Discover Western North Carolina
Exlploring activities in the Mountains
Amazing mountain views, inspiring scenery and the highest peaks in the Eastern U.S. greet visitors to Western North Carolina. The mountains offer excitement from hiking a mountain trail to rafting one of the world’s oldest rivers. Leisurely drives wind atop Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains presenting breathtaking vistas. Cultural activities abound in the towns from music, festivals, arts and crafts, to fantastic theatre performances. Western North Carolina has something for everyone!
TAKE A DRIVE
On our trip to the area we want to experience the various activities and venues of Western North Carolina. One is a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway enters the North Carolina/Virginia border at Cumberland Knob, milepost 240 traveling over 200 miles through Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains to the Smoky Mountains. Having traveled most of the Parkway in North Carolina the past couple of years, we are looking forward to visiting Craggy Gardens.
The day is relatively clear with a light haze but still a good day for touring the Parkway. We get a picnic lunch at the local Ingle’s in Black Mountain, NC. Getting on the Parkway just outside Asheville we immediately reconnect with nature as the road ascends and winds through the lush mountain foliage. Many flowers are blooming along the roadside adding to the enchantment of the drive. We stop at overlooks to gaze at the mountains and lakes below. Driving the Parkway there are lots of “look at that view” or “look over there” as we pass spectacular vistas.
Arriving at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center we are inspired by the view of the Black Mountains, the Asheville Watershed and Mt. Mitchell. The Ranger in the Visitor Center gives us a Craggy Gardens Trail map and recommends the Craggy Pinnacle Hike for its 360 degree panoramic view. The trail guide explains the Great Craggy Mountains are, “an area of exposed rock surfaces and high peaks that provide breathtaking views of distant Appalachian ridges”, which we are thrilled to experience today. Previously, we drove the Parkway finding Craggy Gardens shrouded in fog.
TAKE A HIKE
At the Craggy Dome Overlook Parking lot we first enjoy the views of the Craggy Dome before starting our hike. The Craggy Pinnacle Trail starts from the parking lot and slowly ascends initially through a unique tunnel of rhododendrons. The trail is a moderate walk with some steeper areas that get the heart pumping since we are at 5,000 feet elevation. We stop to snap photos of the flowering rhododendron, wildflowers and gnarled sweet birch trees. The trail twists through the trees to a pinnacle with a stone walled viewing area. Panoramic views surround us! Busily snapping photos in every direction we delight in this 360 degree view of the Appalachians. Fantastic! The view is awesome for miles! As we snap our photo’s another couple arrives to enjoy their picnic atop the pinnacle. On the way down we go to the Lower View point providing another view of the mountainous landscape. I take the spur trail which leads to an observation point for more spectacular views. We return to the car and drive to Craggy Gardens Picnic for our picnic lunch. The Craggy Gardens Trail descends from the Picnic area to the Visitors Center from the Picnic Area. This trail will have to await another visit.
TAKE A VISIT TO THE FOLK ART CENTER
Winding our way back toward Asheville along the Parkway, we stop at the Folk Art Center, Milepost 382. The facility is a partnership between the National Park Service, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Southern Highland Craft Gild. The Folk Art Center houses galleries, a library, Guild archives, the Allanstand Craft Shop and a bookstore. We stroll through the gift shop amazed at the wonderful handwork and crafts. Stunning items from pottery to weaving to paintings abound. A must see for anyone driving the Parkway in this area. A self tour through the galleries features artisans selected for the high quality design and craftsmanship of their work.
TAKE TO THE RIVER
The third oldest river in the world, the French Broad River winds through the mountains in western North Carolina A scenic and free flowing river, the French Broad begins west of the Eastern Continental Divide flowing in a northwesterly direction through the Appalachian Mountains and through the city of Asheville. Seeking adventure and excitement, we sign up with French Broad Rafting Expeditions for a whitewater rafting trip. Opting for the more challenging nine mile trip we anticipate the fun and exhilaration of rafting this historic river. The French Broad Rafting Outpost in Marshall, NC is the closest rafting to Asheville.
Appropriately dressed in swimsuits, tee shirts, shorts and water sandals we arrive early at the Outpost. After signing the “release”, Matt, our guide, gathers the 18 rafters telling us to pick up a life vest, a helmet and board the bus. As the bus pulls out, Matt asks for a show of hands for those that this is their first time. As several rafters raise their hand, he smiles stating, “This is the first time you’ve ridden a bus.” During the ride Matt continues with a monologue of fun comments about the sites along the way.
At the river, we are assigned in groups of six to a guide and raft. Matt is our guide and explains the various aspects of rafting strokes – forward and back, then gives safety tips of whitewater rafting. Getting to our assigned spot in the raft, we begin our expedition. The rapids today are primarily Class I, II and III. The scenery is spectacular with beautiful scenic mountains and shoreline. There is no frantic mad dash of multiple rafting companies rushing to catch the water as a dam is opened, that we experienced rafting the Ocoee and Pigeon Rivers. Today the river is gentle with the Class III rapids offering extra excitement.
