This year, the Blue Ridge Parkway marks its seventy-fifth anniversary. Generations of visitors have made annual fall pilgrimages along this scenic 470-mile span to view the changing colors of the autumn leaves. The Parkway’s beauty is only one aspect of its allure.
From north to south, Virginia’s section of the Parkway offers everything from cultural attractions and wine tastings to down-home country cooking and hiking expeditions.
As you make your way to the Parkway, cruise through Monroe in Amherst County and stop by Rock Hill Orchard where you can spend several hours picking apples – everything from Red and Golden Delicious to Fuji and Stayman. It’s best to call ahead for picking schedules.
You can also stock up on Virginia apples at Carter Mountain Orchard in Albemarle County. While you’re there, you’ll be able to smell the aroma of fresh-baked pies and cookies as well as apple cider donuts, giving you a good reason to buy some for the road. You’ll also want to check out the local crafts, jams and jellies.
If it’s spectacular views you’re looking for, Crabtree Falls is the place to be.You can walk along a paved trail to the falls where you’ll gaze on the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. For a more challenging hike, take the three-mile trail with views Of the Tye River Valley as well as the falls.
On the way to the falls, you’ll pass by the Montebello State Fish Hatchery where they raise mountain trout. The hatchery grows approximately 60,000 pounds of brook, rainbow, and brown trout each year. Keep in mind that October is one of the busiest tourist months at the Hatchery because of the leaf peepers that flock to the Parkway.
Not far away, at the point where the Parkway crosses the James River, is the perfect place for a family picnic or a romantic picnic for two. The trails will take you to an area where you can view one of the restored canal locks from the 1800s when the river served as the main commercial route in the state.
October is always a big month for festivals along the Parkway. The Mountain Foliage Festival at The Natural Bridge is held the second weekend of the month.
Fun activities include a huge corn maze, a pie baking contest and the annual Friday night Potty Princess Contest – think hillbilly meets beauty queen. The next day features entertainment and heritage skills demonstrations. You can watch the locals as they test their skills in pumpkin decorating and pie eating.
If you’re game for a serious hiking adventure, visit the Peaks of Otter where you’ll find three mountains: Sharp Top, Flat Top and Harkening Hill. The highest elevation is Flat Top at 4,001 feet. Trails range from an easy mile-long loop around Abbott Lake to a serious outlay of energy making the one-and-one-halfmile climb to the peak of Sharp Top. For a different view, hike over to Johnson’s Farm, a rustic working farm restored to look like a circa-1930s Blue Ridge Mountain home. The farm offers daily living history programs, but only in the summer months.
Just beyond Peaks of Otter, you’ll find Peaks of Otter Winery. The winery’s innovative wines are made from a variety of foods, everything from apples to tomatoes. Be sure to sample the “Kiss the Devil” wine made out of chili peppers.
If your travels take you to Bedford County on Oct. 16, head to Apple Harvest Festival at Gross’ Orchard where you’ll find crafts and jams and jellies. You can watch apple butter being made, and try to introduce your kids to something other than peanut butter.
You may want to take a side trip at the point where the Parkway passes Roanoke
You can check out the downtown market.Its 1882 license makes it the oldest such market in continuous use in Virginia.Today the market features unique shopping opportunities that include fresh produce, art galleries, country stores, restaurants and Center in the Square with a history and science museum.Other family favorites in Roanoke are Mill Mountain Zoo and the Taubman Museum of Art.
Just south of Roanoke is the quaint community of Floyd with its one traffic light. The laid-back atmosphere coupled with the breathtaking scenery has lured many artists to the area. You’ll find some of their artwork as well as the work of local and regional craftspeople at The Bell Gallery and Garden. Arts and crafts in the historic stacked-board building include baskets, pottery, blown glass, and landscape photography.
Downtown Floyd is also home to Oddfellas Cantina – look for it near the traffic light. This kitschy country eatery specializes in “Appalachian Latino” dishes. The corner stage in the restaurant features a variety of local musicians playing everything from folk to Latin sounds. You can get an extra dose of bluegrass at the Floyd Country Store, known for its musical offerings.
While you’re in Floyd County, schedule Some time for a wine tasting at Chateau Morrisette. The beautiful winery produces 15 varieties. Don’t be surprised if the winery’s canine greeter, a black lab named ZuZu, meets you at the door. On Oct. 9, the winery holds its Chateau Morrisette Black Dog Wine and Beach Festival.
Not far away is Mabry’s Mill Restaurant and Gift Shop. The mill is a historic water-powered gristmill, sawmill and blacksmith shop. Make an early morning stop and chow down on the homemade sweet potato pancakes.The Meadows of Dan area also features country stores, antiques and an ice cream parlor.
If you and the older kids are in the mood for a very different adventure, check out Blue Ridge Tree Climbing. Tree climber Bob Wray credits his early memories of “Jack and the Beanstalk” for sparking his interest in this unique sport. “Practically everybody climbed trees when they were children,” he says.
“There’s something about it. I couldn’t resist the call to go up.” Wray will be happy to teach you how to safely climb a big tree. He offers a half-day climbing Experience to whet your interest. There’s also a three-day course for serious climbers.
As you wind your way to the southern tip of the Parkway, leave time to visit the Blue Ridge Music Center at milepost213. Part museum and part performance venue, the museum traces the history of bluegrass and old-time music. It has a collection of vintage instruments on display. You can even watch instruments being crafted by hand by luthiers.
By now, you have realized that the Blue Ridge Parkway is much more than a road. Along it, there are more species of trees than in all of Europe and a number of protected plant species. It’s a place where your children can connect with nature, and a place where you and your family can make lasting memories.