Heading northward from the Folk Art Center the Town Mountain Road (NC 694) intersects on the left at Mile Marker 377.4 (Craven Gap). This is a six and a half mile paved scenic ride into downtown Asheville with several glimpses of the city from above, especially in winter. No nearby fuel or food.
Webb Cove Road (NC 2053) intersects at the same point. This is gravel for two miles and then paved into northern Asheville. No nearby fuel or food.
A mile to the north Elk Mountain Scenic Highway (NC 2230) intersects at 376.6. This paved road leads 7 miles westward into northern Asheville. Also here is paved Ox Creek Road (NC 2109 and NC 1003) which leads 9 miles into Weaverville. No nearby fuel or food on either route.
Soon the BRP re-enters the Pisgah National Forest. From elevations of just 2,000 feet in Asheville the roadway climbs to over 5,600 feet in 20 miles.
At Mile 375 is a pull-off for the RATTLESNAKE LODGE TRAIL. Two trails, one a short steep climb (half a mile) and the other a gradual 1.5 mile jaunt, lead to the ruins of this remote 1920s mountain resort. It burned in 1926 but the rocky foundations for the main building, swimming pool, and outbuildings are interesting to explore.
CRAGY GARDENS at mile 364.5 has a visitor center and great views both east and west from 5,500 feet elevation. Park in the pull-off at mile 364.1 for a short half-mile hike to Craggy Pinnacle at 5,892 feet for an even better view. The rhododendrons are spectacular here mid-June.
At mile 358.5 is the highest point on the BRP north of Asheville at 5,676 feet.
The Mount Mitchell Spur Road is at mile 355 and leads northward a fairly easy 4 miles to the summit of MOUNT MITCHELL At 6,684 feet it is the highest point east of the Rockies. On the way up you’ll pass the Mount Mitchell Restaurant with spectacular views from the dining room. We didn’t eat there, but have heard they make a good hamburger. At the top parking area are a snack stand, gift shop and informational display. The Observation Deck at the summit is a short, steep hike on pavement.
Back on the Parkway at Mile 344 is the intersection of NC 80 at Buck Creek Gap. Good twisties both directions on NC 80, but the southerly run, part of the Diamondback Loop, is the tightest. Marion NC is 16 miles to the south. Fuel and food are closest heading northward toward Spruce Pine.
At Mile 339.5 is the Crabtree Meadows Camping area. There is a store, restaurant and camping for tents and small RVs (30 feet or smaller) at $14 a night (no hook-ups). Hike to CRABTREE FALLS on a 2.5 mile trail.
In the next few miles we passed Deer Lick Gap, Coots Gap, and Bearwallow Gap. There are a lot of “gaps” in North Carolina. These are passes between the mountains where roads and trails usually follow.
Little Switzerland is located just off the Parkway at Mile 334 at 2,800 feet elevation. We stayed at the 100-year old SWITZERLAND INN and enjoyed this motorcycle friendly lodging which offers a wide choice of accommodations, great food and a fabulous view. We have been spoiled with hot tubs and there are two here at poolside. There are also cottages, A-frames, and several different options for inn rooms. The owner/manager is a rider.
On the same property is the Diamondback Lodge with eight rooms at $69 a night. Each room has satellite TV and a private bath. Guests have access to all of the Switzerland Inn amenities (pool, hot tubs, tennis, horseshoes, wireless Internet). There is covered bike parking too. We had a great 38-mile challenging ride on the DIAMONDBACK LOOP which begins right at the Lodge.
At Milepost 331 is the intersection of NC 226 and the Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Gillespie Gap. Just a mile to the north is fuel and food. The town of Spruce Pine is another 2 miles. South on NC 226 are some good twisties in the first mile.
At Mile 328 is the Historic Orchard at Altapass. Originally an apple orchard dating from 1908, the businesses here have boomed and busted over the last century. The railroad which was built in the late 1800s and completed in 1908 actually planted the orchard along their right-of-way. Passenger service brought many tourists and the town of Altapass developed several hotels and a golf course. When passenger service was discontinued and the main highway was rerouted through Gillespie Pass to the south, tourism declined. The Blue Ridge Parkway split the orchard in two which added to the area decline. Today the Orchard is an Appalachian Cultural Center with music, dancing, hay rides, art, local souvenirs and food. It is quite busy on weekends. SEE PHOTO AT BOTTOM OF PAGE
Construction of the train route in the early 1900s was an engineering marvel. The line crosses under the BRP in a 2,000 foot tunnel and then loops four times as it descends the mountain. There are 18 tunnels along the route in just 13 miles. The railroad is still in use.
The Chestoa View Overlook at Mile 320 requires a short hike to the walled overlook, one of the best on the BRP. Here you can see the Linville Gorge, Grandfather Mountain and Table Rock.
