The Blue Ridge Parkway is a national scenic byway that winds more than 450 miles through the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. As a birthday celebration, my girlfriend (she exists despite the numerous allegations questioning her existence, although I’m never taking her to Raw) and I drove the length of the parkway a week ago, just as the leaves were beginning to change color. Our trip was amazing, so I thought I’d share some of the highlights with you. Here is a recap of five perfect days on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Day 1 (Chattanooga to Waynesboro)
Our goal for this vacation was to both relax and occasionally go on strenuous hikes with incredible views as payoffs. We managed to spread out our hikes and limit them to no more than three per day. Driving-wise, we hoped to travel on average about 100 miles per day with enough time to explore the nightlife of whatever city we were staying in. The first day, we managed a six-hour drive to Waynesboro, Va., from Chattanooga with only pee and poopy breaks along the way. We stayed at a Super 8 in Waynesboro that was owned by an Indian family that apparently cooked delicious Indian food around the clock. They didn’t offer us any, but, to be honest, we didn’t ask, either. Instead, we ate at a little family-owned pizza joint called Ciro’s that I can highly recommend-as long as you don’t get mushrooms, which were too salty and from a can. After dinner, we decided to go up on the parkway for an evening stroll through the primitive farm village at Humpback Rocks (mile marker 8.0). The farm village was interesting and educational, but my memory will always revert back to the transvestite hooker in a blonde wig, pink shirt and daisy dukes we saw flagging down cars at sunset. Our journey had begun.
Day 2 (Waynesboro to Roanoke)
At breakfast the next morning, we met several elderly Australian women who were doing an eight-week trip from Montreal to New Orleans. They were about five weeks into the journey, and they asked us if it was customary to leave a tip in a restaurant, that they’d “never heard of this concept.” We told them to at least double the tax or that they’d be hated for life. It’s amazing to think how many poor servers they’d disappointed up to that point. We began our travels and spent a lovely day on the road with several interesting excursions. Our first stop was a place called Yankee Horse Ridge (mile marker 35.0), which featured an old logging railroad and a small cascade. My girlfriend is a photographer and shot some amazing photos along the way, which I’ve shared above. After viewing House Mountain (mile marker 49.0), we stopped for an extended stroll at Otter Creek (mile marker 60.0). Otter Creek is what we’d call a “leg stretcher”-an easy, 1.6-mile, in-and-out trail. A few overlooks later, we decided to roll off the parkway and head to Roanoke for the evening. The city was underwhelming aside from this great dessert place called Bayou Snowball that serves “gourmet” snow cones. The “root beer float” was awesome, and I’m told the “blackberry wedding cake” was delicious. I think there were trains in Roanoke? We were anxious to sleep and get back on the road.
Day 3 (Roanoke to Hillsville)
If you’re going to be disappointed with what the parkway has to offer, more likely than not it’ll occur somewhere between mile markers 96.0 and 150.0. It’s not that this stretch isn’t beautiful, it’s just that it pales in comparison to what you’ve seen and what you’ll eventually be seeing farther down the road. Part of it has to do with this stretch being at a lower elevation-you don’t get the spectacular views. Another part of it has to do with all of the neighborhoods creeping up to the trail. It just doesn’t feel very “wild.” Our first stop of the day was Smart View Overlook (mile marker 154.0). This stop features an excellent, moderate, 3.4-mile hike through fields of flowers and woody, second-growth forest. The view at the halfway mark is stunning, and we felt like we had the entire trail to ourselves. We also stopped for strolls at Mabry Mill (mile marker 177.0) and Groundhog Meadow Overlook (mile marker 189.0) before heading into the town of Hillsville, Va. for the night. In town, we ate our weight in onion rings, fried pickles and burgers from the Mile High Burger Co. The only bar in town closed at 9 p.m., so we just packed it in for the night and snuggled while watching “Yukon Men.” So far, so good.
Day 4 (Hillsville to Linville Falls)
Looking back, this was my favorite day on the parkway. We drove more than 100 miles and managed to take in some amazing overlooks and a particularly amazing hike up the Rough Ridge Trail (mile marker 302.0). The trail is nearly straight up for a mile, but the view from the top is unlike anything I’ve experienced. You walk out onto these huge boulders with an almost 360-degree view of the valley below. Grandfather Mountain seems just feet away, and this view alone is worth whatever it takes to get you there. I even managed to rip my jeans climbing up the vertical steps, but it was worth it. Our evening was spent at the Linville Falls Lodge, which was a Lynchian experience of wavering reality and odd conversation. I had two fried catfish and several whiskeys, both only adding to the haziness of the evening. I think we were the only people staying in the hotel and were treated as such. After dark, we went searching for the famous ghostly Brown Mountain Lights, but chickened out. Our directions had us turning onto a gravel road and driving for four miles and THEN walking through the woods for a mile to an overlook. We’d been listening to an audiobook of Stephen King’s “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon,” so we weren’t keen on walking through unfamiliar woods at night.
Day 5 (Linville Falls to Cherokee)
We were behind schedule, so our final day on the parkway was going to be a long, 100-plus mile drive into Cherokee, N.C. (which is easily the saddest city I’ve ever been in for numerous reasons). Our hikes were paramount, however, so we made sure to stop at both Mount Mitchell (mile marker 355.4) and Craggy Gardens (mile marker 364.0). Both had amazing views. But if I had to choose, my favorite memory of the entire trip would be the waterfalls and rock hopping at Graveyard Fields. The hike down isn’t that strenuous, and it’s beautiful, with tons of fall colors and the pungent smell of rhododendron permeating the air. My girlfriend and I felt like we were witnessing the exact moments of summer changing to autumn before our eyes. It was incredible. The only thing we hadn’t accomplished was important to my girlfriend, so we went to sleep early so we’d have the energy to get up and view sunrise from Watterock Knob (mile marker 451.2). Our arrival was perfect, and we had the entire lookout to ourselves. I’ll never forget how small I felt as I watched the sun burst over the horizon, lighting the fog-filled valley below. It was the perfect end to what was an amazing week on the Blue Ridge Parkway.