Blue Ridge Parkway
Update February 7, 2021 - This article was originally written shortly after October of 2006 when the trip was taken. Some of the links have changed and sadly, some of the businesses listed may no longer be around. I've done my best to give credit to the original sources of any quotes.
Can you say, “Road trip”? Those two words draw more excitement from me than a box of chocolates. On any given day, I can hear those words, arrive home and in under an hour, be packed and out the door. Obviously, I like to travel and oddly enough, I like to do it from the comfort of my car, cruising along at my own speed with no real destination in mind. Oh, and no reservations either, giving me the opportunity to stop wherever and whenever the urge strikes. Sure, you have the occasional bowling tournament that has all hotels booked solid within a 50-mile radius, but generally speaking, if you stop at the right time of day, you can always find a room.
So it was on a recent 3-day weekend. Our plans had suddenly been cancelled and my husband said the magic words. Well, not exactly, but close enough – So…Mountains? No sooner had he said the words than I replied with, “How soon? Which ones? What direction? How long? Anywhere in particular?” The excitement was practically causing me to bounce off the walls and after some discussion; the decision was made to head north toward the Blue Ridge Parkway.
At this point, you may or may not be wondering about this Blue Ridge Parkway I mentioned. I’ve learned in recent years that not everyone has heard of it, so here is a brief explanation:
Begun in 1935, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a road that winds its way approximately 469 miles from Waynesboro, VA to Cherokee, NC. The views along the parkway are at times breathtaking and the 45 mph speed limit allows drivers the ability to relax and enjoy. There are many areas that offer historic information and even more roadside overlooks to add to your pleasure. Elevations vary from 650 feet to more than 6,000 feet depending on your location. This one of only four parkways (History & Culture - Blue Ridge Parkway (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)) in the United States that are maintained by the National Parks Service and restrict the use of commercial vehicles. For more information visit http://www.nps.gov or http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/. I’ll discuss another parkway in a separate article.
Now that you’ve had a brief history lesson, on with the journey – Leaving Atlanta on a Friday afternoon is hard enough, but leaving on a holiday weekend Friday is even worse. Knowing this, we took our standard traffic avoidance route for going north but made a fatal error in where we chose to re-enter Interstate 85 and managed to make it less than 30 miles in our first hour of driving.
At this point, we stopped for a quick dinner at Ms. Winner’s to discuss our options. Instead of driving to Charlotte, NC and picking up the parkway at Mt. Airy, NC where we left off on a previous trip, we could drove to Franklin, NC and pick up the parkway just north of Asheville, NC. Any one of these towns would be a great place to explore on its own, with Asheville offering Biltmore Estate and Mt. Airy being the home of Andy Griffith, but the Blue Ridge Parkway is something we’ve wanted to finish driving for a while.
About three years ago, my husband, his daughter and I were on a day trip/road trip and I suggested the parkway. My husband had never heard of it, even though he grew up in Atlanta, visiting relatives in North Georgia often. (As he says, he’d never been north of Maggie Valley and Franklin before in his life.) So, as short a distance as we went that day, he was hooked. A couple of years ago, we drove from Cherokee to Asheville, then last fall, we drove the parkway from Asheville to just across the Virginia line, stopping in Mt. Airy for the night. Since then, we’ve tried to find the time to go back to drive the remainder of the parkway.
So, after bedding down for the night in one of the last two rooms available at the Comfort Inn just outside Franklin (Jacuzzi tub? Sure!), we rose early Saturday morning and made our way toward Asheville, stopping for breakfast in Waynesville, NC. (Have I mentioned yet that one of our other favorite pastimes is eating? Well, we mustn’t overlook our dietary needs, without which travel would be impossible – having no energy to sustain us.) We arrived at a little diner named Clyde’s, which has apparently been in business since 1941. That in and of itself is amazing, but so are the menu and atmosphere. The patrons are mostly local and the food is country – two things that rate high on our list of quality restaurants. We’ve made note to return to Clyde’s for lunch or dinner in the future – they have homemade fried chicken!
