Yesterday I traveled north up the Blue Ridge Parkway from US 421 in Watauga County, going through Ashe County before ending up in Alleghany County. This section of the Parkway, while popular, is less traveled than the congested section between Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain. At 8:30 am, I was about the only person on the road, and it seemed I had the entire Parkway to myself. In addition, with the sun at a relatively low angle, I was able to take some photographs with great color saturation. A polarizing filter helps to bring out the colors, so if you have a camera, I’d invest in one of these – they are not expensive.
You can get to a nice overlook in just about 2 miles after getting on the Parkway, and in another 2 miles is Jeffress Park, with a nice 1 mile loop trail and waterfalls, picnic area and views. I didn’t stop there this time, but instead continued on to other overlooks, including “The Lump”, Basin Cove, and after about 20 miles, Doughton Park, where I hiked up the Alligator Back trail to the top. This is a moderate, maybe 1 mile hike with wooden stairs in the steep parts. It lets you out atop a rock outcrop and cliffs with great views to the east and south. If you continue hiking past the rock outcrops you get to a shelter and picnic area, and yes, there are open restrooms here. For a shorter hike to the same place, drive past this trailhead on the Parkway to the intersection for the picnic area, which will be on your right. Follow the road to the end and you can pick up the same trail at the bottom of a grassy meadow and then it is just a few hundred feet of very easy hiking to the overlook.
I continued my trip on the Parkway north to the Bullhead Mountain overlook from which you can see Stone Mt State Park down below. Because this state park is at a much lower elevation, leaves change later there and I always schedule my visit for the end of October or first week of November. I ended my journey at the Cumberland Knob Picnic Area, just a few miles farther north. It was here that early construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway commenced in North Carolina, so this area has historical significance. This a great place to have a leisurely lunch, and there are restrooms and a large grassy meadow where kids can play. There is a 2.5 mile loop trail, of moderate difficulty, and a short hike to the Knob, but unfortunately, there is no view from the Knob.
Leaves are past their peak in the High Country, but there was still plenty of color to see, especially looking down into the valleys and on lower slopes. Sumacs are peaking right now and they turn a bright red. Also showing a lot of color along the roadways were sassafras trees, which can range from yellow to orange to red. Oaks are making themselves known and both black and red oaks were in good color along trails and roadsides. These species turn a deep red color and often stand out against the other trees, many of which are now leafless. There are still some maples and black gums with colorful leaves, but they are falling fast now along the Parkway.
Lower down in the views off the overlooks you can see a lot of birches and tulip poplars, with their bright yellow leaves. Beeches are showing off the deep brown color they achieve after a short period with yellow leaves.
All in all, it was definitely worth the trip yesterday, and by midday, others thought so too, and the Parkway filled with cars. Some of the overlooks were quite crowded, so it seems this part of the roadway is becoming “discovered”!
Next week I may try Stone Mountain State Park or Chimney Rock State Park – haven’t yet decided where to go, but by next weekend, the best color will be viewed from the overlooks, but not at the overlooks, along the Parkway. We had a lot of heavy rain yesterday and early this morning, which no doubt took down some leaves, but colors will still be good in places this week and up to the coming weekend. Have a safe drive up if you plan to visit!