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Some Parkway Side Trips to Consider
Between Shenandoah National Park, the northern terminus of the Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the southern terminus, there are dozens of towns and resort regions along the way. Try this north-to-south selection of Parkway-adjacent adventures, destinations, lodging and dining and the high road becomes a portal to the entire Southern Applachians.
Shenandoah National Park
Start your Parkway experience with Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and the 469-mile trip becomes almost 600 miles. If you fly into Washington, DC, Interstate 66 offers a quick connection to Shenandoah's northern entrance at Front Royal.
The shaded sophistication of Charlottesville offers the University of Virginia and an up-and-coming wine-producing region named for Thomas Jefferson. Don't miss the third president's nearby home, Monticello (the enticing upstairs is now open for yours).
Wintergreen Resort (Milepost 13.7)
This designed-with-nature resort at the start of the Parkway has condos, homes, and lodge rooms for rent, two great golf courses, tennis courts, a spa, a big hiking trail system, a variety of dining spots, and a major ski resort. It’s just a mile from the Parkway and makes a great stop for a meal.
Walton’s Mountain Museum
Fans of the TV show The Walton’s should visit Schuyler, Virginia and tour the Walton’s Mountain Museum. Author Earl Hamner, who also wrote Spencer’s Mountain and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was born and raised here and reprised this hometown Appalachian area in the TV shows. Recreated sets, scripts, memorabilia, and more recall this American classic. 6484 Rockfish River Road Schuyler, VA 22969; 434-831:2000.
Roanoke has urban amenities expected of the Parkway's biggest city, and a historic farmers’ market that's very noteworthy.
Built in 1882, the city’s resurgent landmark hotel is a special experience. The hotel regularly earns accolades for Roanoke’s finest dining and four-star lodging. A pedestrian bridge takes you from the hotel across the tracks to the heart of downtown in a 5-minute stroll.
Historic Roanoke City Market
Roanoke’s central market building is an international food court with something for everyone. It’s a local favorite for a wealth of dining choices and just minutes from the Parkway’s Roanoke Mountain Campground. The surrounding streets, shops, and outdoor music make a great stroll.
O. Winston Link Museum
This collection of classic b&w photos of steam locomotives is 1950s America through the lens of the master.
Virginia Museum of Transportation
One of the best museums near the Parkway. The history of road and rail transportation in Virginia features cars from every decade, streetcars, the southeast’s largest collection of classic railroad rolling stock, and a massive model railroad. 303 Norfolk Avenue, Roanoke, VA 24016; 540-342-5670;
The central square in Roanoke boasts the state’s oldest continuously operating farmer’s market and a wealth of surrounding attractions (including free Wi-Fi). The main market building features an international food court, and fresh food and flower stalls surround the structure, as does live weekend music. The Center in the Square (History Museum of Western Virginia/ Science Museum of Western Virginia) is in the same area, and many other cultural attractions are close by and walkable. Easy parking.
The quaint mountain town of Floyd makes a wonderful stop (Mileposts 158.9 and 159.3). It’s a destination on “The Crooked Road, Virginia Music Heritage Trail,” a 250-mile drive that crosses the Parkway in a few places and includes the Blue Ridge Music Center (Milepost 213) as one of eight major music heritage sites. Don’t miss the atmosphere and live music at Floyd Country Store and the largest selection of traditional and bluegrass music at County Sales, started in 1965.
This picturesque vineyard south of Floyd near Mabry Mill represents the bullish birth of wine tourism in the vicinity of the Parkway. In operation since 1980, the popular winery produces more than 25 varieties of white and red wine just off the Parkway at Milepost 171.5. The winery is a reliable place for a gourmet evening meal Friday and Saturday nights year-round, with lunch served Friday and Saturday in winter and Wednesday through Saturday April through December. Tours and tastings are available at set times seven days a week. 287 Winery Road SW, Floyd, VA 24091; 540-593-2865.
Ashe County, North Carolina
The Benjamin F. Long IV Fresco Trail
In the 1970s, artist Ben Long returned to North Carolina after an eight-year fresco apprenticeship to Italian master Pietro Annigoni. When he offered to paint frescoes for a few of the state’s largest churches, he was turned down, but a fortuitous turn of events took him to two churches just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Ashe County. Today his striking fresco works attract art-appreciative tourists and the faithful. His frescoes now adorn 13 sites in the state and a “trail” links them. The two Ashe County churches—St. Mary's Episcopal Church, in West Jefferson (336-982-3076), and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, in Glendale Springs) are easily accessible for Parkway travelers. Crossnore School near Linville Falls in Avery County, is another Ben Long fresco location by the Parkway.
Boone Area High Country
A classic mountain inn, with the bark-siding that distinguishes the surrounding National Historic District of Linville. Guests have access to the Donald Ross-designed golf course. Known for four-star dining and a fabulous Thursday night seafood buffet. 175 Linville Avenue, Linville, NC 28646. 828-733-4311, 800-742-6717.
Dan’l Boone Inn
A can’t-miss, High Country tradition of hearty family-style breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for more than 50 years. 130 Hardin Street, Boone. 828-264-8657
Woodland’s Barbecue and Pickin’ Parlour
Blowing Rock’s venue for live mountain music has plentiful sandwiches, barbecue dishes, and popular Mexican options. Hwy 321, Blowing Rock, NC. 828-295-3651, 828-295-3395.
