July 8th, 2022 – Steve
This was going to be one of the biggest days on the road we had ever attempted. We needed to drive the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, over 469 miles of twisting, turning 45mph speed-limited mountain road. Google was predicting 10-11 hours, without any stops and it was going to be a monster drive.
The Blue Ridge Parkway picks up where Skyline Drive leaves off. Continuing to run down the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains all the way through Virginia and into North Carolina. Stunning Vista’s, incredible wildlife, and a fantastic road that really should be on everyone’s must-do list.
Reality Bites – The Parkway should realistically be driven in a minimum of 2-3days to do it any justice and actually enjoy the journey. But our schedule did not allow for this and we were just going to make the best of things. However, we knew the entire Parkway was going to be impossible. The plan was to drive down as far as we could then peel off and head straight for our final destination via some faster roads, how far down we would get would be interesting!
Before we got going we still had our final flourish at veritas. A champagne breakfast back in the wedding pagoda. This was included in the price and after last night’s meal had been so spectacular, we were not going to miss breakfast. Unfortunately, it was not until 9 am. Still after the very generous Wine Pairing last night we were in no hurry to hit the road, and of course, I would be offering my glass of fizz to kate!
Breakfast was a selection of pastry and fruit followed by a choice of French Toast or a Hash with Eggs and Bacon. We both chose the French Toast and it was pretty spectacular, all though pretty hard on a fairly sensitive stomach!
We then hopped into our trusty stead and headed off to the Start of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia
As we left Afton and started back up the mountain we faced the same issue we were stuck with yesterday. The High Humidity and Mountainous terrain were forming large amounts of Fog that were covering the Parkway. Again like yesterday, there was no time to wait for it to clear so we just plowed on often in complete White-out.
Again, oddly, just like yesterday about 20 miles in and the Fog began lifting, it remained patchy for most of the morning but did offer some pretty nice breaks and some much clearer vistas.
The first section of the Parkway feels very similar to Skyline Drive but it soon starts to change character quite drastically. The Parkway seems far more varied and the road drops into more valleys and winds back up to the mountain tops, while the surrounding woodlands changes in character quite a bit.
There was still plenty of wildlife on show. We saw plenty of deer, Eagles soaring overhead, and even a few Grond Hogs. While we were hoping to spot an elusive Black Bear we were once again not so lucky, however, we did find some tracks which were pretty exciting.
Quite a few of the overlooks here are based on more distant sights, such as Bosont Knob (no giggling) and Chimney Rock. This certainly provides a more varied and interesting drive than Skyline Drive.
After around 60 miles on the Parkway, the road drops down into quite a large valley. This is due to the transit of the James River. This is one of the few large waterways that transect the blue ridge mountains.
Just before the River, we stopped at the very picturesque Otter Lake. This quaint little pool was filled with Bass and had several fishermen hunting their quarry. There were thousands of large and colorful Dragon Flies and a short path down to some pretty little waterfalls. One thing we didn’t spot at the Lake was Otters. We think the name is more historic and these endangered species are not regularly found in this area.
We then pushed on to the James River. This large waterway plows right through the middle of the mountain range and is an incredibly important part of US history. When European settlers first started colonizing these lands this was one of the most important thoroughfares between the coasts and the pioneering plantations of Virginia. Literally, the lifeblood of the settlers transporting food and supplies upstream and their produce (Often Tabacco) back down to the ships headed back to Europe.
After a short stop at this pretty impressive waterway and a quick look at the cancel that was built to improve the navigability of the upper James River, we headed off again. Winding back up into the mountains before we needed to leave the parkway to hunt for some Gas.
We did this at Roanoake for a couple of reasons, one, we REALLY needed gas, and two there is a large section of the Parkway closed near Roanoake so we used this as an excuse to bypass the closed section, refuel, and pick up supplies.
We headed to a convenient Walmart and headed into the store. The sun was beating down and now we were down from the mountain tops, the temps had soared! This was full-on Virginia sweltering. Near full humidity and burning hot. After a successful shop, we headed out to find a bit of a change in the weather.
We had been inside for less than 30mins but we could no longer see the other side of the parking lot for the pouring rain! This was biblical rain and we had no idea where it had come from! It was still scorching hot but the humidity was unreal. We waited it out for a while but no end in sight came so I made a dash for it to grab the car and load the shopping up by the entrance. We then fueled up and headed off.
