1. 2010 marks the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge parkway, are there any special events or celebrations happening?
There are literally hundreds of special events occurring on and along the Parkway this year in honor of the 75th anniversary. Upcoming festivities include “Handmade: The Western North Carolina Craft, Architecture and Design Expo” in Asheville June 25 and 26 and the “86th Annual Singing on the Mountain” at the base of Grandfather Mountain on June 27.
2. What’s your favorite campground?
My favorite campground is the Julian Price Park Campground at MP 297. The campground has many shady sites alongside a creek and provides convenient access to boating, fishing, and hiking around Price Lake and is also close to the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park as well as the village of Blowing Rock. It’s a very popular campground, however, so you’ll want to arrive early to get a spot on summer weekends.
3. What hiking trails do you frequent most?
I love the Bluff Mountain Trail (MP 238.5) because it’s accessible from so many different points along the Parkway, meaning you don’t have to hike the whole thing, and it offers some of the loveliest long distance views without very strenuous hiking even though it’s over seven miles long. I also like the Beacon Heights Trail (MP 305.1) because it’s short and easy and offers an alternate view of the profile of Grandfather Mountain and the Mile-High Swinging Bridge as well as stunning mountain vistas to the north and east.
4. What budget hotel or lodge along the Blue Ridge parkway do you recommend?
I especially like Bluffs Lodge (MP 241), which is located right on the Parkway in the Doughton Park area. While the rooms are small and simply furnished, the views (and the sunsets) can’t be beat. One of my favorite activities after a long day hike is just sitting in a rocking chair on one of the lodge porches watching the deer graze in the open fields at sunset. And rooms can be had here for under $100 a night.
5. Is there one outdoor activity visitors should make sure and do?
While most people who visit the Blue Ridge Parkway spend most of their time in their vehicles or pausing occasionally to take photographs at scenic overlooks, to fully appreciate the Parkway, you need to get out and hike some of the trails. Hiking not only helps you take the time to appreciate the Blue Ridge’s flora and fauna, but it will give you access to even more incredible vistas, waterfalls, and even old graveyards and ruins of turn-of-the-century residences. The nice thing about trails off the Parkway is that there are so many hikes suited to every ability level. I highly recommend Leonard Adkins’ book Walking the Blue Ridge as a resource on Parkway hikes.
6. For visitors that aren’t outdoors enthusiasts or avid hikers, what activities do you recommend?
Be sure to check out the Parkway Craft Center at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (MP 294), which showcases works of the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, the Folk Art Center (MP 382) just north of Asheville with its galleries of native crafts, explore the antique galleries and shops in the high elevation village of Blowing Rock, have dinner with a view at the Pisgah Inn (MP 408.6), and tour the quaint Main Street shops and restaurants of Waynesville.
7. How do you enjoy the breathtaking views?
I love nothing better than a high elevation picnic at an overlook or just taking in the sunset from the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center parking area at MP 451.2.
8. What wares from local artisans should visitors pick up?
Among the most emblematic of native Parkway treasures are locally made white oak baskets, functional and beautiful turkey wing brooms, and, for something inexpensive, a cornhusk doll.
9. What kid-friendly activities do you recommend?
Your best bet if you have the kids in tow is to focus your visit on the area from Blowing Rock to Linville. Little ones will love the Wild West theme park of Tweetsie Railroad at Blowing Rock as well as the wildlife habitat at Grandfather Mountain. There are also a number of relatively easy hikes for families in this area, including the Price Lake Trail and a number of hikes around Linville Falls.
10. What’s the likelihood of spotting wildlife?
Unlike the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where wildlife of all sorts is pretty pervasive, you could easily drive a full day on the Parkway without seeing more than a squirrel skitter across the road. You may see white-tailed deer occasionally, though your best bet even for them is to hang out in an open meadow or picnic area at dawn or dusk. Black bears are common in the Blue Ridge, but your chances of seeing one while driving are pretty slim. You may, however, run into one on a backcountry trail or find one seeking out human treats in a Parkway campground, one more reason to be sure to store food items (and trash) properly.