Cool Off in the Blue Ridge
The prettiest stretch of highway in the South, the Blue Ridge Parkway, curls along mountain ridges between two national parks--Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains. The 469-mile road reveals remarkable panoramic views of tree-blanketed mountains stretching to the horizon.
August is a perfect month to make the drive. The parkway, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, offers an oasis from the summer heat. Temperatures can be 15 to 20 degrees cooler at altitudes reaching 6,047 feet, the highest point on the federal parkway. A jacket or sweater could come in handy at night.
Roadside flowers, including asters, goldenrod, sunflowers, and ironweed, also bloom brightly along the way, making the drive especially spectacular this time of year. The crowds lessen in late summer too. This makes the attractions--scenic hikes, cozy lodges, and great restaurants--all the more enjoyable.
Small markers beside the road count the miles as the parkway courses southward from Virginia to North Carolina. Follow along with us as we visit some terrific stops along the drive.
Milepost 5.8: Humpback Rocks Visitor Center.
A quarter-mile trail routes visitors past a collection of Appalachian farm buildings with costumed interpreters. A more strenuous 4-mile hike takes you to the top of Humpback Mountain, with its breathtaking views.
Milepost 13.5: Wintergreen Resort.
This year-round resort occupies some 11,000 mountainous acres just 2 miles off the parkway. Visitors rent privately owned villas and homes. Golf and tennis are popular summer activities. Call 1-800-266-2444 for reservations.
Milepost 86: Peaks of Otter.
Three mountains--Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill--make up the Peaks of Otter. A 11⁄2-mile hike takes you to the pinnacle of Sharp Top, or you can ride a bus up the mountain. Either way, you get a majestic 360-degree view of the Blue Ridge. The Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant sit nestled between the mountains. Call 1-800-542-5927.
Milepost 171.5: Château Morrisette Winery.
A winding side road leads visitors to one of Virginia's largest wineries. A restaurant opens for lunch Wednesday through Saturday and for dinner Friday and Saturday, plus Château To Go sells gourmet foods. The winery's Black Dog Concert Series runs now through October. Tours of the winery are given daily. Call (540) 593-2865, or visit www.thedogs.com.
Milepost 176.1: Mabry Mill.
The gift shop at this gristmill sells locally produced grits, buckwheat, and cornmeal. The Mabry Mill Restaurant ( 952-2947) serves up pancakes, barbecue, country ham, and grits.
Milepost 213: Blue Ridge Music Center.
An interpretive center opens this summer at the newest roadside attraction, plus there's an outdoor amphitheater. On Saturday nights this summer and Sunday afternoons in the fall, concerts feature mountain music by local and regional performers. For tickets call (276) 236-5309.
Milepost 217.5: Cumberland Knob.
Located near the North Carolina-Virginia state line, the 1,000-acre park has two hiking trails. The Cumberland Knob Trail, the easier of the two, is a paved 20-minute walk leading up to a picnic area and sheltered overlook.
Mileposts 292-298: Moses H. Cone and Julian Price Memorial Parks.
These adjacent parks, 7 miles east of Boone, make up the largest recreational area on the parkway. The parklands offer hiking trails, boat rentals, daily guided walks, mountain handicraft demonstrations, and evening campfire programs.
Milepost 316: Linville Falls.
It's worth the 2.1-mile hike through deep woods to view these dramatic falls; the water cascades 90 feet down a deep gorge. A visitors center explains the unique woodland environment.
Here, mountain vistas change to rolling hills topped with acres of heirloom apple trees. Weekends feature free music and storytelling hayrides through the orchard; 1-888-765-9531 or www.altapassorchard.com.
Milepost 376: Sourwood Inn.
This handsome cedar-and-stone inn, tucked 2 miles off the parkway, sits on 100 acres of deep woods. Each of the 12 comfortable guest rooms features a wood-burning fireplace, balcony, and ample amounts of peace and quiet. Rates range $150-$180; (828) 255-0690 or www.sourwoodinn.com.
Milepost 382: Folk Art Center & Southern Highland Craft Guild.
Part craft shop, part museum, and part visitors center, this stop displays and sells the best works of mountain artists, including pottery, jewelry, and quilts. Daily demonstrations show such time-honored skills as weaving, wood carving, dollmaking, and other activities; (828) 298-7928 or www.craftguild.org.
Milepost 408.6: Pisgah Inn.
South of Asheville, the Pisgah Inn sits on a ridgetop overlooking the Pisgah National Forest. Their restaurant offers a picture window look at the Blue Ridge, a perfect complement to the mountain trout dinner ($12.99). Room rates start at $83.50; (828) 235-8228 or www.pisgahinn.com.
Exit at State 43 near milepost 86 or U.S. 221/460 at milepost 105.8. The National D-Day Memorial offers a haunting account of the World War II event.
Three exits between mileposts 105 and 125 route you through the city. Downtown boasts museums, restaurants, shops, and a farmers market.
Take State 89 at milepost 215.85. Things heat up August 8-13 during the Old Fiddler's Convention. Don't miss the St. Louis-style spareribs ($9.99 for a half slab) at The Galax Smokehouse on Main Street.
Get off the parkway at U.S. 321. A charming, easily walkable Main Street boasts lots of shops and a public park. Enjoy the Cafe Burger ($7.05) at Blowing Rock Cafe.
Exit at U.S. 276 south of Mount Pisgah. Essence of Thyme Coffee Cafe, Gallery on Main, and O.P. Taylor's toy store make this downtown a must-see.
Take the U.S. 23/74 exit. Craft shops cuddle together around the railroad tracks. Savor the fried chicken luncheon plate at The Jarrett House ($9.95).
This article is from the August 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.