The Blue Ridge Mountains are part of the Appalachian mountains that extend from Pennsylvania to Georgia along the eastern United States. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic two-lane highway along the ridge crestlines of the Appalachian Trail. Every year, thousands of people drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to view the spectacular panoramas that change daily depending on the weather and the time of the year. The mountain views can take hues of blue and purple at dusk and bright orange at dawn. Sometimes, the mist that hangs in the air divides the mountain ranges from each other and only the highest peaks can be seen along the horizon.
Autumn provides colorful contrasts of green, red and yellow as deciduous trees start to lose their leaves to become dormant for the winter. Springtime is also very colorful when the rhododendrons that line the parkway display their white and purple blooms.
Construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway started under president Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 11, 1935, and took over fifty-two years to complete. The parkway provides 469 miles of highway which are marked only with numeric mile markers and park emblems indicating which way is north and which way is south. Entrance and exit points from the parkway are also marked. The northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway starts by Route 64 near Waynesboro, Virginia as a continuation of the Skyline Drive which passes through the Shenandoah National Park. The southern point of the Blue Ridge Parkway is on the boundary between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Indian Reservation in the western edge of North Carolina. The extreme weather conditions on the mountain tops create rock slides and dangerous driving conditions when there is snow or heavy rain. For this reason, portions of the parkway may be closed for repairs or to prevent accidents. Road closures are posted on the official government site for the parkway. For weather-related closures, call the park information line at (828) 298-0398.
You cannot be in a hurry when you drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The road is curvy, hilly, and narrow, and you can find slow-moving vehicles and bicycles along the road. Take time to see the natural and man-made wonders along the parkway. There are overlooks where you can park your car and photograph the valleys and mountain ranges. A flock of wild turkeys or a black bear may cross the road as you drive on the parkway. The weather may also change dramatically within a few miles. At the higher elevations you may encounter freezing conditions and icicles hanging from the rock ledges. In the valleys, the weather can be cool and pleasant. Cell phone reception is good only close to populated areas which have telephone transmission towers.
Little Switzerland (near milepost 334)
Little Switzerland is a small community in the heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is close to Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain, and there are numerous hiking trails close by. Many houses fly the Swiss flag.
The Switzerland Cafe features locally baked bread and a smoked trout dish that you are not likely to find in other places.
The Switzerland Inn (www.switzerlandinn.com) is a chalet restaurant in the center of Little Switzerland. Since the local roads are not in most Global Positioning Systems (GPS), it is necessary to use the latitude and longitude coordinates (N 35.85035, W 082.09092) for navigation. Here is a picture of eggs with sugar-cured ham and home fries from the restaurant at the Switzerland Inn.
Grassy Creek Falls
From the Switzerland Inn entrance walk to 2nd stop sign, take a right to go under the Parkway and take an immediate right onto a gravel road which is the entrance to the trail for the falls. This is a moderate two-mile round trip hike. Wear good hiking shoes. One of the paths to the falls is a steep rocky path.
The Emerald Village and North Carolina Mining Museum is located on McKinney Mine Road in Little Switzerland. Although the mine was closed many years ago, the museum has some of the old mining equipment on display on the grounds. Inside, a variety of gemstones can be purchased.
Mount Mitchell (near milepost 355)
In mid-October, Mount Mitchell had snow on the ground, but the temperature in the valley was twenty degrees warmer. When you travel to the Blue Ridge Parkway you have to be prepared for cold weather. Don't forget your warm clothes!
Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in eastern North America with an elevation of 6,684 feet. The main vegetation of peaks above 5,500 feet consists of spruce-fir forests which are subject to several environmental stresses like shallow soils, strong winds, long cold winters, ice storms, and blizzards. In addition, an aphid-like insect called the balsam wooly adelgid has been killing Fraser firs since the invasive species was introduced from Europe to the United States. Balsam woolly adelgids have destroyed about 95% of the Fraser firs in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The gray trunks that are found throughout the park are remnants of the Fraser firs that have died due to the insect infestation, although air pollution, acid rain, and high ozone levels have also contributed to the decline of the forests.
Grandfather Mountain (near milepost 305)
Grandfather Mountain is located near Linville, North Carolina. The mountain has been developed as a tourist attraction by the family which owns the land, and an entrance fee is collected from each person that visits the site.
The Grandfather Mountain site has picnic areas, hiking trails, and some wildlife habitats set up like a small zoo.
At the top of Grandfather mountain, a suspension bridge connects two mountain peaks. The bridge shakes with every step that you take and swings with the winds. The bridge is the highest swinging bridge in America at an altitude of 5,278 feet above sea level.
Blowing Rock (near milepost 292)
The city of Blowing Rock, North Carolina takes its name from a rock formation which projects 1,500 feet (460 m) above the Johns River gorge. Wind currents from the gorge often blow vertically, causing snow and light objects to float upwards toward the sky. A popular legend says that a distraught Indian brave jumped into the chasm only to be returned to the rock by a strong gust of wind.
Blowing Rock is a favorite tourist destination due to its cool summer weather and the variety of activities available in the area, including camping, horse-back riding, hiking, fishing, and recreational events such as concerts and art festivals. The stores have many souvenirs, jewelry, and stone crafts that utilize the abundance of different minerals in the region.