Recently, I updated my dining room gallery wall to reflect the organic colors and beauty of Autumn. I really wanted to capture the subdued hues and mood created by the season’s low slanted light. Where rays of light kiss the tops of trees and filter through leaves, bathing the landscape in a washed out warmth and tones of gold and flax.
Fall is a transitional time – a season of departure, yet we all breathlessly await its arrival. Maybe it’s knowing that we’re slowing sliding towards the bleakness and isolation of winter and we’re desperate to soak up every last ounce of Mother Nature’s glory. Whatever it is, Autumn encourages us to get outside and bask in Earth’s gorgeous transformation and appreciate the beauty of change and letting things go.
One of the best places to immerse yourself in the season is in North Carolina’s high country. Less than two hours from our home near Lake Norman, the Blue Ridge Mountains near Boone and Blowing Rock feels like a world away. Crisp mountain air, colorful fall foliage, and that ephemeral feeling that each day will be Autumn’s last, persuades us to hop in the car and head for the hills.
Ever wondered why our shop is closed on Wednesdays? That's our son's home school day. (He goes to a school that combines traditional classroom schooling with home school teaching.) Knowing it would just be us manning the business in the early months, we still wanted to make Caleb's schooling and family time a priority. Being closed on his home school day give us this opportunity. It's also become my only "weekend" or off day. With peak foliage color occurring this week in the mountains and knowing how the crowds can get on a weekend, we jumped at the chance at a mid-week "field trip."
Follow along as our family chases down this fleeting season.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
Dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469.1 miles through western North Carolina and central Virginia. Apart of the National Parks System, a meandering tour through the Appalachian Highlands offers breathtaking scenery around each turn. Bring your binoculars to take in the long-range vista views at the countless overlook points; experience nature up close and personal on a hiking trail or campsite, or visit one of the picturesque and unique towns along the route.
A slow drive along the Parkway is fun, but you don’t want to be wandering aimlessly. Before you head out, do a little research by downloading travel itineraries and maps. Blueridgeparkway.com offers a handy Parkway app allowing your to plan the trip from your phone.
From the 1-77/Lake Norman area, you can begin your adventure a few ways. You can head north to I-40 West, then take Route 181 through the town of Morganton and head towards Grandfather Mountain. We've done this a few times, but this week, we wanted to start in Boone and backtrack on the Parkway to Blowing Rock. This is an easy 65 mile drive up I-77 North to Route 421 W.
New River Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch
Our first stop took us just outside the mountain college town of Boone to New River Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch. Hiding at the bottom of a hollow on Laurel Gap Ridge Road sits a 5-acre corn field and 4 acres of carve-worthy pumpkins ripe for picking! Choosing the perfect pumpkin or getting out of the maze is hard work! Pack a lunch or some snacks and hang out to play corn hole or enjoy the scenery from an Adirondack chair or picnic table on the property.
Blue Ridge Parkway - Yadkin Valley Overlook Outside of Boone
Leaving the corn maze and pumpkins behind in the hollow, we hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway for just a few miles towards Blowing Rock.
We made a quick stop at milepost 289.8 – the Yadkin Valley Overlook – to take in the scenery and snap a few photos.
Shopping and Dinner in Blowing Rock
Leaving the Parkway at mile 292, we headed into one of our favorite mountain towns, Blowing Rock. We’ve been to Blowing Rock several times now and are captivated by the storybook feel of this quaint village. On some lazy Sundays, we’ll hop in the car and head to Blowing Rock to just window shop and have brunch. Late October has to be one of the best times to visit, though. Shopkeepers line the sidewalks with heirloom pumpkins, gourds, and fall plants; the dark stone on the facades of old stone buildings and churches counter blazing color from maple trees lining the streets, and ghosts are said to haunt several of the town’s inns.
Here is The Inn at Ragged Gardens. With Halloween looming and the earthy smell of foliage crunching underfoot, this foreboding 100-year old stone mansion looks like it was ripped from the pages of a gothic lit novel. (Or perhaps Jan Karon’s ‘Mitford?’)