We then used the fast more improved roads to circumnavigate the closure.
Back on the Parkway
Following Roanoke, the parkway took on a very different character. It was far more open plain and farmland with quaint red barns a cattle fields than the wilderness sections we had driven earlier. It also didn’t feel like we were up high. As the pastures spread out in all directions we felt more like we were back in the lowlands. But this is an illusion and instead, the mountain tops here are just more flattened off. Every now and then we got to the edge of the plateau and there were the sweeping vistas of the valleys below.
There seemed less to see in this section and we largely just powered on. Periodically hitting huge Rain-bursts that brought driving rain for a few mins then back to sunshine!
Our final stop was to be GroundHog Mountain Overlook. Time was really slipping by now and we had covered only around 180 miles of the Parkway. it was 4 pm and our overnight was still 3.5 hours away IF we took the direct route, if we stayed on the parkway it was nearer 6 hours+
We made the choice that as we were 35ish miles from the Virginia/North Carolina Border, we would push along the parkway until then. That way we had done the entire Virginis section of the Blueridge Mountains. We could then peel off and head directly towards Maggie Valley.
At the Virginia Terminus of the Parkway, we headed down off the mountain and picked up the Interstate. We followed the I-77 and then the I-40, which intersects the entire country! Following these along at a far more rapid pace than the parkway. Taking this route meant more miles but a much shorter time frame.
Our final stop of the day was to be Maggie Valley. We had planned to end up in Ashville near the Terminus of the Parkway, however, this was before we shoehorned in tomorrow’s main event. Instead, we moved our overnight an hour or so down the road to Maggie Valley, otherwise, we would have needed to drive that hour-long stretch tomorrow morning.
As we headed into the remote Valley town it appeared the end of the world was occurring! The sky was deathly black, Thunder, Lightning, and biblical rain lashed down. It was really spectacular and we wished we had time to stop and enjoy it. However, the storm had severed all links to the outside world and we had no signal and no internet. The quaint little village we had imagined was actually quite large and dissected by a large 4-lane highway. Trying to locate the Hotel, with no data during a biblical storm after 12+ hours on the road, as it was going dark was pretty hairy!
Eventually, we found the spot and headed to the reception. Greeted by a wonderful old lady, who looked and sounded like she had never left the valley welcomed us to the motel, the Valley, and The Great Smokey Mountains. This was the longest check-in procedure we have ever experienced. Not due to the competence of the Host, or convoluted procedure, but just because she really wanted to chat with us and make us welcome. We obviously looked and sounded very out of place, two brits high in the remote smokies, so she was intent on understanding our trip and why we were there.
The room was Pretty huge but very basic. Right out of the 1970s, it was cheap as chips and basically exactly what we expected in such a remote little outpost. If we had found a nice modern roadside motel we would have been disappointed…This was perfect for the feel of the place!
Hick Town, Hick Bar
There was no restaurant on site and we had not heated since Roanoake, so asked at reception for any recommendations. She pointed us next door to a real backwater hick Bar, which again was perfect for the feel of the place.
We are using the word “Hick” hopefully in a playful way. The Town is what it is, very remote and rural and the people are certainly earthy and not in any way cosmopolitan. These are the kinds of places we seek out, along with the trendiest bars in the world, and some of the finest dining. Travel is all about Variation, getting out, and seeing the real places. We love our City tours, but seeing the rural side is a blast too.
The bar was great fun. Loud, boisterous, cheap, and cheerful. Quite similar in many ways to our pub back home. We ordered some great bar food at pretty decent prices along with some drinks. It seems even in these remote pastures the Craft Beer movement has arrived and there were 15+ beers on tap along with a Wagon (literally) filled with iced bottles!
It was a great place to unwind after the hard day on the road, then back to our room, with the storm passed on by now, but we still had no internet and the Wifi was just as kaput. So we headed straight to bed to get some sleep before another REALLY mad day tomorrow!
Walking Total – 5431 Steps – 2.8 Miles
Hardly any miles today as we were mostly in the car, we did clock up an incredible 400+ miles though, and were on the road for 12 hours!