Biking and Hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains

One man’s account of a motorcycle tour in the Blue Ridge Mountains

One hot, sweltering day last summer in the flat lands of North Carolina, me and my biker buddy believed that it was time to plan for a weekend trip. Not wanting to spend too much time getting there, but definitely needing a change of views and to flee the stifling summer heat, we made a decision to try the Granddad Mountain area in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains, just roughly an hour and half drive from home in Mooresville N.C. That Friday we took off work two hours early, packed our saddlebags and jumped on our hogs heading up 77 to I 40, destination Banner Elk, North Carolina. We turned off the Interstate in the foothills at Morganton, and after some cruising thru the little Mayberry like town, shortly found ourselves leaning into the curves, past Table Rock and numerous mountain vistas, the summer heat already melting away. Now and then getting trapped behind a local, never in a rush to get anywhere, we soon faced a brief lane and sped on our way. We got on 105 in Linville and we knew we were just about there. Cruising the subsequent seven miles in the shadow of Granddad Mountain, we turned up at the stone buildings of Tynecastle, turned left heading down the valley past Sugar Mountain and into the city of Banner Elk. Being the cocktail hour, we stretched our legs with a pleasant cool walk into city and visited some local bistros, then crossed the street and headed to Stonewalls were we enjoyed a good steak dinner.

Saturday was to be a day to cruise the area. After a good breakfast at the Inn, we saddled up and headed back to Linville Falls, were we caught up with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Heading north towards Blowing Rock, the Blue Ridge Parkway is chocked full of twisting roads and stunning mountain perspectives, one of the finest methods to tour the mountains of North Carolina. Right after hitting the Parkway we came upon the Linn Cove Viaduct.

An engineering wonder, the viaduct is an elevated bridge that wraps around Granddad Mountain for some eight miles, and has some of the finest mountain perspectives on the Parkway. Built to mix in, the bridge is a good example of Mother Nature and the man made coexisting. We stopped to take a walk on the trail that goes under the Linn Cove Viaduct to get a better view of some truly provoking architecture. Julian Price Park was the next stop on the Parkway, with a primitive campground and a beautiful lake that offers some wonderful trout fishing. The park covers over four thousand acres and has twenty-five miles of hiking trails. An amphitheater, picnic grounds, and canoe rentals make Julian Price a brilliant place to spend the day. We spent a couple of hours, then moved on towards Blowing Rock.

We exited the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Moses Cone Memorial Park, checked out the Crafts Center, and moved on to Blowing Rock for lunch. On the way back, we took the road to Boone, home of Appalachian State Varsity, and turned up 105 back to Banner Elk. Back at the Hotel, there had been masses of daylight left so we took a little break, hopped back on our bikes and headed up the mountain to Valle Crucis. A very fun narrow winding mountain road with one truly mean switchback at the top, the ride down the mountain had some great mountain perspectives as we passed farm homes, retreats, pony farms, and some quaint small bed and breakfasts tucked away in there own mountain nooks.

Valle Crucis is a very agricultural community, its heart being the Mast General Store were we stopped for a look see.  Here’s where you come when you really want to run away from it all. A mountain retreat with two quality horse farms for those that like to ride. On the way back to Banner Elk via 105, we were having so much fun on these tight small roads that we made a decision to head on up to 7 Devils, a holiday resort area with the Hawksnest Ski Resort and Golf Coarse at the top of the mountain. After a full day of riding, back in Banner Elk we headed to cheap cocktails hour at the Bayou Smokehouse and Griddle and stayed all night, scarfing down brewskis, Texas style Bar-B-Que, and some great Louisiana Cajun Cuisine. Sunday was the day to conquer the gigantic daddy of all of them, Grandfather Mountain.

Having been on the road all day Saturday, today we were about to do some major hiking. With the tallest top in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Grandfather Mountain sits on the eastern continental divide and hosts the once a year gathering of Scottish clans, and the Highland Games. We passed McRae Meadows and paid the $14 per individual to enter the privately owned mountain. We parked momentarily at the nature museum and took a quick tour of the wildlife habitat, which features animals native to the region on display in their natural habitat. As we headed up to the mile high swinging bridge, we could see the clouds racing through the spaces between the tops.

It was a cool, foggy cloudy sort of day as it so regularly is in the mountains of North Carolina, and visibility was patchy at the very best. But we were here for a hike, and hiking is what we did. We started the trek towards Calloway Top, and being in the middle of the summer, we had plenty of company. The well marked trail led us thru some straightforward to difficult terrain with ropes and wooden ladders to aid us in ascending the rock faces, and several open vistas where we could recognize Mt. Mitchell on the horizon, and the Sugar Top apartments at Sugar Mountain as we viewed the cloud cover below us. We never made it to the very top of Calloway Top, the higher you go the harder it gets, but we did wind up getting a good workout, and the hike down was just about as tough as going up. We received back to the swinging bridge carpark, caught our breath, then mounted our bikes for the trip back home.

