One of the most recognized regions in the Appalachian Mountains are the Blue Ridge Mountains. Stretching from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee to Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, the Blue Ridge Mountains touch 7 States and encompass an area 615 miles (990 km) long but only between 5 to 65 miles (8 to 105 km) wide.
The Blue Ridge Mountains form a relatively narrow ridge between the Piedmont in the east and the Valley and Ridge landform in the west, which is followed by the Appalachian Plateau.
Unique to the Blue Ridge Mountains is their bluish color cast when seen from a distance. The blue tone comes from hydrocarbons, which trees release into the atmosphere giving the mountains their characteristic haze and distinctive color.
The Blue Ridge Mountains region counts two major national parks, the Shenandoah National Park in the north, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south. The area is also home to many state parks.
One of the loveliest scenic roads in the United States is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects the Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through a 469-mile (755 km) long road.
The Blue Ridge Parkway meets the Skyline Drive, which is 109 miles (175 km) long and runs the entire length of the Shenandoah National Park mostly along the ridge of the mountains.
Generally, the Blue Ridge Mountains can be split into six regions:
- Shenandoah Region,
- Ridge Region,
- Plateau Region,
- Highlands Region,
- Pisgah Region and the
- Great Smoky Region.
Stone Mountain State Park, located south of the Blue Ridge Parkway, is famous for its towering 600-foot granite dome. The park features 21 miles (33.8 km) of hiking trails, waterfalls, fishing, horseback riding trails, and a large campground.
Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway between mileposts 364 and 365, Craggy Gardens is a must-see, especially in early June, when the Catawba Rhododendron is in full bloom creating a spectacular mountain-sized bouquet of color. A further 2 miles up the Parkway at milepost 367.6 is the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, ideal for a bite to eat surrounded by gorgeous scenery.
Mount Mitchell’s summit at 6,684 feet (2,037 m) offers not just breathtaking views from its easily accessible observation deck, but it is also the highest peak of the Appalachian Mountains and the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River. A small museum near the top explains the mountain’s cultural and natural history and how Mount Mitchell became North Carolina’s first state park.
Adjacent to Pisgah National Forest and just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 393, the North Carolina Arboretum is located in one of the most beautiful settings in the area. Wonderful exhibitions, an extensive bonsai collection and multiple trails let visitors spend a couple of hours at the Arboretum and enjoy the picturesque scenery.
Camping, swimming, canoeing, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, picnicking and much more, Lake James State Park located on the shores of 6,812-acre Lake James is a popular destination for all of these activities year round. The Park consists of the Catawba River Area and the Paddy’s Creek Area each a few miles apart. Camping is only permitted in the Catawba River Area while swimming is only allowed in the Paddy’s Creek Area.
Situated atop Valle Mountain, Apple Hill Farm - Alpaca Farm is a 45-year apple orchard, which has been turned into a working alpaca farm. Visitors can take a guided tour of the farm and learn about all the other animals living there, such as llamas, horses, angora goats, cats, dogs, and even donkeys. The onsite store also offers undyed alpaca yarn from the farm’s own herd.
Considered one of the most visited, popular and beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina, Linville Falls offers photographers and hikers picturesque views from several overlooks along its moderate to strenuous trails ranging in length from 1-mile to 1.6-mile round-trip. It is also said that a number of trail scenes for the film “The Last of the Mohicans” were filmed at the falls.
The 3,680-acre Elk Knob State Park is located circa 17 miles (27 km) north from Milepost 291 off the Blue Ridge Parkway. From its summit at 5,520 feet (1,682 meters) it offers stunning long-range panoramic views of the valleys below. The park is open for cross-country skiing during the winter.
Located at Milepost 328.3 just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, The Historic Orchard at Altapass is an over 100-year old apple orchard, where visitors can also pick their own apples during the harvest season from September to October. During that time, the orchard is also a favorite stop for thousands of migrating monarch butterflies. Several short, easy to moderate hiking trails lead through the orchard along rows of apple trees and two scenic lookout points.
Preserving the fragile ecosystem of Grandfather Mountain, the Linn Cove Viaduct was the last section of the Blue Ridge Parkway that was only completed in 1987 after a 20-year delay. The viaduct has won 11 design awards and is one of the most photographed sites along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Visitor Center on the south side of the viaduct offers a lot of interesting information about the bridge’s construction.
