Fall’s fantastic voyage
Take a colorful — and affordable — trip west this season
by Anne Woodman
After a long, hot summer, feeling the crisp cool of autumn and viewing layers of color in fall foliage seems overwhelmingly appealing.
Among other spots in the western part of the state, scenic Boone and Blowing Rock offer gorgeous leaves, stunning views and long, winding roads. Fortunately, the information age of up-to-the-minute foliage reports, last-minute budget room rates, and a bevy of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter keep prospective visitors locked in on the best times to visit.
If budget is a concern, the venerable Blue Ridge Parkway — as well as state and national parks — are free or inexpensive. So browse online, fill your tank and enjoy endless vistas awash in fall color.
Exploring on four wheels
Before heading to western North Carolina, history buffs might want to check out the new Ken Burns documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” which airs on UNC-TV this fall. The six-part series on the history of national parks will feature the Blue Ridge Parkway, which celebrates its 75th anniversary next year.
Also known as America’s Favorite Drive, the 469-mile parkway has become the National Park Service’s hottest attraction. Did you know that the road itself does not have white lines on the sides to preserve the beauty of the view, or that it’s perfectly acceptable to pull over to the side of the road and have a picnic?
Although Grandfather Mountain — located west of Boone and Blowing Rock, two miles north of Linville and one mile south of the Blue Ridge Parkway — is known for its Mile High Swinging Bridge, visitors with strollers, walkers, or wheelchairs can enjoy the view as well on easy-to-navigate trails. In the fall, naturalists often offer programs on plants and animals in the area.
Not far away, The Blowing Rock — a handicap- and stroller-accessible attraction — takes 15 to 25 minutes to navigate, and the spectacular views won’t take you too far from your car.
On two wheels
For those with a more active approach, a stop at Magic Cycles Bike Shop in downtown Boone is a good bet. Owner Mike Boone advises plenty of cyclists who travel to the area each year.
“Fall is one of the biggest times for tourism here, so we tell cyclists to avoid the Blue Ridge Parkway; it might get like a parking lot,” he says.
“We have maps in the shop and can tell you how to stay away from the main thoroughfares and see the more rural sections.”
While hardcore cycling aficionados can bring their own modes of transportation, Magic Cycles also rents out road and mountain bikes for those without.
“People assume that the mountains are continuous hills and that our hills are hard,” Boone says.
“But there are many rides that are not as strenuous, and we can point you in that direction if you’re interested.”
On two feet
For seeing gorgeous leaves up close and personal, nothing beats using your own two feet. A short drive from Boone, Linville Falls is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Two main hiking trails begin at the Linville Falls Visitor Center and result in beautiful views of the falls, which in autumn are flanked by red, gold, and green leaves.
While many know Grandfather Mountain for its famous swinging bridge, the price of admission also allows passionate hikers to access 11 trails of varying difficulties. For a gentler stroll, there are in-park trails, while backcountry trails for more experienced hikers include rougher terrain and opportunities to see rare and endangered plant species.
Another way for active families to get slightly off the beaten path is to try geocaching, a nature-based scavenger hunt using GPS technology. Google Boone’s zip code, 28607, to open up opportunities and local haunts while keeping the kids interested in the adventure.
At your leisure
While searching online for deals to view fall’s bursting colors is a good place to start, don’t discount talking to a real person. Whether you’re interested in bed and breakfasts, motels, or hotels, staff at the Boone Convention and Visitors Bureau have up-to-the-minute budget room rates and cancellations. If camping is more your style, then check out the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Web site for frequently asked questions on the best places to set up camp.
If you’re up for a special treat, one award-winning option in nearby Valle Crucis is The Mast Farm Inn. With seven guest rooms and seven cottages and cabins, it’s ideal to book early rather than wait until the last minute.
During your stay, try the inn’s restaurant, Simplicity, which serves dinner Thursday through Sunday nights throughout October. Guests with reservations dine on the same primarily organic, four-course menu, with many of the items grown on the property.
“We follow the seasons and what comes out of the garden to create extreme, high-end home cooking,” says owner Henri Deschamps.
While in town, don’t miss the annual Valle Crucis Punkin Festival. The event, hosted by the nearby Mast General Store, is held Oct. 24 and includes pumpkin carving, sack races, and apple bobbing for the entire family.
Anne Woodman is a freelance writer based in Morrisville.