It was good to have the vibration of the road under us again, and by the time we left the foothills of Morganton, the cool mountain breezes were already becoming a enjoyable memory. Whether by motorbike, car, or lorry, a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is a way to beat the heat. The area surrounding Banner Elk and Grandfather Mountain is peppered with vacation homes of people from every area of the south east, a large proportion escaping the hot, damp summers of Florida. Out of doors activities abound all year with skiing and snow-boarding in winter, and hiking, fishing, kayaking, white water rafting, tennis and golf, camping, or merely plain cruising the roads in the spring, summer and fall.

No matter what your pleasure, Banner Elk and Grandfather Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a great destination for the great American road trip.

Also, visit us here in Asheville, NC at the Reynolds Mansion, your gateway to the Biltmore Mansion and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Asheville, NC: Top Twenty Things To Do In The North Carolina Mountains

What are the must-do places to see and experience in a romantic getaway to Asheville? Here are the Top 20 Things worth Doing in Asheville and the encompassing Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

And romantic mountain outings don’t have to be pricey. Many of these are free!

1. Blue Ridge Parkway: Ride the non-stop 200-mile Asheville area stretch of one of America’s most picturesque drives and stop at countless overlooks with mountain views and a selection of places to explore on the way. Take a picnic!

2. Hiking: To truly appreciate the natural elegance, explore by foot.

3. Biltmore Estate: This is an absolute must see, even if you have visited before.  Visit America’s biggest house, stroll through amazing gardens, hike across the eight thousand acre estate, sample Biltmore wines, and enjoy many dining and shopping options.For discount Biltmore tickets, order pre-booked tickets on their web site.

4. Downtown: With 2 hundred local stores, lots of art galleries, beautiful design and fifty eateries, downtown Asheville is a wonderful place to explore. For a fun tour, take the LaZoom town tour on the massive purple bus. And don’t miss the Fri. Night drum circle. Close by Hendersonville, Brevard, Black Mountain, Highlands and Waynesville also have interesting downtowns with plenty to see, do and taste.

5. Cabins: Cuddle up in front of the fireplace of an isolated cabin, while being near so much to do. Many mountain cabins have outside hot tubs under the stars.  Some offer lower rates on Sunday-Thursday nights.

6. Waterfalls: This is the Land of Waterfalls. Highest recommended are High Falls and Treble Falls at DuPont State Forest, with Looking Glass Falls, Linville Falls and Rainbow Falls.

7. Food and Lager: Asheville was just named Lager City USA again, so sample some of the 60 local brews.  At the same time, enjoy seasonal bounty at many farm-to-table cafes. Take a farm tour and don’t miss the apple orchards near Hendersonville in late summer.

8. Art: Asheville was just named as top little town for art in the States.  You will find galleries and studios all around. Watch the artists at work, and buy from them in the Brook Humanities District and the Toe Stream area studios near Penland College.

9. Festivals : Street festivals and art fairs abound in the spring, summer and fall.  Most are free to attend, including the giant of all of them, Bele Chere. Ten. Mt. Mitchell : Drive to the pinnacle of the tallest peak east of the Rocky Mountains.

Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can enjoy 360-views from the observation platform on the summit. 11. Sliding Rock : Ride down this natural waterslide in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard. It’s fun for all ages.

12. Great Smokies : For an enchanting evening watching elk graze a short distance away, drive to the Cataloochee Valley section of the Great Hazy Mountains Countrywide Park. Hike to Mt. LeConte or the Chimneys. Or drive to New-found Gap from Cherokee.

13. Bed and Breakfasts: Have a romantic getaway in a grand, significant home and awake to a gourmet breakfast. Many B&Bs have great holiday packages that include flowers, turn-down service, Biltmore tickets and more.  See our packages and specials!

14. Zip Lines: Fly across brooks and valleys and thru lush forests on canopy tours. Wildwater Ltd. Offers tours at 2 zip line courses in the Great Hazy Mountains.

15. Music and Theatre: There are several choices for theatre, dance, opera, and music including the stellar Brevard Music Center Festival, Folkmoot and Shindig on the Green.  Plus, hear a huge assortment of bands in numerous live music locales and clubs, including the Orange Peel in Asheville.

16. NC Arboretum: Celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer, this showcase of blooms, plants and trees encompasses a entrancing bonsai tree garden, nature trails and items.

17. Chimney Rock: See impressive perspectives of the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure from atop this famous rock formation.  Hike to a 400-foot waterfall, a film location for one or two films.

18. Shopping: From antiques store and art galleries to consignment shops, the area is a shopper’s paradise.

19. Whitewater Rafting: Ride down the rapids in a raft or canoe on the Nantahala, Pigeon or French Broad Streams.

20. Get Wed or Reaffirm Your Vows: Celebrate your love and commitment in the stunning and romantic marriage mountain setting. The area is particularly preferred for destination marriages and elopements.

For more information on these and other things worth doing, see our Things to Do in Asheville, NC page.