Each year Sylvia and I take a cruise out to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the sights of fall. This year, we went three times. Here are a few places we visited this year.
Located at milepost 305 on the BRP, Beacon heights is a very popular outlook in the vicinity of Linn Cove Viaduct and Grandfather Mountain.
The overlook sits on the shoulder of the ridge that connects Grandfather Mountain to the rest of the Blue Ridge, at 4220 feet.
Virtualblueridge has a fine 360 of it.
There are two lookouts at Beacon Heights, both of which are a short hike (a quarter mile) from the small parking lot. The first of these, and the more popular, is a large rock shelf that looks south and west, giving views of Linville Gorge and the Black Mountains.
The view is somewhat marred by a large communications tower on a nearby ridge but is still very fine. The ridge in the far distance of the above photo is the Black Mountains; Mt. Mitchell is the high point of that ridge. The odd shaped peaks on the horizon of the below photo are Table Mountain and Hawksbill Crag, in the Linville Gorge Wilderness.
The second overlook, which many people simply ‘overlook’, is to the left at the fork and here is another large, less dramatically sloped rock ledge that gives view both South and North. The view North is towards Grandfather Mountain, which looms nearby.
This view of Grandfather mountain is in fact the best one on the parkway. You can see many of the built-up areas and parking lots of the summit attractions, but it does not detract much from the views.
To reach the overlooks, park at the Beacon Heights turnoff and then follow the trail where indicated. After a few hundred yards the Mountains to Sea Trail intersects. Past this intersection at about a quarter mile is a junction where there is now a bench. Go right at this junction to the first viewpoint, and left for the second. It is about a five minute walk from the road. Note that during peak times this lot fills up and the area is quite busy. Please exercise caution when pulling in or out of the turnoff, or walking along the road.
Julian Price Memorial Park
The Julian Price Memorial Park area is a very popular attraction that features nature trails, including access to the Tanawha Trail, and a small lake where boats can be rented. There is also a picnic area and campground.
One of the most popular and congested areas of the Parkway at any time of year, but especially Fall, is Craggy Gardens. Located at milepost 364 just 20 miles out of Asheville, the area has an abundance of craggy balds, or exposed peaks, where fine views can be had any time of year.
The shrubby balds also produce quite a spectacular display of color in the fall, making this a very popular and crowded destination.
There are several hiking opportunities in the area, most of them short trails to fine views. We recommend you go mid-week to avoid the crowds.
One of the two most impressive of these hikes is the short, steep Craggy Pinnacle Trail. This trail reaches a sort of stone platform which looks down toward the City of Asheville, and its water supply. Note the reservoir in the first photo.
The other impressive hike is the Craggy Gardens Trail between the picnic area and visitor center which follows the Mountains to Sea Trail. This section is also fairly short but many fine views from the exposed brushy areas can be found.
Note this area is VERY congested and swarms of pedestrians can often be found walking by the side of the road, and sometimes photographing right in the middle of it. Please use caution.
Very far to the South is possibly the best outlook on the Entire Parkway, Waterrock Knob. The knob is a large area situation a short distance off the parkway with its own parking area, making it one of the very popular few areas of the Parkway which has ample and safe parking . Virtually the entire parking area is one open 360 degree view of the surrounding peaks.
To the North you can see Mount Pisgah, almost 50 road miles further along the Parkway. It’s the high bump right above where the road vanishes in the photo below.
To get an even better view you can climb a short trail from the Parking Lot.
The hike along this trail is about a quarter mile, some of which is steep. The first few hundred yards is along a paved walkway; further up it reverts to dirt. Look for the Mountains to Sea Trail which joins then leaves this trail.
The best view are west, but from near the top of the trail itself and not the overlook right at the top. But the view from the top is good too. From here, we were able to see many of the areas we had previously hiked in the Smokies – Clingman’s Dome, Mt. Leconte, Newfound Gap and Mt. Cammerer.
The Knob is far south of where most people go on the parkway, almost to the entrance to GSMNP, and seldom as overcrowded as other attractions to the North such as the Mt. Pisgah area, Craggy Gardens and the Linville Falls. Expect some crowds on the weekends, but come here mid-week and you will likely find this a pleasant, relaxing place to stop for an hour or so and enjoy the views.