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Blue Ridge Road Trip

Folk Art Center near Asheville, Blue Ridge Parkway NC (Scarborough photo)Earlier this week I promised a separate post on my little road trip from south to north on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Of course, I promised it “early in the week” and it’s now Thursday night — sorry!

I’m home from the North Carolina research trip for Automotive Traveler magazine, but have had a deadline looming for an article on the Old Coupland Inn and Dancehall honky-tonk for Texas Highways magazine, so blogging’s been pretty light.

Finally, here we go….

As always when setting out on a road trip, get a good map. If you are a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA,) remember that you can swing by your local office and get a stack of no-cost U.S. maps and guidebooks.

For North Carolina, I also contacted the friendly folks at the NC tourist Web site and they sent a travel planning packet right to me.

Just Google “XYZ tourist Web site” when planning a trip, and you’ll usually get an official government-sponsored Web site instead of someone trying to sell you a tour or real estate.

I made a loop that started and ended in Charlotte, since I was in that city for NASCAR-related activities (and thanks to the current Carnival of Cities for featuring the related post!)

Enroute the Parkway from Charlotte, I stopped at author/poet Carl Sandburg’s house in Flat Rock NC, discussed in a bit more detail in my NC family fun post.

A map of my basic Parkway route is here. Make sure you gas up your car ahead of time, since there are no stations directly on the Parkway. Not that I didn’t follow this advice myself….:(

At just about the southern base of the Parkway, I spent the night in Balsam NC at the venerable 1905 Balsam Mountain Inn. If I’d had kids along, I probably would have made time for a trip on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and a family-style Southern meal at the Jarrett House Inn in nearby Dillsboro.

The next day, I was up and at ’em after breakfast, heading north. The Parkway has a 45 mph speed limit, which is terrible if you’re in a hurry and divine if you just want to see what the heck you’re driving through. I stopped at the Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center near Asheville; what a wonderful place. There are carefully-screened North Carolina craftspeople demonstrating all sorts of things (it was a broom-maker and woodworker the day I was there) plus stunning crafts to buy. I’m not sure how I escaped with my wallet intact.

The Blue Ridge mountain vistas on the Parkway were stunning, and fortunately there are plenty of designated overlooks to take it all in. Try to pack a lunch before you leave your hotel in the morning — really pretty picnic spots include Craggy Gardens and Crabtree Meadows, but there is also food available at Mount Mitchell, Crabtree Meadows and Grandfather Mountain (just off of the Parkway.)

Grandfather Mountain summit, North Carolina (Scarborough photo)

In the early afternoon, I found myself low on gas, needing a bathroom, needing food, and needing an ATM and contact lens solution, in roughly that order, so I managed to stumble upon a Wal-Mart off of the Parkway in the town of Spruce Pine. For heaven’s sake, get it together better than I did!

I would much rather have had a leisurely lunch in pretty Little Switzerland.

With kids, I would also recommend stops at Linville Falls and/or Grandfather Mountain. The falls are very pretty but you need to hike a ways to get to them, and Grandfather Mountain is privately-run so there’s a nominal entrance fee.

I think kids would enjoy seeing the small mountain creatures zoo at Grandfather, plus a walk on the Mile-High suspension bridge (those with vertigo need not apply.)

1820s log cabin guest house at Mast Farm Inn, Valle Crucis NC (Scarborough photo)

My Parkway journey ended near the town of Boone, in the tiny village of Valle Crucis, where I stayed at the lovely Mast Farm Inn.

A highlight of Valle Crucis is the sprawling old-timey Mast General Store, which is sort of like LL Bean in Freeport, Maine, but with tons more character. They even have little “gift packs” of RC Cola/Moon Pie or Coke/Lance Peanuts, “for the Yankee visitors” said the guy at the cash register.

Boone is home to Appalachian State University, so there are lots of inexpensive lodging/dining options for families. This is a big ski area in the winter, if you are into that. There’s also the family-friendly Tweetsie Railroad Wild West amusement park, especially for younger children.

This route took me a full day, and that was hustling without much time for stops. I’d certainly recommend at least two days if you aren’t a frenetic travel writer! It’s a beautiful drive and you don’t want to rush it.

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