The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway in Boone
Winding through the lush hills of the Appalachians, you will find one of the most famous roads in the world. With nearly 500 miles of scenery to explore, the Blue Ridge Parkway welcomes more than one million visitors annually. There so many ways to enjoy the Parkway that it has become one of the most popular units of the National Park Services. The Blue Ridge Parkway snakes through Watauga County, North Carolina, and offers a great exploration opportunity for residents in the town of Boone and other nearby communities.
Dozens of walking trails, waterfalls, scenic overviews and historic attractions just a short drive from Boone ensure that everyone can catch a breathtaking glimpse of the beautiful North Carolina High Country. Spring and fall are the most coveted seasons for Parkway travelers, thanks to the vivid autumn colors and bright spring blooms that cover the vast rolling landscape. This incredible roadway and its parks offer protection for thousands of diverse plants and animals and provide opportunities for enjoying all that makes this region so special and significant.
The varied habitats along the Parkway protect a diverse family of plant and animals, with ecosystems ranging in elevation from 600 to more than 6,000 feet. The Blue Ridge Parkway supports as many plant species as any other National Park in America and provides an essential protected migration corridor for many forms of wildlife. Fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bugs, and so many more types of life comprise these bountiful habitats.
Spring and fall are some of the busiest times for the Parkway and nearby towns like Boone, where tourists flock to see the leaves change and flowers bloom on more than 100 different species of trees and other plants.
The Appalachian Mountains and other mountain ranges of the Parkway are some of the oldest on the planet and have major implications for the weather, water systems, and hydrological patterns of much of the southern United States.
What Could I See on the Parkway?
The Boone and Watauga County areas are teeming with unique and intriguing forest life. Animals are frequently sighted along the Parkway and can sometimes be seen crossing the road to reach different habitats. There are a number of plants to search for, including massive tracts of Red Spruce and Fraser Fir forests. These two species of evergreens line the Parkway for miles and are accompanied by sugar maples, yellow birches, and other arboreal life comparative to that in New England forests.
Mountain meadows called “balds” provide a unique and unobstructed view of the surrounding countryside. Despite being at high elevations, these natural appearing meadows are not true alpine areas. Parkway peaks would have to reach more than 8,000 feet for severe high elevation to create treeless summits. According to Explore Boone, some think these unexplained meadows are a result of fires set by Native Americans to encourage game. These meadows are now some of the best places to enjoy scenic views and wildflower blooms.
A large number of birds reside in the forests surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ravens and turkeys are the most common, with the latter making a massive comeback in recent years in terms of population size.
Reclusive black bears are sometimes spotted along the Parkway and can grow to more than 250 pounds. Campers and travelers should not tempt the bears with food and should keep a safe distance, especially if the bear is a mother with cubs.
Squirrels and groundhogs are also spotted by many visitors. North Carolina has its own species of flying squirrel, although its nocturnal behavior can make spotting it almost impossible. However, the common red squirrel can be easily found.
Certain salamander species found along the Blue Ridge Parkway cannot be found anywhere else in the world. High elevation streams and mountains along the Parkway are home to more species of salamander than any other place on the planet. With a preference towards misty forests and streamside sites, these slippery animals can be observed hiding under rocks and logs.
You can find dozens and dozens of scenic overlooks and hiking spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway, just minutes from Boone and other Watauga County communities. Highlighted by the famous Grandfather Mountain, Rough Ridge, Blowing Rock, and Beacon Heights trails and overlooks, the variety of scenery and wildlife is unprecedented. From relaxing views and easily conquered greenways to expert-level trails, there truly is something for everyone along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell
Just a short drive from Boone, you can find some of the greatest peaks among the Appalachian Mountains. Five miles from the Parkway, at Milepost 355, lies the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Mount Mitchell is one of a collection of massive summits that make up the Black Mountain range. These peaks dominate the horizons in northwestern North Carolina with multiple peaks taller than 6,500 feet. Hike the Balsam Nature Trail or the Black Mountain Crest Trail to take in all the scenery and truly enjoy the high atmosphere experience.
Minutes from the center of Boone, Grandfather Mountain is located just one mile off the Parkway near Milepost 305 and offers a wide selection of activities and attractions. Halfway to the summit, the widely respected nature museum provides a wealth of high quality natural history exhibits, specimens, a theatre with informative and educational films and programs, as well as a gift shop and restaurant. A nearby wildlife preserve is the home of a number of bears, cougars, deer, eagles, and other native animals that can all be seen and enjoyed by park visitors.
Complete with trails, overlooks, and a picnic area, this non-profit attraction is known for its spectacular views (at an elevation of more than 5,900 feet) and famous Mile-High Swinging Bridge. A brand new visitor center was opened at the beginning of the 2010 season, offering elevator and handicap access to the site for the first time so that everyone can enjoy its pristine beauty and sheer size.
The Linn Cove Viaduct
Now the quintessential image of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Linn Cove Viaduct is a technological and engineering milestone. The groundbreaking, mountainside-defying cantilevered span on Grandfather Mountain delivered another hit attraction to the wildly popular Parkway. Enamored by the soaring roadway which offered unobstructed views of the valley and mountain range, this 10.5 mile section was an immediate favorite among locals and visiting motorists.
Gary Johnson, a former Parkway landscape architect who worked on the viaduct, said that “Our goal for this bridge was to have it look like it had been there for a century – to look like it had almost grown out of the mountain.”
With the price tag of a whopping $8,000 per foot for more than 1,200 feet, the complex S-shaped balcony portion of the viaduct near Grandfather Mountain became the most popular, and expensive, portion of the Parkway. Located near the Boone area, the viaduct also offers handicap-accessible hiking trails so that tourists can see underneath the award-winning bridge and have a better view of the Carolina piedmont. A variety of other trails and attractions ensures that there is something for everyone at this famous landmark of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Move to Boone Today and Enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway
With so many attractions near the town of Boone, the Blue Ridge Parkway caters to all ages and interests. While dozens of bridges, overlooks, and viaducts offer motorists a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside, hiking trails, waterfalls, and historic sites are sure to renew that child-like sense of wonder and adventure. A soft, pleasant breeze welcomes travelers and reminds every one of the simple joy and effervescence of the great outdoors.