US 221 intersects the BRP for the first time at Milepost 317. The two routes will crisscross a number of times as they parallel each other all the way to Roanoke, Virginia. South on US 221 less than a mile is Linville Falls community for fuel and food. It’s another 3 miles south to LINVILLE CAVERNS (admission $7 adult). US 221 south is a fast 55 mph downhill run of sweepers with moderate traffic.
The Linville Falls Road is at Mile 316. The parking area is 1.5 miles and the hike to the falls has a number of view areas at varying distances. No swimming is allowed because of the strong currents in the Linville River.
NC 181 intersects the BRP at Mile 312. This 26 mile run to Morganton has some good downhill sweepers at 55 mph speed limit and a couple of surprise corners to watch-out for. There was minimal traffic on the road when we ran it on a Monday morning. Fuel is less than 2 miles north on NC 181 in Pineola and a little over 2 miles south in Jonas Ridge.
US 221 interests once again at Milepost 305. To the west just a mile is the entrance to Grandfather Mountain. This 4,000 acre tourist attraction is operated by a non-profit conservancy foundation. The two-mile long access road is steep with a couple of switchbacks winding up to the mile-high parking area and swinging bridge. The switchbacks are challenging and require clutch, throttle, brake on the steep climb to the top. Also be aware of the strong winds you will likely encounter. Nancy’s riding pants went blowing across the parking lot as we hiked to the top. Use a lower gear on the way down as the sign says.
There are beautiful picnic areas on the mountain, a gift shop, fast food restaurant (with picnic lunches available), and hiking trails. Admission is $15 per person.
A little farther west on 221 is the site of the annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in July. Part of the opening ceremonies is The Bear, a 5-mile run from Linville to the top of Grandfather Mountain with an increase in elevation of nearly 1,600 feet. Nancy ran in the first Bear in 1994. She has also run in half a dozen Grandfather Mountain Marathons from Boone which ends on the oval track at the games amid the whine of bagpipes, shouts from Scottish dancers, the braying of sheep and grunts from men in skirts tossing telephone poles.
One of the most scenic sections of the BRP is at Marker 304. The Linn Cove Viaduct was the final section of the Parkway. Completed in 1983 this quarter mile concrete bridge was required to prevent any damage to Grandfather Mountain that conventional highway construction would cause. The 153 precast concrete sections weighed 50 tons each. It took 4 years to complete the complicated bridge project. To really appreciate the engineering feat there is a paved trail from the Linn Cove Parking Area leading under the viaduct. Continue farther climbing on the Tanawah Trail for a view of the bridge from above.
US 221 to the east has 4 miles of great twisties (watch for some gravel/sand) before coming to residential sections and eventually the Town of Blowing Rock which has a noise ordinance if you’re running loud pipes. This quaint town of only 3 square miles is notable for its many shops, specialty restaurants and mountain inns. Blowing Rock is named for the main attraction of trails, garden waterfall, jutting rocks, and distant vistas. Admission to the 75 year old attraction is $6 for adults.
At Marker 295 Holloway Mountain Roads intersects providing access to US 221. No fuel or food here.
At 297 is a good rest stop overlooking Price Lake. There is camping, fishing, hiking, picnic tables and restrooms. The boat ramp loop is secluded and not crowded with good views of the lake.
At Marker 292 NC 1571 intersects and connects to US 221. This is the easiest access into the Town of Blowing Rock if you are northbound.
The BRP once again meets US 221 at Marker 285. This provides the easiest access to Blowing Rock if you are southbound and Boone if you are northbound. Fuel and food just to the south.
At Deep Gap Mile Marker 276 there is access to US 421. If you are southbound take US 421 westward for easy access into Boone. Boone is the home of the highly rated Appalachian State University. There are numerous places to stay and dine. We had a great Three Sisters Tamale (stuffed with about a dozen different veggies) in the downtown sidewalk patio of the Hob Nob Farm Café while watching the coeds strut. Traffic is quite heavy on the downtown streets. There is some good riding in the area SEE OUR VALLE CRUCIS TRIP
Take US 421 west into Tennessee to get to the motorcycle destination known as the Striped Snake. It’s 35 miles from Boone to the crossroads of 421 and TN 91/133 at Shady Valley SEE OUR ARTICLE Warning: this area is heavy with LEOs much of the time.
NOTE: We returned to the Blue Ridge Parkway in October to photograph the fall colors. It is a spectacular place when the colors hit, but it is crowded with leaf-lookers even on weekdays. The huge Pisgah Inn parking lot was packed even on Wednesday afternoon. We later heard they served some 4,500 meals on the following weekend.