crabtree Falls, moderate round-trip hikes of 1.6 miles and 2.5 miles get you to the falls and back. Another good spot for kids is the Museum of North Carolina Minerals, with displays on gems and minerals of western North Carolina. Take Route 128 to Mt. Mitchell State Park, anchored by the 6,684-foot peak. You can hike to the observation tower, enjoy a mile-high picnic, dine at the highest restaurant east of the Rockies, or grab a snack at the concession stand. Even in midsummer, temperatures are almost never higher than the mid-70s. After visiting Mt. Mitchell, continue south toward Asheville. The Craggy Gardens area in late spring and early summer has stunning views of purple and rosebay rhododendron.
Approaching Asheville, you have an abundance of choices for stops. Along the parkway itself, there's the Folk Art Center, with displays of quilts and crafts, the Parkway Visitor Center, where interactive displays provide an excellent overview about the parkway, and the North Carolina Arboretum, where there are colorful displays of local foliage.
Switzerland Café and General Store. Enjoy a smoked trout BLT for lunch at the charming Switzerland Café. Dinner is a little more upscale, with rib-eye steak and baby back ribs. 9440 Hwy. 226A, Little Switzerland, NC, 28749. 828/765–5289. www.switzerlandcafe.com. Closed Dec.–Mar.
Mt. Mitchell State Park Restaurant. Dine in the clouds at Mt. Mitchell State Park Restaurant. The menu is casual, with dishes like mountain trout, chicken fingers, and burgers. 2388 NC Hwy. 128, Burnsville, NC, 28714. 828/675–4611. www.ncparks.gov. Closed Nov.–Apr.
Craggy Gardens Picnic Area. This is a lovely spot for a picnic and a great place to explore tunnels of rhododendron and heaths covered in wild blueberries. Blue Ridge Pkwy. MM 364.5, NC, 28762. 828/298–0398. www.nps.gov.blri.
Gianni Panini. For a quick sandwich or salad, Gianni Panini, an Italian eatery in Biltmore Village, fits the bill (paninis are $6). 1 Boston Way, Biltmore Village, Asheville, NC, 28803. 828/505-1624. www.giannipanini.net.
Pisgah Inn Restaurant. On the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Pisgah, the Pisgah Inn features a tempting selection of burgers, sandwiches, wraps, and full meals—such as local trout with soup and salad—at lunch or dinner. A full breakfast menu is available in the mornings. The view of the mountains is fabulous, and the food is surprisingly good. Eat in or order your meal to go. Blue Ridge Pkwy., MM 408.6, Waynesville, NC, 28786. 828/235–8228. www.pisgahinn.com. Closed early Nov.–late Mar.
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