Every fall, we take at least one (if not two or three!) day trips to the mountains of North Carolina to soak in the fall foliage, mountain vistas, and drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway with the windows down! This annual tradition is a highlight of every autumn, and it is also the perfect way to spend a day when you’re social distancing at a maximum. We love that it’s essentially a contact-free, totally safe way to enjoy a gorgeous fall day and to get out of the house. We are incredibly blessed that North Carolina is such a diverse and beautiful state with the mountains at one end and the beach at the other. We’re just about three hours to the iconic and scenic Blue Ridge Parkway from our home, and it’s such an easy drive to the mountains.
Every year, I pore through peak leaf reports and predictions, hiking blogs and maps, and local websites to develop an overview of an itinerary so that we have some semblance of a game plan in mind. The route below is one of our favorites that we’ve done for several years now, though we admittedly don’t like to overplan our day trip so that we can fully enjoy the day, the views, and the hikes as they come!
We love to choose a weekday during the peak week of fall foliage (usually the second half of October for the Boone/Blowing Rock/Blue Ridge Parkway area), and we’re very fortunate that we both work for ourselves and can plan to take a weekday off work, when the crowds and amount of cars are far fewer. This year, that was especially welcome, and we encountered very few crowds on the Blue Ridge Parkway, especially with an early start time. In my opinion, nature is even more appreciated when it’s peaceful and fairly remote, and going on a Wednesday worked wonders! We always leave Raleigh early in the morning to beat as many crowds as possible and enjoy as much time as we can in the mountains – well worth it.
A few things we always bring: a fun, fall playlist to accompany your drive, snacks for the car (gummy bears are our weakness), water for your hikes/walks, a picnic lunch (there really aren’t any easy to access places to stop once you’re on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and picnics are just too good to resist), a picnic blanket, walking/hiking shoes, and a second layer in case it’s chillier than you expect
Honestly, one of our favorite things to do once we’re on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway is to simply pull off at almost every overlook! The sweeping views of the mountains are utterly breathtaking and look so different at every overlook. Going during peak fall foliage is just marvelous, too, and the vibrant colors are astonishing. We like to rank our favorite overlooks and views (as noted below with the itinerary), and sometimes we’ll pop back by the same ones on our return trip, since this itinerary is a roundtrip drive on the Parkway.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY ITINERARY
get off 321 just before Blowing Rock/start near Blowing Rock
milepost 304.4 – Linn Cove Viaduct (bridge) – Visitor Center, can hike above/below bridge (one mile) – gorgeous views and hikes, unique bridge
milepost 305 – Grandfather Mountain (exit onto US 221) and mile high swinging bridge
milepost 305.2 – Beacon Heights (one mile roundtrip hike – rock platforms with a view)
milepost 308.3, Flat Rock Trail
milepost 316.4 – Linville Falls (11 miles from Grandfather Mountain) – one mile hike to waterfall, Erwins View, picnic, Visitors Center. When you turn down the road to Linville Falls (before you get to the main parking lot), there is a small parking lot by the bridge off to the left. We love this semi-secluded and seemingly undiscovered spot for a picnic lunch, river views, and quiet. This is always our semi-secret spot that we don’t miss!
milepost 317 – Linville Falls Winery (1-2 minutes off Blue Ridge Parkway at 9557 Linville Falls Highway) – beautiful vineyard and Christmas tree farm with pretty views, outdoor wine tastings, and snacks
milepost 320.8, Chestoa View – gorgeous view (one of our favorite spots!) down a set of stairs, plus some good trails
milepost 328.3 – Orchard at Altapass (apple picking, apple treats, general store, live music sometimes)
turn around after orchard & return on Blue Ridge Parking back to Blowing Rock
milepost 294 – Moses Cone Memorial Park (just before going to Blowing Rock) – white mansion called Flat Top Manor, hiking trails
Wander downtown Blowing Rock. There are so many cute, quaint shops and a beautiful park in this picturesque town, mere minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway! One of my all-time favorite fictional book series, the Mitford books, is based on Blowing Rock! When possible, we love enjoying a beer and delicious dinner at Blowing Rock Brewery & Ale House.
It’s 74 miles roundtrip for this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and be sure you have a semi-full tank of gas before getting on the parkway for your drive!
I hope this itinerary and some of our tips and tricks are useful if you’re planning a fall getaway to the mountain of North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway! We find these little day trips, while short and sweet, are incredibly fun, very safe in this day and age, and remind us so much why we love spending time together, why we love being in nature and enjoying such magnificent creation, and why we love the diverse terrain that North Carolina offers!