Approaching the rapids, Matt shares the Class and names of the rapids, such as Turtle Rock, Big Pillow and Steel Rods, while explaining the best way to enter the rapid. Stopping at Jump-Off Rock, everyone climbs the rock to experience a great jump into the river from about 10 feet above the water. What a rush as I leap out and splash into the river. Heading to the next rapid one raft gets stuck. Eventually, the raft must unload several rafters to lighten the weight. As each rafter drops in the water and slides through the rapid we retrieve them.The raft finally gets unstuck and picks up the rafters. Lunch Time! Going ashore, our lunch stop is a large pavilion with several picnic tables. Our guides take on cooking duties preparing a lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers with chips, and excellent home made cookies. Good to sit at a table for lunch! Back on the river everyone decides to whitewater swim a Class I rapid. Feet forward, legs together and toes up, we slide through the rapid. FUN! A few more rapids and we arrive at the landing to reload for the bus ride back to the Outpost. Thanks for a great morning of rafting!
TAKE IN A PLAY
After active days of hiking, rafting, and site seeing, it is time to take in some culture. The Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (SART) is located in the Owen’s Theatre on the beautiful campus of Mars Hill College in Mars Hill, NC. Celebrating 35 years in 2009 SART is a professional theatre providing old favorites, new works and recognizes the heritage of the Southern Appalachians. The historic Owen Theatre is an intimate setting with several rows of seats in a semi-circular around the stage. The classic play, “The Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller is a tragedy about Willie Loman’s, a salesman, downfall as he is no longer able to earn a living. Michael Goodwin (member of Actors Equity Association), portrays Willie Loman. He is fantastic! The casting and staging of this play is excellent. We are extremely impressed with the professionalism. During intermission we enjoy the ice cream custard with donations going to SART. Following the play, we stroll the campus of Mars Hill College with its rolling terrain and excellent mountains views.
Flat Rock Playhouse is in the tiny town of Flat Rocky, NC. Prior to the play, we enjoy an elegant dinner at Season’s Restaurant at the Highland Lake Inn. The meal is delicious with great presentation. Just down the road and around the corner is The Flat Rock Playhouse, the State Theatre of North Carolina. Pulling off the road into the Playhouse, we are directed to park literally on top of a huge flat rock. Walking around the Playhouse grounds, we are impressed with the rustic, attractive grounds and buildings. An ante-bellum style home (Lowndes Home) sits on the property with several people enjoying the cool evening and rockers on the veranda. The Playhouse is a rustic wooden building with other buildings around it. One building offers refreshments of various items including sodas, water, beer and wine. As the bell rings we enter the playhouse and find our seats. A warm inviting theater with comfy seats, we settle in to enjoy “The Perfect Wedding” by Robin Hawdon. The playbill explains a “farce requires blending three essential ingredients: high energy, precise timing and a commitment to make silly situations seem very real” and “to fill the theatre with laughter”. From the moment the play starts there is constant laughter. Fantastic! Fun, silly, and inane the play is terrific, showing the crazy comical situation of what happened and with whom after the bachelor party. The cast was excellent!
TAKE TIME TO PLAN YOUR MOUNTAIN VISIT
Western North Carolina has much to offer visitors. This is our third summer visiting the area and each time we find new activities to enjoy in “God’s Country”. Driving the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway with its awesome views and spectacular scenery should be planned as a full day event. Allow time for several stops to enjoy the views and take short hikes/walks along the Parkway. Other hikes we highly recommend are Waterrock Knob Trail and Visitor Center, mile post 451, a little more strenuous hike with panoramic views, and Linville Falls Trail, milepost 316.4 offers a three different hikes all round trip less than 1.5 miles with fantastic views of the Linville Falls. Mt. Mitchell State Park is also an excellent area to visit, a few miles north off the Parkway from Craggy Gardens. Be sure to take a picnic lunch as there are many picnic areas along the Parkway.
Check into other activities you wish to do while in the area whether it is rafting, tubing, shopping the numerous arts and crafts areas, enjoying a play or visiting the small quaint and charming towns. Do research, decide your desired activities, plan your events, and schedule your activities, where necessary. Now enjoy the amazing mountains!
Blue Ridge Parkway, National Park Service
Blue Ridge Parkway Association
French Broad Rafting Expeditions
Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre
44 College Street
Mars Hill, NC 28754
Flat Rock Playhouse
2661 Greenville Highway
Flat Rock, NC 28731
Toll Free: 866-732-8008
Craggy Pinnacle - Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
Catawba Rhododendrum at Craggy Pinnacle
View from Craggy Pinnacle
on 21 July 2009.
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