Fall Colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway, October 2020

I’ve always wanted to check out the fall colors, specifically in the New England States. Maybe someday, but the next best thing was a trip to our local mountains to check them out. We’re normally planners, but the pandemic has made us plan a lot of last minute trips. This trip to see the fall colors ended up in the last minute category.

I briefly mentioned to Chris that fall colors would be peaking in the next week or two and that too bad we couldn’t see them. Next thing, my travel agent of a husband (he’s not, but in a past life he was, I think) started planning everything out. We paid way too much for the hotels we stayed in, but that’s ok. That’s what you get for not planning ahead. And it was worth it!

We took off on a Friday evening after he got home from work, so we could get some of the driving out of the way before our first full day. We spent Friday night at a Comfort Inn and Suites in Lenoir. The hotel was actually very nice, although we just needed it for sleep and taking off early the next morning. Saturday morning we got up, grabbed some quick breakfast items from the hotel and set-off.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Our first stop of the morning was the Linn Cove Viaduct. It’s one of the most photographed spots on the Parkway so we knew we wanted to get there early. It was freezing, but so beautiful.

After we took our photos, we jumped back into the car to warm up and drove over to Grandfather Mountain. They’re doing timed tickets and we pre-purchased for fear of them selling out. It’s a good thing we did because when we pulled up to the entrance, they had a sign that they were sold out for the day. We gave them our tickets and received a map and CD. We popped in the CD which starts telling you all about Grandfather Mountain. The kids loved this! We stopped on the way up to see the animal habitats. The bears were hiding so we didn’t get to see them, but we saw the otters, elk and bald eagles.

Grandfather Mountain, Mile High Swinging Bridge

Next, we drove up to the Mile High Swinging Bridge. We bundled up in all of our warm clothing, so we could walk across it. I’m not a huge fan of heights (more scared as I get older in fact). But it was pretty cool to walk across the bridge. There was some wind, nothing terrible, but enough to shake it a little bit. The kids loved it!

Looking back at the bridge, after we walked across it the first time

After we left Grandfather Mountain, it was back to the Parkway to continue driving and checking out the leaves. We’ve been on it several times and we absolutely love it. The kids don’t because they’re kids and it’s not very exciting. I will say that the Parkway was much more crowded than previous times we’ve been on it. We do like that there are so many turn outs which makes it super easy for getting out to stretch legs and take pictures too. We took plenty of drinks and snacks with us so we didn’t have to make unnecessary stops.

The fun part of the parkway is that there are so many places to stop and see things. We took a little side road so we could do a short hike to Linville Falls. We’ve done the hike before so we knew it was doable for the kids and it was a perfect time for a stretch break. I’m glad we did it because the leaves were beautiful as well as the falls. The parking lot was about full though and we were there just after 10am, so keep that in mind if you plan to venture out during their busiest time of the year.

After we left the Linville Falls area, we continued on the Parkway, exploring where we wanted to. We still had about an hour or so left to drive on the Blue Ridge, but ended up having to cut part of our driving short. Rangers were turning people around because the road was shut down in an area while they looked for a missing hiker. Luckily the ranger gave us an alternate road to take because we had no idea how to get to our hotel except for the way it was already mapped out. Plus GPS can sometimes be spotty on the Parkway, so if possible have a paper map or at least your directions written down. Do not solely rely on your phone!

Linville Falls (notice my weird angle because I didn’t want people in my shot)

We headed to Maggie Valley to our hotel, Quality Inn and Suites. Another overpriced hotel, especially for what it is, but live and learn (and book early!). Maggie Valley was nice, lots of food options which is always nice with littles. We ended up at Brickhouse Burgers and Pizza for dinner. Food was okay, but not impressed with their lack of Covid precautions. We’ve noticed this seems to be the case more often in small towns unfortunately.

Smoky Mountains, October 2020

Sunday morning, we got up early and headed over to the Smoky Mountains to drive home through them. They are so beautiful, but definitely not as many places there to pull over. We couldn’t believe the amount of traffic on the Gatlinburg side for people heading into the park, so we were so glad we weren’t in that line. Gatlinburg is very interesting to me. You literally come out of a National Park and are dropped into what I can only describe as a mini Hollywood Boulevard (if you know, you know). For me, it was pretty disappointing the first time we saw it. It’s so commercialized and over run with people. Not our idea of fun, so we drove on through (slowly cause there was SO MUCH traffic) and headed home.

On the way home, we decided to take a different route so we could drive through Mount Airy. Andy Griffith grew up here and the town of Mayberry was actually based on this area. It’s a very cute town and I wouldn’t mind going back again to walk around Main St. We did get to drive past Andy Griffith’s home.

Andy Griffith’s Home, Mount Airy

All in all, the trip was great. In 2021, we’re hoping to check out the fall colors in Virginia at Shenandoah National Park. One things for sure, we will book our hotels early for the trip!



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