to do along the Blue Ridge Parkway
color on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
the Blue Ridge Parkway as a crooked spine running through
the Appalachian Mountains. Government stewardship of
public lands is splashed across the map in confusing
variety — a national park at either end, national
forests, historic sites, monuments and state parks along
its 469 miles.
of us know it as the road that snakes through some of the
most glorious fall color in North America and wraps around
some of the highest mountains east of the Mississippi
River. All those curves and dips offer up opportunities
aplenty for hiking, fishing, picnicking, camping and
it is administered by the National Park Service, the
parkway is not really a park. Most of its manmade
attractions are technically off the parkway in small
communities within an easy drive. The attractions are
diverse and many and range from wine-tasting to theater,
bluegrass music to a train ride.
are my recommendations for attractions to see on or near
the parkway. My list starts near the southern end, by
Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the North
Carolina-Tennessee state line, and runs north and east
into Virginia and Shenandoah National Park.
a train: The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad boards
passengers in Bryson City, North Carolina, 13 miles from
the southern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Excursions, usually three to four hours, run along the
Tennessee and Nantahala rivers and across Fontana Lake, or
to historic Dillsboro. It’s a particularly fun way to
see fall color, and there’s a railroad museum at the
depot with model layouts. 226 Everett St., Bryson City;
about Native American culture: The town of Cherokee
http://visitcherokeenc.com, two miles from the southern
end of the parkway) is the home of the Eastern Band of
Cherokee Nation. Oconaluftee Indian Village is a replica
of an Eastern Cherokee community from the 1760s, with
demonstrations of Cherokee dance, mask-making,
basket-weaving and other traditions. Closes for the season
Oct. 18. 218 Drama Rd.; 866-554-4557. The Museum of the
Cherokee Indian tells the story of the Cherokee people and
has an extensive collection of artifacts. Open daily
year-round. 589 Tsali Blvd.;
828-497-3481;www.cherokeemuseum.org. The Eastern Band of
Cherokee Nation also operates Harrah’s Cherokee Casino
Resort, with the usual games. 777 Casino Dr.;
a palace: George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore House,
with 250 rooms, is the largest privately owned mansion in
America. Tour the palatial house as well as much of the
8,000-acre estate, which includes wine-tasting, botanical
gardens, even a horseback ride in the backwoods of the
estate. Christmas season, when the estate is elaborately
decorated, also brings special events. 1 Lodge St.,
Asheville; 3 miles from parkway exit at Milepost 388.8;
to the theater. About 30 miles south of Asheville is
Flat Rock Playhouse, 60-year-old professional equity
theater and official State Theatre of North Carolina. The
Playhouse hosts productions from mid-February to December.
2661 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock; about 25 miles from
parkway exit at Milepost 393.6; 828-693-0731;
www.flatrockplayhouse.org. The Carl Sandburg National
Historic Site, former home of the Pulitzer-winning poet,
is across the street from the Playhouse; www.nps.gov/carl.
the highest mountain: 32 miles northeast of Asheville
and just north of the parkway is Mount Mitchell State
Park, named for the 6,684-foot peak that is the highest
point east of the Mississippi. You can drive almost to the
top, then walk a short trail to a deck on the summit where
on a clear day, the view is said to extend for 85 miles.
At the top is an interpretive center and hiking trails,
and nearby is a restaurant that is open daily May through
October. 2388 North Carolina 128, Burnsville; Milepost
history: When Moses and Bertha Cone built their
country estate in Blowing Rock, they pulled out all the
stops. Along with their 13,000-square-foot grand Colonial
Revival style mansion, they put in 25 miles of trails,
ponds stocked with trout and bass, an apple orchard, white
pine forest, carriage house and apple barn. Today the
mansion — one of the few manmade attractions on the
parkway — has handmade crafts by members of the Southern
Highland Craft Guild for sale, and craft demonstrations by
local artists. You can still walk the trails or take a
horseback ride through the property. Moses Cone Manor, 667
Service Road, Blowing Rock, Milepost 294; www.blueridgeheritage.com or www.nps.gov/blri.
out in Mayberry: Mount Airy, North Carolina, about 20
miles east of the parkway, is where Andy Griffith grew up,
and the small town plays the connection for all it’s
worth. You can visit Wally’s Service Station, eat at the
Blue Bird Diner, see a show at Andy Griffith Playhouse,
visit Andy Griffith’s childhood home or take a tour by a
Mayberry squad car. Mayberry Days is celebrated the last
weekend of September (Sept. 25-27 this year). Exit at
Milepost 199.5 at Fancy Gap; www.visitmayberry.com.
wine-tasting: Mount Airy is the jumping off point for the
Yadkin Valley Wine Trail, which has 36 wineries (www.yvwt.com)
that grow more than a dozen varieties of grapes in a
region once planted with tobacco. Where you go depends in
part on how far you want to range from the Blue Ridge
Parkway. Coming up: The Yadkin Valley Grape Festival on
Oct. 18 in Yadkinville (http://yvgf.com).
to the music: The Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax,
Virginia, has live traditional music every day in season
from noon to 4 p.m., concerts most Saturdays. The Roots of
American Music exhibit traces the region’s musical
heritage to the African banjo and the European fiddle. The
center is open daily through Oct. 27. Two hiking trails
start here. Milepost 213; 276-236-5309;www.blueridgemusiccenter.org.
