With 469 miles of overlooks and trails, the Blue Ridge Parkway may have as many favorite spots as there are people who drive the road between Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smokies. Nevertheless, one soaring, serpentine span stands out – the Linn Cove Viaduct on Grandfather Mountain.
After 40 years of controversy over where the road would cross Grandfather Mountain, the high-tech bridge became the last piece of the Parkway to open, in 1987. The S-shaped bridge ( http://bit.ly/W0uK5D) contains “almost every kind of geometry used in highway construction,” according to the Parkway’s architectural history of the project. To span a boulder-strewn face that defied conventional road-building techniques, the viaduct is freestanding next to the the mountain – and sightseeing motorists go along for the ride.
That in itself makes the Grandfather Mountain part of the Parkway memorable, but the viaduct’s view of autumn is unique. The road soars across one of the biggest elevation changes of the Blue Ridge, so there’s a full month of autumn color: Foliage on the mountain’s rocky summits 2,000 feet above the road reaches peak color in early October, with alpine-like outcrops above the viaduct flaming first in late September. Then in late October, it’s the forests thousands of feet below the viaduct that draw the eye.
Get off the road for the best views. Take the Tanawha Trail from the Parkway’s Rough Ridge Parking Area (Milepost 302.8) and awesome views are less than a mile away at vista boardwalks. Grandfather Mountain State Park caps the craggy peak, and a strenuous 5-mile hike on the Daniel Boone Scout Trail is the easiest hike to Calloway Peak, Grandfather’s highest. Start at the Parkway’s Boone Fork Overlook (Milepost 299.9).
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Or let your car do the work and drive up the Grandfather Mountain attraction ( www.grandfather.com). Check out the Swinging Bridge, museum and animal habitats, but if you’re looking for adventure, hit the trail at Black Rock parking area and hike the summit loop of MacRae Peak, a path that leads up cliffs on acrophobia-inducing ladders.
The easiest way to savor Grandfather? Head around to the west side of the mountain on N.C. 105 from Linville or Boone and take the new, kid-friendly TRACK Trail nature hike on the easy, lowest part of the Profile Trail. It’s a fun, brochure-guided way to explore this mountain’s legendary biodiversity. Arrive early; parking can be tight. Randy Johnson