It might not be the first one you think of, but the Blue Ridge Parkway Drive is easily amongst the most beloved of routes by those who take it. The next time you think of what you want when you live the tradition of the Great American Road Trip, it might be worth considering if you really want to dive into the history of how this country was shaped and the gorgeous nature that has been a part of it since the beginning. If so, here are just a few of the stops on the way through the Blue Ridge you might want to consider.
Asheville might not be the first of the cities you think of putting on the bucket list but it definitely deserves to be there. Those who live there call it the Land of the Sky and for good reason. Surrounding you on all sides are the Blue Ridge Mountains you’ll be exploring and the Great Smokey Mountains. It’s a place where the arts, the outdoors, and the heritage of the 87,000 people living there really comes alive. A great place to visit on any stop through Asheville is the impressively stately Biltmore House. Built in 1895, the 250-room chateau casts an unmissable figure on the mountains, with acres of gardens surrounding it making it feel like you’ve just stepped into a period drama.
The art of the sky
There’s another side to the history of Asheville that has steadily been evolving into the modern age, as well. As romanticasheville.com says, the Folk Art Center is a must-see for art lovers. Traditional crafting and art styles for the Southern Appalachians have continued into the modern day, with constant rotations both in the galleries and in the stores. Beyond the pieces on display, the local arts association has a lot of support, hosting educational meetings, show and tell sessions, social events, and even classes for visitors. The Blue Ridges, it should already be apparent, are for a lot more than experiencing the wilderness. There’s a depth of culture and history that might go unmissed by those not paying close enough attention.
Into the wild
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of fantastic natural sites for you explorers who want to feel the soil under your feet and hear the rush of water. For the latter in particular, look no further than Pisgah National Forest, where the Elk River Falls makes for one of the most majestic and yet peaceful sights you’ll get on your journey. The falls themselves are huge and impressive, as you’ll see at hdcarolina.com, and have earned their secondary name of the Big Falls. But it’s the pools and streams that it drains into that can make one of the most family friendly nature stops on the way.
Along the Blue Ridge, the people have always lived in a close relationship with the nature surrounding them and often there are fantastic and fascinating stories attached to the locations well worth learning along the way. The Legend of the Blowing Rock, where a Chickasaw maiden and her Cherokee warrior lover are separated, only to be blown back together by the winds of the rock, is charming and quaint enough. When you’re actually standing on that rock, however, where the winds truly will blow back anything that falls them, the story will become almost believable as the tour guide emphatically tells it. Definitely a spot for both the nature lovers and those who love a good story.
The greatest trail in the country
If you truly want to test your legs and feel like you’re exploring this great nation, then the Appalachian Trail is likely already on your bucket list. Well, you can hit two birds with one stone. The Trail and the Blue Ridge road intersect from the Georgia border, climbing the Standing Indian Mountain and across the Nantahala River, through the forest of the same name and much further on to the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains. There are plenty of hiking clubs that can give you even a small experience of the US’s most beloved trail. It’s easy to get caught up in just how far you can go, but you will want to get back to the car to experience the rest of the Blue Ridge has to offer you. Perfect for a hike and a camping trip before you set off on the road once more
An equine adventure
The Dutch Creek Trails might not be as famous as the Appalachian Trail, but the truth is that it’s a trek of an entirely different kind. Here, the horses are the star of the show and the many experienced handlers and riders ensure that visitors get a safe, enjoyable experience of what it must have been like to ride through these lands hundreds of years ago. Near the town of Boone, the Dutch Creek Trails offer much more than just gorgeous woodland trails on horseback. There’s plenty of famous southern hospitality on offer in the eateries like the Over Yonder, too.
It’s easy to believe that it’s all wilderness outside of the city of Asheville. However, halfway between there and the Blowing Rock is a little haven perfect for a day of R&R before you set off again. Little Switzerland is a mountaintop stop, a resort and a community that looks like it almost popped right out of a storybook. Built in the chalet style, overlooking acres of green mountains, but with all the comforts, shopping stops, and edible delicacies you would expect of a resort community. There are even motorcycle trails, rock climbing activities, kayaking adventures and much more available at visitlittleswitzerland.com. It’s well worth checking out for those who want something a little more exciting to go with the trip.
The mountains’ legacy
Amongst the rapidly disappearing forests and natural sites across the land, it becomes more important than ever to take the time to respect those who have fought to conserve places like these so we can continue to explore and marvel at the sights, sounds, and feel of the wild. If you’re stopping at the Pigsah National Forest, then it’s worth taking the time to visit the Cradle of Forestry, as well. If you’re bringing kids with you, then things like Woodsy Owl’s Curiosity Clubs can help educate them and kindle that same respect and awe for nature in their hearts. There are events like Bring Back The Monarchs, too, which helps the community of the Cradle conserve and assist wild species like monarch butterflies.
Get a tune in your heart
North Carolina has a strong musical history, and a trip through the Blue Ridge should prove that beyond all doubt. The Blue Ridge Music Center attracts thousands of listeners all year round, from the locals who rate it amongst the top social spots on the drive to visitors who want to feel authentic regional music. It’s all fiddles, banjos, and guitars here, performed only by musicians who really love the music they’re playing. Beyond the constantly updating calendar of bands and performers visiting the historic venue, the Roots of American Music is a great museum for any lover of the arts. Take a visit during the entirely free Midday Mountain Music performances and stick around if you like what you hear.
For cuisine lovers, there are few stops as valuable as seeing where the ingredients come from and where they’re at their freshest. The Orchard at Altapass is the Blue Ridge’s land of bounty. You can get a taste of the apples right from the trees, but it’s a great place for restaurants, including not only the Apple Core Grill at the Orchard. It has a close proximity to other places like the Knife & Fork and the Mountain View Restaurant, all of them specializing in using the local ingredients above all else. The foundation at altapassorchard.org has one mission above all, to preserve and protect the gorgeous orchards, so it’s well worth visiting even if just to show a little support.
Another side of the mountains’ history
The Blue Ridge mountains and a lot of the surrounding lands have been home to the Cherokee for hundreds and hundreds of years. Biltmore House is a fantastic historical stop but if you want to get the full picture, you should visit the Oconaluftee village, as well. It’s no ghost town, however. It’s like being transported into the living history of the 1760s, where traditional Cherokee buildings, their homes, where they work, and their religious sites, are all carefully preserved. It’s full of villagers making canoes, pottery, masks, demonstrating war preparations, and creating the perfect picture of what Cherokee life was like hundreds of years ago.
For those who want a trip that’s informative, explorative, and inspiration above all else, there are few on-the-road adventures that compete with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Get your hiking boots on, your camping gear packed and get out there.