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.