Between Blowing Rock and Spruce Pine, the Blue Ridge Parkway features several overlooks offering breathtaking long-range views of the landscape below. This post features our favorites.
Re-live life in the mountains as it was over 100 years ago. Brinegar Cabin at Doughton Park was the homestead of Martin and Caroline Brinegar who lived in this cabin for almost 60 years. The 7,000-acre Doughton Park, one of the largest parks in North Carolina, is a great destination for hikers, offering 7 different trails ranging from 1 mile to 7.5 miles one way. It also has a large campground on the north-eastern side of the park near Milepost 239.
The Julian Price Memorial Park offers trails, which are as diverse in scenery as they are in difficulty. They range from the easy 2.7-mile loop around man-made Price Lake, where you can even rent a canoe, to the strenuous but ingenious 13.5-mile Tanawha Trail, which passes under the famous Linn Cove Viaduct. The Park is open year-round.
Moses H Cone Memorial Park is open year-round and sees 225,000 people each year being one of the most visited recreational places on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It offers gorgeous views and 25 miles of wonderful hiking and horseback riding trails around lakes and forests. The Flat Top Manor, the former mansion, is also home to the Parkway Craft Center, where regional artists display their handmade crafts. It also features craft demonstrations during the summer months.
The Blowing Rock is North Carolina’s oldest travel destination not only thanks to its wonderful legend of love and duty, but also to its spectacular views and its unique rock formation. This rock formation creates such an updraft that smaller objects rise in the air instead of falling to the ground.
Chimney Rock State Park offers some of the most beautiful mountain scenery with breathtaking 75-mile views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and man-made Lake Lure. It features the famous 315-foot (96m) Chimney Rock. 499 stairs lead up to Chimney Rock. Alternatively, you can take an elevator but check ahead to make sure that the elevator is in operation.
The park also features Hickory Nut Falls, a 404-foot (123m) waterfall, the second highest of its kind east of the Mississippi River.
During their August-to-May playing season, the Municipal Auditorium in Morganton NC hosts concerts, Broadway shows, dance shows and theater. Their atrium also features an impressive ceiling fresco by world-renowned fresco artist Ben Long.
The History Museum of Burke County exhibits over 20,000 artifacts grouped by major historical events and by themes, such as military, fashion, toys or games, spanning more than three centuries. Visitors can also see recreations of a town-typical barbershop, an old-fashioned beauty parlor, a café and the offices of an optometrist and a dentist. These everyday settings offer visitors of all ages a wonderful glimpse back into our distant and not so distant past. Guided tours are available.
The Historic North Carolina School for the Deaf is the second historic state institution in Morganton. Situated on a beautiful hill south of downtown, the school’s campus comprises 14 historical buildings constructed between 1891 and the mid 1930s, including the magnificent Main Building with its imposing five-story clock tower. A small museum, located on site, explains the history of the school through old pictures, architectural drawings, articles and memorabilia (by appointment only).
The Historic Broughton Hospital was one of two large state institutions, which were brought to Morganton in the late 1800s. Originally called the Western North Carolina Insane Asylum, the Broughton Hospital, which has considerably expanded over the years, continues to be a major employer in the region. The historic buildings can still be viewed from the outside today.
The Railroad Depot and Museum is a cute little museum located in a beautifully restored train station from the 1860s. The museum features a collection of railroad memorabilia including nostalgic dining car tableware, an old telegraph, a ticket counter, a brass bell and a headlamp from a steam locomotive.
The Historic McDowell House, which is located in Quaker Meadows 2.5 miles (4 km) from downtwon Morganton, is a beautifully restored plantation home from 1812 and the oldest brick home in Burke County. It is said that in 1780 on these grounds Charles McDowell’s father and other Patriot soldiers made plans, which led to the victory over the British in the Battle of Kings Mountain during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783).
The Historic Burke County Courthouse is a beautifully restored building in a lovely park like setting. The Heritage Museum inside takes visitors through the over 200-year history of the courthouse.
The Historic Tate House is not just a beautiful building in a park-like setting in the center of downtown, it was also the home of one of Morganton’s most influential residents. Samuel Tate, who was a local hero during the American Civil War and a successful businessman and politician in the late 1800s, is credited with bringing two large state institutions to this small community located far from the state capital Raleigh.