Bluffs Lodge and the Best Coffee Shop in a National Park

The mountain laurel is still blooming along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Kathryn Joines is still serving coffee at the coffee shop at the Bluffs Inn. Photos by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: As our lodging experts, David and Kay Scott, continue on their 2010 odyssey across the National Park System, they get to sample some of the best lodging, food, and coffee there is to be had. This dispatch came from the Bluffs Lodge along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Tuesday we drove the Blue Ridge Parkway from about 50 miles north of Asheville to Doughton Park, site of Bluffs Lodge where we spent the night. Many miles of the parkway were lined with fallen trees and dangling limbs, the result of a December ice storm followed by a substantial snowfall. Several crews were working on the damaged trees.

Most of the flowering shrubs are well past their peak. Mountain laurel is still in bloom, but only a few azaleas and rhododendrons remain. In previous years we traveled earlier in the season when the parkway was surrounded with color.

Traffic on the parkway is light except for a plethora of motorcycles and a lesser number of bicycles. This isn’t unusual since the parkway is a favorite of motorcyclists. We met nearly 70 motorcycles in not much more than 100 miles of driving. Many were traveling alone, probably middle-age men beginning their mid-life crisis.

Midway on the parkway, at mile marker 241, Bluffs Lodge is a small, quiet, and fun place to stay the night. Rooms rent for $85 to $95 per night, with $10 extra charged on holidays and during October. With only 24 rooms, the lodge is small enough to encourage guests to become acquainted with one another.

Gaining new friends here is easy because the majority of guests spend time sitting on the balcony or walkway outside their rooms. Last night after supper we gathered with eight or ten other guests in front of a large outdoor fireplace on the patio that separates the two buildings. We talked about other parks, other lodges, and other travels. In celebrating the 75th anniversary of the parkway, the lodge is providing the ingredients for evening s’mores.

Rooms at Bluffs Lodge are small, simple, clean, and comfortable. Each of the two buildings has eight rooms on the backside and four rooms on the front. Rooms have either a king, a queen, or two full beds. Although the rooms are small, the large walk-in closet will hold more luggage than you will likely be hauling.

The real gem at Bluffs Lodge is the coffee shop that opened in 1949. It is located directly on the parkway, about a quarter-mile from the lodge. The walls are lined with old photos of the parkway and the menu is what you might expect, plus regional items such as country ham, fried chicken, and, for breakfast, buckwheat pancakes. Of special interest is the recommended dish of southern BBQ pork. This consists of BBQ pork with melted cheese between two corncakes. It is recommended that you cover all this with the side dish of coleslaw. Try to sleep this one off.

Our waitress, Kathryn Joines, has worked at the coffee shop for 59 years. That’s right, 59 years. Another waitress who wasn’t working that evening has two years seniority on Katheryn.

There is certainly no lack of employee loyalty at the Bluffs Coffee Shop. General Manager Bill Harrison related a story of a couple who returned to Bluffs Lodge to celebrate their 55th anniversary at the place where they had honeymooned. The desk manager was able to get them into the same room where they had stayed 55 years prior. During dinner at the coffee shop they were served by the same waitress who had brought their dinner 55 years earlier. Folks, you don’t get that kind of experience at a Ritz Carlton.

David and Kay Scott are regular contributors to the Traveler. Their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges was first published by the Globe Pequot Press in 1997 and is now in its sixth edition.

Comments

The coffee shop is on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail which takes you through North Carolina. Follow the white circles. Danny

Glad you are enjoying your tour. And I hope you continue to do so. I've been to the Blue Ridge Parkway more times than I can count. I started when I was 20, and I'm now 57. And each time was on the motorcycle. I guess I've been going through my midlife crisis for a long time. As have many other motorcyclist.

I live in the Boone/Blowing Rock area and I think this is the "best" area of the Parkway to travel. You guys passed right by us on the way to Bluff's Lodge.

Ice damage... you're right, it's a mess. I hope to get some video of what happened at my house (and the Parkway) on Youtube later. I went to my sister's in West Jefferson over Christmas and got back home late Christmas night... WOW. It was incredible what happened. My house is but a rock's throw from the Parkway, and all I can say is that it changed our landscape. I'm still clearing up trees from the storm. I had to cut down 5 of them between my house and the neighbor's because all that was left were spires... absolutely all the limbs and tops were stripped right off. My power was off for 7 (yes, seven) days as they repaired over 200 SNAPPED power poles in Ashe and Watauga counties (parkway milepost 270 - 310).

My grandparents came up last weekend and we drove from Bamboo Gap, through Aho, on down to Julian Price Park. They couldn't believe their eyes. The roadway is clear and the long range views are still here, but it will still take some time, and some volunteers, to get the roadsides cleaned up.

