Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway In Autumn

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in North America, and number one in North Carolina. Set within the Appalachian Mountains, the parkway is full of lakes, forests, national parks, waterfalls, and hundreds of hiking trails. While you can drive it any time (except in extreme weather conditions) the best time of the year is autumn, especially October.

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The Blue Ridge Parkway was a development project under the New Deal aimed at providing jobs for people after the Great Depression. Construction began in 1935 near the North Carolina and Virginia state line and today the parkway spans 469 miles through both states.

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We started our drive near the town of Blowing Rock, and traveled south to Grandfather Mountain State Park to do some hiking. We started in the early morning and along the way passed mountains, hilly overlooks, and a peaceful mountain lake.

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After several hours of hiking we returned to the parkway, this time in the afternoon. The quiet roads from this morning were now busy with cars and motorcycles, and the overlooks crowded with people attempting to capture the fleeting beauty of fall.

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We decided to keep driving and headed farther south. Quite suddenly the mountainous overlooks became fewer, replaced by rolling hills and farmland. We passed herds of cows, people horseback riding, green meadows, and farm after farm.

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After an hour or so of driving, the midday sun and the weight of our strenuous hike and early morning wake up call began to grow heavier. It was time to go. We turned around and headed back towards Blowing Rock, stopping at one final overlook before getting off the parkway and driving home to Charlotte.

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Here are a few practical tips if you decide to visit in October:

Start early. The earlier the better, especially if you are hiking. In October the parkway becomes very busy after 11 am.

If you see a spot you like, don’t be afraid park at an overlook and walk. Some of the overlooks are blocked by trees and the best view is actually a few hundred feet over.

Getting onto the parkway is free but some of the parks have fees. Hiking Grandfather Mountain and McCrae’s peak is a hefty $18 per person, but there are plenty of free hikes too (Linville Falls being one of my favorites).

And lastly, a map of the entire parkway

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What do you think? Do you have a favorite seasonal drive or road trip?

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