Mast General Store
Charles Kuralt said this 130-year-old Valle Crucis landmark is one of the nation’s most authentic country stores. Its sagging, atmospheric architecture and plethora of products make for a memorable visit. The Mast Store Annex, also on Hwy 194 in Valle Crucis, includes an outdoor shop, as does the Old Boone Mercantile in downtown Boone. There’s another Mast Store in Asheville and Waynesville, both near the Parkway.
More Parkway visitors enter and exit the Parkway in hip and happenin' Asheville than at any other place. Try the city’s Urban Trail for an introduction to its vibrant downtown culture.
Asheville’s classic mountain hotel can be a bit of a splurge but there are a variety of packages and Web-only deals to make it affordable. The historic core of the hotel, with its massive stone fireplace and Great Hall Bar, was a favorite of F. Scott Fitzgerald. A stunning new spa is the perfect post-hike experience. Dining is deluxe and varied. The view from the Sunset Terrace Chophouse wraps you in a summit-studded horizon.
Early Girl Eatery
An informal downtown eatery that exemplifies Asheville’s organic and home-grown approach to dining that includes locally sourced foods. 8 Wall Street, Asheville. 828-259-9292.
Biltmore House and Gardens, George W. Vanderbilt’s 250-room summer place, is the United States’ largest home and one of the Parkway’s preeminent attractions. Its breathtaking gardens, vineyards, and artwork filled interiors are simply a must-have experience. The outdoor offerings of the estate include bike and horseback riding, kayaking, and the new four-star hotel, the Inn on Biltmore Estate, is a great place to stay and a perfect platform for trying estate-raised foods and wines (not to mention the Land Rover Driving Experience off-road school). .
North Carolina Arboretum
A must-see facility for anyone interested in the flora of the Southern Appalachians. The 426-acre arboretum has 36 acres of landscaped gardens, a garden flanked Visitor Education Center, and a Grand Garden Promenade to satellite gardens. Exhibits include an internationally renowned bonsai collection. Miles of hiking and mountain biking trails explore adjoining Bent Creek Experimental Forest. Exit the Parkway at milepost 393.6 and take the first left on the ramp into the North Carolina Arboretum before NC 191.
Forest Heritage Scenic Byway
Just south of Asheville, sample the National Forests that have been flanking the road. One of the United States’ most popular scenic byways, this 79-mile National Forest loop branches from the Parkway on both sides of Shining Rock Wilderness and follows U.S. 276, North Carolina 215, and US 64 in the vicinity of Brevard. The trip includes not only the “Cradle of Forestry” facility (see that entry), the nation’s earliest forestry school, but passes many classic mountain towns, inns and restaurants. This is also the “Land of Waterfalls.” Looking Glass Falls is one of the byway’s attractions, as is the National Forest’s natural water slide, Sliding Rock. Many National Forest campgrounds and picnic areas line the route.
At this landmark Maggie Valley dude ranch (75 years old in 2009), you wake to high-elevation vistas from rustic lodging, dine family-style, and have your pick of trail rides or scenic hikes. 800-868-1401.
A short detour from the Parkway takes you to one of the country’s most outstanding mountain inns. Guests sleep in luxuriously rustic log cabins at a cool mile-high on the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hikers will love the inn’s trail-oriented culture and fine post-hike fare. 828-926-0430.
Joey’s Pancake House
Not far from the Parkway at Soco Gap, Joey’s is Maggie Valley’s and one of Western North Carolina’s favorite breakfast spots. Service is fast and friendly and the extensive menu has anything you’d want from all the country favorites to big fruit plates and daily specials like Eggs Benedict. 4309 Soco Road; 828-926-0212.
Wheels Through Time Museum
An unexpected and amazing collection of antique motorcycles, automobiles, and Americana located in the mountains of North Carolina. Wheels Through Time’s more than 250 vehicle exhibit (all of which still run) has been featured in national media. 62 Vintage Lane, Maggie Valley. 828-926-6266.
Modern rooms, diverse dining, upscale décor, and a new golf course are the attractions at Harrah’s Cherokee—even if you don’t indulge at North Carolina’s only casino on the state’s only Indian Reservation. Recent changes include the availability of alcohol and a major entertainment venue. Casino Drive; 828-497-7777.
Cherokee Indian Attractions
Don’t miss the largest Indian Reservation in Eastern America. It’s one of the premier destinations for visitors to the Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The tribe’s stirring culture and tragic history comes alive at four must-see attractions. “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama movingly tells the Trail of Tears saga (early June to late August). The Museum of the Cherokee Indian broadens the story with top-notch interactive exhibits. Oconaluftee Indian Village is a recreated Cherokee town rich with hands-on demonstrations (mask-carving, blow gun shooting). Craft and fine art works by members of the oldest Native American art organization is available at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
When the railroad from Asheville reached Murphy in the late 1800s, it brought precious modern products to isolated mountaineers. But passenger traffic stopped in 1948, and the line closed in 1985. Today the route is one of the most worthwhile and scenic tourist trains in the country. Trips leave Bryson City (20 minutes from Cherokee) and pass through Nantahala Gorge (one permits guests to raft their way back to town). 800-872-4681.
Nantahala Adventure Resort
Nantahala Outdoor Center or “NOC” is a classic North Carolina outfitter with something for anyone who’s into the outdoors. They offer highly recommended rafting expeditions, an outfitter store, eateries, accommodations, and a great dose of Southern Appalachian outdoor culture. 13077 Highway 19 West, Bryson City, NC 28713; 888-386-6685.