Been stuck indoors for way too long? We get it. When the only scenery you experience on a daily basis is the four walls of your home and maybe your backyard or city block, it tends to get uninspiring.
Want a cure for the indoor blues? Take a mini-tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway! Well-known as one of the east coast's most scenic journeys, the Blue Ridge Parkway spans from its northern end at Shenandoah National Park in the state of Virginia, and winds along the crests of the Blue Ridge Mountain range through North Carolina 469 miles to its southernmost point in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Our mini-tour pares down that distance to a shorter day trip loop through some of the parkway's most beautiful overlooks and waterfall spectacles. We begin and end in picturesque Lake Lure, North Carolina.
Starting the Journey
The tour begins at the Lake Lure Welcome Center. Be sure to take a moment and browse through their wealth of visitor information and local history, and don't forget to snap a photo by the staircase that was used in the movie Dirty Dancing - you will, however, have to bring your own watermelon.
As you begin your journey up Memorial Highway towards the parkway entrance, you can take the opportunity to marvel at the natural beauty of the towering 315’ tall granite monolith that is Chimney Rock. With an elevation of 2,280 feet above sea level, if you stop at Chimney Rock State Park to explore the breathtaking views first hand, you’ll also find some of North Carolina’s most incredible mountain scenery including Hickory Nut Falls, at 404 feet it’s one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi.
Chimney Rock Village is the perfect place to stock up on snacks, supplies, and to indulge your inner shopping bug. The village’s Main Street runs immediately along the banks of the Rocky Broad River and is full of quaint merchant shops offering everything from freshly made sandwiches and locally grown produce to unique artisan wares.
Continuing west on US 74 Alt you’ll pass the Florence Nature Preserve at the upper end of Hickory Nut Gorge. If you’re looking for a spot to stretch your legs on a beautiful walk, the preserve’s 3.1-mile loop trail is a kid and dog-friendly option that includes crystal clear streams, cascading waterfalls, and majestic old-growth forests.
As you near Asheville you’ll exit north onto the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance. The first stop you’ll want to make is the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. Located at Milepost 384 it’s no ordinary maps and merchandise stopping spot. Speak with rangers, watch the parkway’s short film for an overview of nature and history that make the parkway unique, or even enjoy a hike. The visitor center includes a 1.4-mile loop trail that also connects to the fabled Mountains-To-Sea-Trail, an 1175-mile trail that connects the Blue Ridge Mountains to the North Carolina coast.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is renowned for its splendor and panoramic scenery. As you travel along the parkway take advantage of the many strategically placed roadside pullouts. These pullouts were carefully located to provide some of the best sweeping views of both mountains and wildlife that the region has to offer.
As you continue along the parkway through the Pisgah National Forest and beyond Little Switzerland you’ll near the area of Linville Falls. This wonderful hiking spot offers 2 different trails less than 2 miles each, both with a different view of this beautiful waterfall and its plunge basin. If you prefer to admire the landscape from closer to your drive route, the parkway’s Linville Picnic area is located at Milepost 316.5 and offers overlooks with picnic tables that will give new meaning to “dining with a view”.
Heading for Home
Exit the parkway onto US 221S to Linville and enjoy the continuing picturesque drive through forests, farmlands, and past the beautiful area of Lake James. As you continue on 221 back into Rutherford county you’ll pass the community of Ruth and into the town of Rutherfordton. This historic town is one of the oldest in North Carolina (chartered in 1787) and the fact that the first one-dollar gold coin was minted here 17 years before the U.S. Mint created theirs helps make it rich with history both literally and figuratively. Stop and enjoy the town’s Gold Mile walking tour along Main Street. It begins at the fascinating Bechtler House museum and wanders past beautifully historic antebellum homes, local boutiques, artisan shops, and restaurants.
Exit back onto US 74Alt west to finish the loop back to Lake Lure. As you drive this last leg of your picturesque journey, take the opportunity to enjoy the broad trails and wide-open fields at Dittmer-Watts Nature Trail Park, and don’t forget to ‘stop and smell the roses’ at the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge. It’s a fragrantly idyllic way to end one of the most delightfully scenic journeys you’ll ever have the pleasure to travel.