Sunday drivers take note—your opportunity to soar the entire piece of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville and Boone—across the massive Craggy Mountains past Mount Mitchell—has gone the way of autumn leaves. Road stabilization efforts have closed the high road between Milepost 355.3 (where NC 128 leads north into Mount Mitchell State Park) and Milepost 359.8 (Balsam Gap, and the parking area for a noteworthy piece of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail).
Motorists can still access Mount Mitchell from the North, via NC Route 80. And you can still get to the Craggies from the south—but both sojourns are out-and-back turnaround trips due to the closure.
People planning late season trips along the entire Parkway will miss a spectacular 28 miles across the Craggies as the detour departs from Asheville along Highway 70 to I-40 to Highway 226 to Highway 221 and back to Highway 226 to the Parkway. Highway 226 is a notoriously winding road—so buses and recreational vehicles are encouraged to take Highway 221 to the Parkway at Milepost 317—a total of 66 miles deducted from the 469-mile journey.
The detour is sad news for some, as a late November or even Thanksgiving Holiday Parkway trip often yields the year’s clearest distant views along the road. Parkway officials aim repairs at winter to lessen inconvenience for visitors but the road is nevertheless also often closed during winter months by snow and ice, especially along the lofty Craggy/Mount Mitchell area where the road climbs well about 5,000 feet.
The Park says, “The closure and detour will remain in effect until spring of 2013 to ensure public safety while critical slope stabilization repairs are completed on the Parkway. Parkway management apologizes for any inconvenience to our visitors.”
In a previous article on The Traveler, Lloyd Middleton, Ph.D, an engineer for the Federal Highway Administration long associated with the Parkway, said, “When you consider the harsh environment of the area around Mount Mitchell (the East’s highest peak), with so much freeze and thaw,” Middleton said, “you need to look back long ago and realize this road was built by hand. The road was built to expose the back slope,” the road cut above the pavement, “and that means the area below, that supports the road, was created by fill material. That was, and still is, prone to failures—all the fault of how, and when, it was constructed in the first place.”
Check out this article for more on the engineering background to the road closure.
Another road closure, this one shorter, takes place in Virginia from Milepost 121.4 (U.S. 220) to Milepost 135.9 (U.S. 221) south of Roanoke, Virginia. The Parkway will be closed there from 9 am until 3 pm PM Monday to Friday from November 13 to the 27th for the cleanup of brush along the road shoulders.
Anyone traveling the Parkway in winter should visit the Parkway's road closure page or call the park's information line at 828-298-0398.