Blue Ridge beauty: Fall color sweeps gradually from mountaintops to valleys along the Appalachian crest

Fall color sweeps gradually from mountaintops to valleys along the Appalachian crest

By Ray Boren

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Oct. 26 2012 8:00 a.m. MDT

"Early in the 20th century, lumber companies built narrow gauge railroads far into the mountains," a Park Service historic sign notes. "This railroad, which was 50 miles long, carried more than 100 million board feet of logs to the mill. It was built in 1919-1920 and a section has been reconstructed here. Logging and fires destroyed most of the virgin forests of the Blue Ridge; the trees you see today are mostly second growth."

Museums, folk-art exhibits and more than a dozen visitor centers offer insights into Appalachian lifestyles and history. That history includes the pre-European settlements and agriculture of the Cherokee and other Indian tribes, as well as the earliest mountain homesteaders.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, adjacent to the park headquarters in Asheville; the nearby Folk Art Center; the Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Spruce Pine; and even The Peaks of Otter Lodge, near Roanoke, Va., are open all year. Other visitor centers and campgrounds are open only part of the year, basically from spring into late autumn, so visitors can experience the earliest blooming flowers and the latest colorful leaves.

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The Blue Ridge Parkway's "Milepost 0" is near the south entrance to Shenandoah National Park, at Waynesboro, Va. "Milepost 469" is, of course, 469 miles to the southwest, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Cherokee, N.C.

Motoring the parkway itself is free. There are campground fees, however.

Access is possible at highways and state and local roads all along the way. There are very few informational signs on the parkway itself, but services – food, gasoline, lodging – are available in many nearby communities, and there are larger cities near the route, such as Roanoke and Lynchburg, Va., and Boone and Asheville, N.C. And there are seasonal campgrounds and three lodges on the parkway (The Peaks of Otter Lodge, Rocky Knob Cabins and Pisgah Inn).

Besides being a notable motorway, the route offers access to more than a hundred trails, short to long – including the 2,000-mile-long Appalachian Trail, which intersects with the parkway at several points.

Blue Ridge Parkway, National Park Service — www.nps.gov/blriHeady goes here