Impromptu Blue Ridge Parkway Trip
One of the joys of retirement and owning a campervan like Wanda is the ability to throw a few things in the van and make a quick trip to the mountains.
We did just that recently and spent a couple days driving the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville north to the Linn Cove Viaduct (about 80 miles). As free and relaxing as that may sound, an impromptu trip can be quite stressful. Where are we going to go? Where will we sleep? How much are we hiking? What do you want for supper? (That last one is stressful EVERY day!).
Jenni found a decent looking boondocking spot on the northern end of our planned route and that seemed to relax us enough. That Monday night we loaded a change of clothes, a couple meals for us and kibble for Annie into the van so we would be ready to leave Tuesday morning. (That really got Annie excited!) As we were walking out the door that morning, I commented that I wanted to take my hooded heavy jacket “just in case” so we each grabbed one and then hit the road.
Our first stop was the Folk Life Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville. It is a great stop to see incredible crafts like quilts, pottery, wood-carvings, etc. made by local artisans. (I’m not talking craft show/flea market type stuff—these are true works of art). While there, we were able to get road information from a park ranger. The Parkway was currently closed due to snow (in the middle of October!) where we wanted to spend most of our time. She said it could open up if temperatures warmed up enough so we decided to risk it and keep driving.
We said we would stop at just one overlook but that’s like eating one potato chip. I found myself pulling into each one that offered a view. The leaves in this lower elevation area were just beginning to change colors. I have a favorite tree on the Parkway at the Craggy Dome Overlook and it was my goal to get there. Fortunately, the road was now open where it had previously been blocked off a quarter mile before the parking lot I needed. But as we passed through a tunnel, the scenery changed from a foggy fall day to a winter wonderland! There was significant snow and icicles all around us, but melting quickly. We pulled into the parking lot and put on those heavy jackets we had thrown in at the last minute. I took Annie for a quick walk but there was no ‘child-like reaction’ from her when she saw the snow. She turned a small patch yellow and headed back to the van.
So while Annie snored under a blanket, Jenni and I hiked the Craggy Pinnacle Trail. It starts in a tunnel of rhododendron which quickly leads to my favorite tree. If a tree can show wisdom, this one is a genius. A friend from another part of the state saw my picture of it and declared she wanted to pray and meditate under it! Once we had communed with this icon of the Parkway, we continued up the snowy trail. We were walking mostly in slush but the scenery on each side was blanketed in white. The entire trail is 0.7 miles but does involve significant elevation change. Once we reached the pinnacle, we were treated to an interior view of a cloud. We could hear vehicles, and voices, far below but saw nothing ten feet beyond the rock retaining walls. The hike down was a bit more perilous than the one up due to the slush and having to step down from rock to rock in many places.
A few minutes north on the Parkway, the snow had melted and we were back enjoying fall foliage with even brighter colors than before. Early in the afternoon, we both agreed that it felt like we had hit a wall and needed to think about finding a place to camp closer than our previously planned site. Jenni consulted her phone app and found a road along the Linville Gorge Wilderness area that seemed to offer numerous sites. (Overnight parking is not allowed on the Blue Ridge Parkway so we were having to consider side roads). We exited the Parkway and took Old North Carolina 105—‘OLD’ being key here.
It was a dirt road with a few boulders embedded in it. It was very wide but that didn’t matter when ruts and bumps caused all the vehicles to try using the same narrow path around such obstacles. Our intended campsite was seven miles down this road and about forty-five minutes later we arrived! As with so many of our camping sites, we got lucky. Someone had obviously just left it because there was ice poured out from an ice chest still visible on the ground. The site offered a view of the Linville Gorge and North Carolina’s Table Rock across the gorge. Jenni made us some hot chocolate, we gathered some firewood, and had a campfire that evening as we watched the sunlight move across the ridge.
Oddly enough, this was the first campfire we could remember building in three years of traveling in Wanda. We are not fans of smelling like smoke. But we reasoned that we could endure it until we were home the next day. The warmth of the fire felt wonderful and we truly enjoyed sitting around it. That night we stripped all our clothing and put it in a garbage bag to try to contain the smell! (Which means I hiked in shorts the next day even though it was 46 degrees!). Of course, my eyes burned just smelling my own hair on my pillow that night! We were both asleep by nine o’clock that night.
I woke up during the night and as soon as I looked at my phone to see that it was 12:30 AM, Annie crawled over to tell me a secret. She was thirsty and when I put her on the floor she drank a considerable amount of water before I put her back in bed. She immediately fell asleep and began snoring. An hour later, Annie was still snoring and I was still awake—as was Jenni. I asked Jenni to please do something about ‘that dog’ laying beside her. Even by stroking Annie’s nose, she couldn’t get her to stop! It all made for a very long night.
The next morning we had to decide where we were going. We had traveled seven miles on a rough road to get where we were. We could continue another seven (not knowing its condition) to reach pavement or we could go back the way we had come. I reasoned that if we continued down the road we would just go home and I wasn’t ready for that so I convinced Jenni I could drive slow enough back the way we came and get us to the Blue Ridge Parkway again. In addition to potholes along the road, we had to weave around dozens of trucks belonging to hunters with dogs. I offered to stop and ask what they were hunting but Jenni wasn’t that interested. (I assumed bear so it may have been better not to know for sure). Just before reaching a paved road, we found the parking lot for Linville Falls and took a short hike to enjoy that scenery for the first time in several years. Then we got back on the Parkway.
Our next, and final, destination was the Linn Cove Viaduct. The Viaduct was the last section of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be completed and winds around Grandfather Mountain. It is an engineering marvel the way it intertwines with the mountainside and offers beautiful views as well as being a focal point of those same views. It was swarming with people like a disturbed fire ant bed. But for the first time in all our trips there, the parking lot to the Visitor Center was not locked. The Visitor Center itself has been closed for years but being able to use the parking lot allowed us to easily reach a trail that goes under the viaduct and offers unique glimpses of the highway and fall scenery. Jenni had already told me I was only getting one hike out of her this day, and I had used that for the Linville Falls hike. But what started as a gentle asphalt pathway fooled her into a second “walk”. After 800 ft it turned to rock scrambling and imitating a mountain goat, but we made it to some huge boulders under the viaduct for a unique perspective. By asking fellow hikers “is it worth it?” we decided not to go any farther. It was obvious to us that the age of the hiker affected the response we received--those closer to our own hair color gave an emphatic “meh” so we did not feel the need to press forward. After that, and lunch, we headed the two-plus hours home.
Of course, we did have to pull over at a couple more overlooks before we left the Parkway for good!