After leaving Clyde’s with a menu in hand, we gassed up in Asheville and entered the parkway just south of the Tanbark Ridge overlook – our first photo opportunity of the day. The view was spectacular, even with fog thicker than pea soup. I guess in reality, we were actually in the clouds rather that just being in fog. When we stuck our hands out the windows, they came back wet. And so we traveled, albeit slowly, making our way northward along the parkway, stopping briefly here and there, and taking photos when possible. Throughout this area, there are amazing vistas, waterfalls and countryside – the terrain changes somewhat from mountains with sheer drops and sharp turns, to farmland with pastures, split rail fences and rolling hills. While we didn’t stop often, we were able to enjoy much of the scenery from the car, making notes of additional places we’d like to stop for future exploration. We’ve already been to Linville Falls, but have yet to visit Mt. Mitchell State Park, the Julian Price Memorial Park, and the Blue Ridge Music Center, to name a few.
With about 132 miles under our belts, our stomachs again began their call for food and with that, we found ourselves searching for the Northwest Trading Post around milepost 258. Upon arrival, we found that they had plenty of fudge available (purchases here benefit the parkway), but unfortunately, we forgot to consult our Parkway map to determine if a restaurant were available. Fortunately, the trading post is close to the town of Glendale Springs and the Blue Ridge Bakery & Café – a nice little stop for a late lunch with an awesome Philly Cheesesteak sandwich and a terrific Hot Ham & Cheese sandwich. While they do offer the unique treat of sweet potato French Fries, we did not partake, but may be something to remember the next time we are in the area.
As we continued our way northward through upper North Carolina and into Virginia, we passed milepost 200 and finally entered new territory. Not only did we see our first park police officer pull someone over for speeding, but we also began to see some wildlife like turkey, deer and groundhogs. Up until this point, there wasn’t much wildlife to view. On our last trip, we didn’t see much until upper North Carolina either. Interestingly though, this area also has homes within site of the parkway and some people actually use the parkway to get back and forth to their homes. These changes also enhance the parkway’s experience. While I don’t want to see a bunch of subdivisions and big developments along the parkway, the farms and farmhouses are nice.
As the day wore on and long shadows began developing, we came across Virginia’s Explore Park, near Roanoke, VA and realized that we only about 115 miles to go to the end of the parkway. After a quick debate as to continuing we decided that since we were so close to the end, we should finish, but if we let it get any later before finding lodging, we might be out of luck. So, after consulting our handy, kitty-chewed Choice hotels directory, we booked lodging in Waynesboro, VA at the Quality Inn and continued our trek. (Please note here that the only cell signal we had was parked at the entrance to the park. This area has recently been opened to provide information about the history of Western Virginia and is a parkway visitor’s center, but closes promptly at 5pm.)
And so we continued with the road canopied by trees, while overlooking Roanoke and other valleys as we headed for Waynesboro. With dusk at hand, the deer became even more visible and the views with the approaching sunset more spectacular. As we made our way around the final curves of the mountains into Waynesboro, it was downright dark, making re-entry onto a normal road somewhat stressful. After a maximum speed of 45mph most of the day, it took a little adjustment to return to a regular highway, especially in unfamiliar territory.
Once we located the inn and checked out the room (plaid curtain with a floral bedspread), we went again in search of food. This time we found Gavid’s Family Grill – steaks and a buffet. Not a bad choice, although the menu board is definitely dated to the 1970s by the original Bonanza or Ponderosa steak house pictures. The meal was a little pricey and my husband’s steak a little chewy, but the buffet offered additional meats and sides making it easy to find something tasty.
On the way back from dinner, we made our second gas stop of the day in preparation for the drive home on Sunday. Amazingly, considering all the hills and mountains, we still averaged about 28mpg and the car performed quite well around the curves too.
After a good night’s rest, except the occasional loud-piped Harley waking us up, we awoke to the sounds of yet another Harley and got started on our drive home. Of course, we stopped for breakfast – nothing quite like Hardee’s in the morning. Yes, while there aren’t many around Atlanta anymore, they do still exist elsewhere in the US.
Our route home was simple – I-81 to I-77, then a quick jaunt down I-40 (stopping at a Wendy’s for lunch) to US 321, connecting with I-85 in Gastonia, NC west of Charlotte to avoid the possibility of Charlotte traffic. I-40 could use some improvements, but the self-imposed detour was worth it considering the half hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic we encountered the last time we went through Charlotte. The drive was relatively easy and there weren’t as many tractor-trailers as we usually encounter along I-85, so our last official gas stop of the trip was back in Suwannee, GA. After 495.9 miles of driving, we put $42 of gas in the car having averaged around 32mpg. Dinner would be at Tanner’s – the world’s best chicken fingers, fried pickles and other tasty delights, all enjoyed with good friends. A perfect end to another successful trip.