The nearby Rex Theater has bluegrass concerts that are
broadcast live on WBRF 98.1 FM — listen before your trip
to get in the spirit. (113 E. Grayson St., Galax; 276-236-0329;
history come alive: Mabry Mill, a historic water-powered
mill, operated first as a sawmill and later as a community
gristmill that ground corn into grits. Both have been
restored. A trail around the mill connects historical
exhibits about life in rural Virgina. There’s also a
working blacksmith shop, picnic areas, a hiking trail, and
a restaurant. On some days there are demonstrations by
historical interpreters. The Rocky Knob Recreation Area,
with campsites and hiking trails, is nearby (Milepost
161.1). 266 Mabry Mill Rd. at Milepost 176.2; 276-952-2947; www.visitblueridgeparkway.com/mabry
little more wine tasting: Five wineries plus Blacksnake
Meadery (made with fermented local honey) and Foggy Ridge
Cider (sparkling cider, apple port) are west of Roanoke
and just north of North Carolina. Most open only on
weekends, then close for the season or cut back their
hours in November or December. Closest wineries are at
Mileposts 171.5 and 174.www.mountain roadwineexperience.com.
to more bluegrass: The Floyd Country Store offers
traditional Appalachian music every weekend, year-round.
It’s one of the most famed stops on the Crooked Road,
Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, offering music and
dancing Friday nights, Americana music Saturday
afternoons, an old-time dance or concert on many Saturday
evenings, and a traditional mountain music jam every
Sunday. The store has a cafe and ice cream counter and
sells local crafts, music DVDs, and goods usually found in
a country store. 206 S. Locust St., Floyd, Virginia, 6
miles off the parkway at Milepost 165.2;
For other music venues along the Crooked Road: www.myswva.org/swva/see-and-do/music.
Roanoke’s railroad roots: Before the Shenandoah Valley
Railroad (forerunner of the Norfolk and Western Railway)
came to the Roanoke Valley in the second half of 19th
century, Roanoke was a small community called Big Lick for
its salt marshes, or licks. Rail-related commerce boosted
it to a city. The Virginia Museum of Transportation’s
collection includes more than 50 rail cars and the largest
collection of diesel locomotives in the South, as well as
displays on other transportation. 303 Norfolk Ave. SW,
Roanoke, Milepost 115; 540-342-5670; www.vmt.org.
Nearby is the O. Winston Link Museum, which features the
work of the photographer, Winston Link, who documented the
last days of steam along the Norfolk and Western Railway.
101 Shenandoah Ave. NE; 540-982-5465; www.linkmuseum.org.
a pair of Civil War generals: Two Confederate generals,
Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson and Robert
E. Lee are buried in Lexington, Virginia. Jackson is in
the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery (314 S. Main St.,
along with other Confederate veterans. You can also visit
the Stonewall Jackson House (8 E. Washington
St., 540-464-7704, www.stonewalljackson.org).
The house, now a museum, is owned by the Virginia Military
Institute, where Jackson taught before the Civil War.
After the war, Lee, general-in-chief of Confederate
forces, served as the president of Washington College (now
Washington and Lee University). He was buried underneath
Lee Chapel at the university (100 N. Jefferson St.,
Lexington is 11 miles off the parkway at Milepost 45.6.
caving: About 60 miles east of the end of the parkway
and about 15 miles from the Thornton Gap entrance to
Shenandoah National Park are Luray Caverns, largest
caverns in the eastern United States. The series of
limestone chambers have elaborate formations — Saracen’s
Tent, with thin, fabric-like pleats of stone; the Great
Stalacpipe Organ, on which the stalactites sing when they
are tapped; and more. The commercial attraction also has a
maze and a vintage car exhibit. 101 Cave Hill Rd., Luray;
Other smaller caverns that are closer to the parkway
include Dixie Caverns in southwest Virginia (about 25
miles from the parkway at Roanoke, Milepost 115; www.dixiecaverns.com)
and Linville Caverns in North Carolina ( www.linvillecaverns.com,
exit at Milepost 317).
FOR DRIVING THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
elevation of the Blue Ridge Parkway varies from 650 feet
to over 6,000 feet. The first leaves to change color are
those at the highest elevation. If you’re there in early
fall, head for the highest elevations. If you’re late,
the best color will be at lower elevations. Usually peak
season is mid to late October; call the Parkway
Information Line (828-298-0398, press option 3) for an
a good map with mile markers before you go and use it to
plan your stops. Most general road atlases don’t show
mileage along the parkway. You can download a National
Park Service map atwww.nps.gov/blri;
click on "plan your visit." Mile markers start
at zero at the north end of the parkway; mile marker 469
is near Cherokee, North Carolina. The Virginia-North
Carolina state line is at Milepost 216.9.
restaurants and gas stations are scarce on the parkway.
You’ll find these amenities in towns near the parkway.
Bring snacks, water and maybe a picnic lunch. Keep an eye
on your gas gauge.
going can be slow during peak color season, especially on
weekends and near cities. Expect getting from Point A to
Point B to take much longer than usual. Parking can be
hard to find at popular stops like Moses H. Cone Memorial
Park as well as in nearby towns with lunch stops like
Blowing Rock. Making last-minute hotel reservations can be
difficult. Plan accordingly — and go on a weekday if you
aware that there may be long stretches of the parkway and
nearby — especially at higher elevations — where your
cell phone (and its GPS app) won’t get a signal.
Ridge Parkway: www.nps.gov/blri, www.blueridgeparkway.org
Smoky Mountain National Park: www.nps.gov/grsm.
National Park: www.nps.gov/shen
Carolina tourism: www.visitnc.com
Asheville: www.exploreasheville.com, www.romanticasheville.com
Blue Ridge Parkway Association lists trails, ranks each
hike as easy, moderate or strenuous and offers maps for
most of them. Go to www.blueridgeparkway.org and
click on "What to do."
McClatchy Tribune Information Services