While the September 23 Autumnal Equinox may have represented the official start of fall and changes in seasons, the actual arrival of fall in the High Country was ushered in this past week by spectacular weather, clear starry nights, bright moons and the rustling apprehension of brightly colored and changing leaves.
I am always amazed at how quickly the change in seasons sneaks up on us. We know it’s going to happen, we patiently await the arrival of the changing colors, and mentally prepare ourselves for the influx of seasonal traffic that lazily cruises the Blue Ridge Parkway, and yet, the visual difference between Friday afternoon and Sunday is astounding.
Now is the time!!! While the colors this fall may last a little longer than last year, the leaves are changing fast. I would venture to guess that this coming weekend, October 14-16, will be the peak weekend. The following weekend, October 23-25 should be good as well, but “leaf watchers” may need to plan for finding windshield routes at lower elevations as the color migrates down the mountainsides.
Given the fact that Blue Ridge Mountain Club has over 3,000 vertical feet of elevation, the parkway inside the gates is an exceptional place to experience the leaves and have a picnic, regardless of the peak timing. However, there are many great routes in the area that represent additional opportunities to experience the fall colors. I would recommend a few. All the following windshield tours originate in Blowing Rock.
1) Valle Crucis Tour – Leave Blowing Rock going south on the Blue Ridge Parkway approximately 11 miles to Grandfather Mountain; exit at Grandfather Mountain onto Highway 221 and go 3 miles west to Linville; turn east (right) onto Highway 105 to Tynecastle; turn north (left) onto Highway 184 to Banner Elk; turn east (right) onto Highway 194 and pass through Valle Crucis. This would be a good time to visit the original Mast General Store. Highway 194 will eventually reconnect with Highway 321. Turn south (right) on Highway 321 and return to Blowing Rock.
2) Beech Mountain – Leave Blowing Rock going south on the Blue Ridge Parkway approximately 11 miles to Grandfather Mountain; exit at Grandfather Mountain onto Highway 221 and go 3 miles west to Linville; turn east (right) onto Highway 105 to Tynecastle; turn north (left) onto Highway 184 to Banner Elk; turn west (left) onto Highway 194; turn north (right) onto Highway 184 to Beech Mountain where you can stop at Fred’s General Mercantile, another of the areas great general stores. From Beech Mountain, follow Highway 184 north, down the mountain until it reconnects with Highway 321 near the Tennessee border. Turn south (right) onto Highway 321 and return to Blowing Rock through Boone.
3) Linville Falls – Leave Blowing Rock going south on the Blue Ridge Parkway approximately 20 miles to Linville Falls; exit onto Highway 221 going north (right); turn south (left) onto Highway 194 towards Spruce Pine; turn north (right) onto Highway 19E towards Cranberry; turn west (left) onto 19E at Cranberry towards Roan Mountain and go less than a mile; turn north (right) onto Highway 194 towards Banner Elk. Return to Blowing Rock from Banner Elk either through Tynecastle or Valle Crucis…your choice.
4) Todd/West Jefferson – Leave Blowing Rock on 321 north to Boone; turn east (right) onto Highway 421 and go less than a mile; turn north (left) onto Highway 194 to Todd. Stop in Todd at the historic Todd General Mercantile. Proceed to Highway 221 and turn north (left) towards West Jefferson. West Jefferson has a great main street which is worthy of a stop. To return to Blowing Rock, exit Jefferson (East Jefferson) to the north on Highway 221; turn south (right) onto Highway 16 until you reach the Blue Ridge Parkway; go south on the Parkway all the way back to Blowing Rock.
Enjoy your excursion and call us if we can assist with directions for your personalized fall windshield tour.