Despite its size, Blowing Rock is home to several impressive fine dining establishments, including bistros, breweries, and taverns. After a little shopping, we stroll off of Main Street to Sunset Drive - home to the Inn at Ragged Gardens, Blowing Rock Brewing Company Ale House and Inn, and The New Public House and Hotel.
After a long day of hiking, leaf-peeping, or shopping, Both The New Public House’s and Blowing Rock Brewing Company's expansive front porches are the perfect place to put up your feet and enjoy a local brew or house-made cocktail. Stopping at The New Public House for burgers and hot dogs has become a tradition. (One of these times, we hope to head up kid-free and stay overnight in this cool boutique bed and breakfast.)
As you can see, our little man particularly enjoys dining al fresco enjoying one of their signature house-made dogs.
The Blowing Rock
Right outside the town of Blowing Rock is The Blowing Rock – an immense craggy cliff, jutting out from the terrain, 3000 feet above the Johns River Gorge. The rock is named for the phenomenon in which the rocky walls of the gorge form a flume that allows air current to flow upward – and yet another ghostly tale. This paid tourist attraction is a popular place to take selfies out on the rock, but we’re always more enamored by the panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The attraction includes several observation decks and a quarter-mile trail to take in the spectacular scenery and unobstructed views of six different mountains, including Hawksbill Mountain and Table Rock to the southwest and Grandfather Mountain (the highest peak in the Blue Ridge chain) and Mount Mitchell (the highest peak east of the Rockies) to the west.
On this particular Autumn day, the contrast in colors of the foliage in the foreground and the hazy mountain ranges and highest peaks covered in fog in the distance created postcard-like images for us to snap up from the observation deck and from atop of the mythical cliff.
Blue Ridge Parkway through the Linn Cove Viaduct
Leaving The Blowing Rock, it was on to the big tuna – a meandering drive through the Linn Cove Viaduct of The Blue Ridge Parkway!
Called “The Missing Link,” the Linn Cove Viaduct is an engineering marvel. Completed in 1987, the viaduct is actually a 1,243 foot long set of 153 curved concrete segments that hug the southern side of Grandfather Mountain’s steep, craggy slopes.
The Viaduct is thought to be one of the most difficult bridges ever built. Civil engineers designed a structure at an elevation of 4,100 ft that did not disrupt the natural environment of the mountain but allowed for the completion of the last 7.5 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
On our first Blue Ridge Mountain adventure a few years ago, we took in the amazing scenery and spectacular long-range vista views by traveling through the Viaduct from the north, This year, we wanted a different perspective, and as described on Visit NC’s website, “the approach to the Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway is half the fun.”
From U.S. Highway 321 in Blowing Rock, you drive south on the Parkway…as you continue south, the Parkway ascends past spectacular overlooks and cascading mountain streams which rush down Grandfather’s furrowed cheek. Then, at Milepost 304.6, the roadway begins a sweeping curve to the left that seems to head into space. You have arrived at the Linn Cove Viaduct.
There are more than 280 pull-offs on the Parkway, many just tenths of a mile apart. Each twist and turn through the Viaduct brought us to a new overlook point, and they didn’t disappoint! Turning a curve or just moving to a different part of the overlook provided varying vantage viewpoints of the nearby terrain and endless mountain ranges. The following shots were captured from these overlooks all within three miles of each other.
The speed limit on the Parkway is limited at 45 miles-per-hour making it easy to drive in and out of the overlook lots at leisure. Even during peak leaf-peeping season and heavier traffic, the overlooks are designed in a way that allows many sightseers to enjoy the beauty and become one with nature, without encroaching on others.
There is something about a single dying tree jutting up from the kaleidoscope of colors and beauty that really captivates us.
A view of the viaduct, approaching from the south.
Like many other leaf-peepers, we can't help but pull the car to the side of the road and walk the length of the curved, concrete segments. Not a bad view, huh?
One we love so much, we get to enjoy every time we gather around the table.