Jason Frye, a Wilmington-based travel writer, zeroes in on the Southeast. His third guidebook, “Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip,” was published in May (Moon/Avalon Travel, $19.99), with four more books for Moon lined up for 2016. Two will be about the Carolinas, one about Asheville and the fourth about Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Frye, 37, wasn’t the only person exploring the scenic road that stretches 469 miles, between Cherokee and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The drive is extremely popular: It attracted close to 14 million visitors in 2014.
So we asked him to name great spots along the route that motorists often overlook.
1. Little Switzerland, Milepost 331
“People know there’s the Museum of N.C. Minerals at the exit, and some know there’s actually emerald mining around there. Stop at Emerald Village, a collection of old emerald mines bunched together, that’s fun and interesting. You can actually walk back into the old mines.
“And just a few miles north at this exit is Spruce Pine, and a restaurant called Knife & Fork. Its chef, Nathan Allen, is very well known in the Asheville community as a master forager. Here, he looks around the mountains to gather what he prepares. Dining at Knife & Fork (www.knifeandforknc.com) is a really elegant, high-end experience in an unexpected location. There’s nothing else like it in the area.”
2. Linville Falls, Milepost 316.3
“People who visit here too often give up on the hike and don’t push on the half-mile to Erwin View, a peak-to-bald vista. And the plunge-basin overlooks, on the north side of the falls, give you a really good view of just how deep Linville Gorge is: It’s known as the ‘Grand Canyon of the East,’ and you get a sense of that at these overlooks.”
3. Folk Art Center, Milepost 382
“It’s near Asheville and also close to the BRP visitor center, so maybe people think, ‘Well, I’ll just push on past this.’ I’m always surprised how few people visit the Folk Art Center (www.southernhighlandguild.org). It’s an excellent stop – almost like a commercial outlet for the Penland School of Craft Schools or John P. Campbell Folk School, and is filled with Appalachian crafts and folk art pieces – brooms to river-rush baskets to carved bowls and more. It reminds me of the Arrowmont School in Gatlinburg, Tenn., which may be better known.”
4. Balsam Mountain, Milepost 458
“There’s a great off-road you can take: Balsam Mountain Road – a 14-mile back-country gravel road that goes around Balsam Mountain along the ridge lines and back down to Cherokee. You really have to commit to it because it becomes a one-way pretty quickly, and takes about an hour and a half from one end to the other. Along the drive, there are trails off the road, blackberry patches and excellent views. If you’re looking for spring wildflowers, rhododendrons in summer or one of the best fall leaf drives, try this.”
5. Sally Mae’s, Milepost 259
“It used to be called the Northwest Trading Post, and is a little deli and gallery. A little farther down the Parkway at Milepost 260.3 is a 1-mile hike that goes to a concrete overlook where there are great fall photo opportunities at Jumpinoff Rock. It’s a relatively easy hike with a slight incline on the way back. The trail takes you to a great view … and people don’t realize it’s there.”
6. The Orchard at Altapass, Milepost 328
“The orchard produces 120,000 bushels of apples, some from heirloom trees, and it has you-pick-’em in late summer and fall. But from May to about October, it also offers events and some great classes in Appalachian culture and folkways – teaching things like dancing, quilting or broom-making (www.altapassorchard.org). It’s really interesting – and at a beautiful spot.”
7. Floyd, Va., Milepost 165
“Floyd is a free-spirited little mountain town where you have this odd confluence of old Virginia farming families and an artist/hippie community that has moved in. One thing that makes Floyd special is that it’s one of the stops on the Crooked Road – Virginia’s tourism route linking old-time music and mountain heritage. In the Country Store, a general mercantile in Floyd, they clear out the aisles and roll back the shelving on Friday nights for a big dance floor and have a jamboree with regional or national bluegrass or old-time bands. You can see three generations of families out there dancing. The Friday jamboree has spilled out and become a big street party, with 70 or 80 musicians jamming in pairs, trios and quartets.”
8. Chateau Morrisette, Milepost 171.5
“Many Virginians know about this, but it remains sort of the secret. There’s a good little bistro on the winery grounds, and a live-music series (www.thedogs.com). There are several celebrations through the year that are good to see. Chateau Morrisette is one of the oldest vineyards in (Virginia).”
9. Bedford, Va., Milepost 86
“This is a great jumping-off point if you want to explore Roanoke, one of Virginia’s largest cities, or go boating at Smith Mountain Lake. You’re close enough to those spots … but far enough away to feel you’re absorbing some of Bedford’s small-town charm. The National D-Day Memorial (www.dday.org) is in Bedford; there’s also a wine trail, apple orchards and things like that.”
10. Peaks of Otter Recreation Area, Milepost 85.9
“People typically go on the BRP to do a lot of short, less-challenging hikes. The two here are different: The climb to Sharp Top is 3 miles and pretty steep; the climb to Round Top is 9 miles – not strenuous, but long. Both hikes are fantastic and have gorgeous views. I’ve done both at dawn and done Round Top at sunset. So long as you have appropriate equipment, both are doable ... and well worth it.”