You also commented on the blooms in the area this time of year. The pink and white Rhododendron have pretty much lost their color in the area, but there are still several other wildflowers in bloom. We post a wildflower and bloom report on my website weekly, and we just posted the latest one a few minutes ago: http://www.virtualblueridge.com/news-and-events/news-528.asp

- Joe

David and Kay - thank you so much for posting your travels... we're hoping to make it to the Blue Ridge Highway in the fall and your posts are helping in our planning! Thank you! I look forward to reading more in the coming days.

Joe - your site has some beautiful pictures! Do you do similar updates and "reports" for fall color? Being from the SW and never having been in the area, we are a little unsure on when to try to plan our trip. When would you say is our best chance of seeing fall color?

Our fall color reports start around the middle of September. They are accessible via the home page just like the wildflower reports are. During the winter... we do winter closing reports so we work on it all year. We've also recently added a road closures and weather page. See the links below. I've also provided some links to fall color reports from last year (2009). Fall in this area happens around the same time each year, so looking at the report archives might give you a better idea of what to expect this year.

Fall Color Report for 9/29/2009
Fall Color Report for 10/8/2009
Fall Color Report for 10/26/2009
Fall Color Report for 10/23/2009
Blue Ridge Parkway Road Closures
Blue Ridge Parkway Weather Reports (updated daily during the week, with a 3 day forecast)

We also send these out in email immediately upon posting them on the website. Feel free to sign up to our newsletter for updates :-) http://www.virtualblueridge.com/newsletter/

Three cheers for our two long-serving waitresses at Bluffs Coffee Shop. Katherine Joines and Ellen Smith have been offering their friendly service as long as anyone can remember. It wouldn't seem the same without them.

While you are visiting, be sure to come into Sparta (US 21 or NC 18 exits) and stop by the Alleghany Chamber of Commerce and Visitors' Center. We are on Main Street near the center of town in the rock building with the green awning. We are open Monday - Saturday. Our foyer has visitor info and is open 24/7.

We'll leave the welcome mat out for you.

Bob Bamberg
Director
http://Sparta-NC.com

Sparta is our adopted weekend home. We bought a little place there a couple years back just below the Blue Ridge Parkway. We can sit on our porch and look up at the travelers going by. The Bluffs Lodge Restaurant is our "special treat" place to go. While the buckwheat pancakes are wonderful breakfast fare you failed to mention the melt-in-your-mouth homemade biscuits with gravy and the FANTASTIC black cherry preserves. What a treat. I'm drooling just thinking about them and can't wait to get back up there for more. For lunch or dinner I heartily recommend the Southern fried chicken dinner...delicious. It takes a little time to prepare because they fry it when you order it but it is WELL WORTH THE WAIT! I promise you won't be disappointed or you can swing down off the parkway to our place and I'll pay for your dinner. Thanks for the great article on one of our favorites spots.

how odd...an article entitled...'the best coffee shop in a national park', and yet, barely a mention about the coffee!
which way is spro hampden, please?!

sage

sage:
how odd...an article entitled...'the best coffee shop in a national park', and yet, barely a mention about the coffee!
which way is spro hampden, please?!
If you're really worried about how good the coffee is, then it's probably not a "coffee shop" worth going to. ;)

Seriously though - I had relatives who operated a coffee shop for a brief period. I remember they simply used Maxwell House coffee purchased from supermarkets. It was bland, inoffensive, and cheap. That was fine for free refills since it was so cheap and easy to drink. That's basically what kind of coffee I expect from a "coffee shop". However most "coffee shops" use inexpensive food service coffee that's often tied to the coffee equipment supplier.

Now if we start talking about the best espresso bar (they do exist) in the NPS system, I would expect a lot of comments on how appropriate they are in an NPS setting.

I agree with the assessment of the Bluffs Coffee Shop. While working as a park ranger in this memorable areaof the Blue Ridge Parkway I spent many a lunch break there.

The work records of Kathryn Joines and Ellen Smith are incredible and I would venture pretty high on the list of unbeatable in National Park Concessions.

Unfortunately the Bluffs Coffee Shop will not be reopening this season. The contract for the concession has expired and the previous proprietors have declined renewing. The National Park Service is still searching for another entity to step forward and take over this historic visitor service operation.

Visit http://www2.journalnow.com/news/2011/mar/09/popular-parkway-restaurant-lodge-face-uncertain-fu-ar-844899/ for more.

We've been going to the Bluff's Coffee shop for years. It is a favorite of ours. They have this cherry jam that we always thought was homemade. It is homemade but not there. It is so good, especially with their biscuits. The coffee is wonderful. I have heard some sad news, though. I have heard that the Parkway and Bluffs will be closing starting this Spring because of repairs to the Parkway. Is this true? This is what we've heard. I hated to hear that. Someone email me and let me know the details: suzanneadvnc@aol.com Thanks. Suzanne