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Fall Getaways: Blue Ridge Parkway

October 22, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
Fall is made for festivals, hikes in the woods and scenic road trips with stops along the way for crisp red apples and stunning photo opportunities. This week, we highlight distinctly autumnal activities along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.

Southern Driving

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Stretching 469 miles from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to North Carolina’s Great Smokey Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway is known for its scenic waypoints and vibrant foliage. Road trippers may enter the parkway at any major federal or state highway, and frequent stops are encouraged. According to the U.S. National Parks Service, “part of a Parkway experience is getting into the towns and communities of the region.”

Part of the Blue Ridge’s appeal is the slower pace, which allows drivers and passengers to fully experience the expansive views. The parkway has a 45 mph speed limit, but drivers often cruise at a steady 30 mph. Southern Living magazine advises a one-day road trip from Asheville to Cherokee in North Carolina, and recommends a few places of interest to stop along the way, including the Folk Art Center, a mountain tunnel that leads to a magnificent view of the French Broad River Valley, and a natural water slide—the 60-foot Sliding Rock.

Asheville’s Arrival

In recent years, the city of Asheville has blossomed into a thriving city for artists and a great place for travelers to spend a few days unwinding, taking in the café scene or kayaking nearby rapids. Consider stopping in Asheville during your Blue Ridge Parkway drive.

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority maintains a Web site devoted to autumn in Asheville, particularly outdoor activities. Get a fall color report, information on scenic drives, plus crafts, activities and excursions with a seasonal slant. In the section on budget activities, learn about visiting Asheville’s Botanical Gardens and hiking at the North Carolina Arboretum, where landscaped gardens mingle with bonsai trees.

For more natural features in the Asheville area, watch a video about hiking to Grandfather Mountain, the tallest peak in the Blue Ridge range and “the only private park in the world designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve.”

If you prefer more bustle and culture, glean advice from The New York Times’s “36 Hours in Asheville, N.C.” article, which highlights promising restaurants, shops and galleries that collectively contribute to Asheville’s nickname, the “Paris of the South.” Of note is the Grove Arcade, a massive marketplace for food and fashion that was built in 1929 and restored within the past five years.

Busy in the Blue Ridge

If you can tear yourself away from the stunning views of the Blue Ridge Parkway, head to a fall event to mingle with locals, or explore a hiking trail for an up-close natural experience. 

In Avery County, located between two popular North Carolina ski resorts, residents gather each October to watch woolly worms crawl up three-foot lengths of string; the winner predicts the severity of the coming winter. The Woolly Worm Festival kicked off in 1978.

There are hundreds of hiking trails of varying difficulty located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, many leading to waterfalls and views of idyllic gorges and blue-hued mountains.

To plan a hike, visit HikeWNC, a comprehensive Web site that provides details of treks along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. View hiking maps and learn about the best hikes in the area, categorized by level of difficulty and special features, such as waterfalls, great views and historic sites.

Parting Shots

View colorful photos capturing the fall foliage of the Blue Ridge Parkway, courtesy of a Webshots album.

For additional insight and advice for planning a fall drive, visit the findingDulcinea Road Trips Web Guide.
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