The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the country's most famous scenic drives... but even famous cruises have their backroads, too. If you venture off the route, you'll find the Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive, a stunning road that takes you deep into the Pisgah National Forest and down through the Toe River Valley. Small, artsy communities and babbling waterfalls are tucked away just off the parkway, and you'll get to experience the true beauty and charm of the North Carolina Mountains as you explore.
Whether hiking the trails or sitting at the park restaurant enjoying the incredible views North Carolina has to offer, Mount Mitchell will not disappoint. At 6,684 feet, the Mount Mitchell summit is the highest point east of the Mississippi, and you can drive straight to the top, park, and walk right up a ramp to the viewpoint. A variety of trails offer different experiences, with miles and miles of mountains in view from any hike you choose. Free of charge, the park is a perfect day activity for people of all ages and fun for the whole family! The park rangers hold regular programs throughout the year, so be sure to check out what's going on at the time of your visit. And while you're exploring what's on at the park, make sure you look into the weather for the day, as conditions at the summit may be different than wherever you may be driving from!
Highway 128, Burnsville, NC, US
This 52-mile drive begins at the top of the 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell summit on N.C. 128 in Yancey County. The drive follows the Blue Ridge Parkway, dips into the South Toe River Valley, and ends at the intersection of U.S. 19/23 and Interstate 26. The Toe River Valley is an artist's dream, as the area is full of art studios and galleries, adding cultural value to the historic and scenic qualities this byway already has. The Celo community is famous for its well-known glassblowers, so be sure to check them out! During summertime, the green hills on the drive are full of pink and magenta rhododendrons, making that the best time of year for a drive.
Note that it's been advised to give yourself plenty of time to get to the summit, and to expect some traffic on weekends!
White Oak Creek Rd, Burnsville, NC, US
Just a few miles from the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and NC Hwy. 80, Roaring Fork is located in the fantastic Pisgah National Forest. From the parking lot, the falls are only about a half a mile hike, but trails extend past this beautiful water feature for your extended pleasure! The falls, set against moss-covered stone and dropping in slow tiers, make for a picture-perfect image any waterfall enthusiast will love. It's an easy side trip for families and adventurers alike!
Blue Ridge Pkwy, Burnsville, NC, US
Another must-see North Carolina waterfall, Crabtree Falls is located outside of Crabtree Falls Campground at mile marker 339.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This one's a little more time-consuming to reach, requiring about a two-and-a-half-mile hike from your car with some steep hills, so prepare yourself with sturdy shoes. Once you reach the falls, benches are scattered about for viewing and relaxing! If weather permits, you can even wade in the pool at the base. The Crabtree Falls Campground itself is a great little site to set up for the night.
9440 State Highway 226A, Marion, NC, US
Switzerland Cafe & General Store is over three decades old, and it's a favorite stop conveniently located at Milepost 334 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The lunch stop has been called THE best restaurant on the parkway, known for pulled pork, smoked trout and delicious combinations such as "adult grilled cheese" and homemade tomato soup. This place has a little something for everyone. If you're not stopping to eat at this point in your travels, the general store is stocked with picnic supplies, coffee for the in-and-out traveler, souvenirs, and t-shirts! This crowd favorite is located right in the heart of Little Switzerland, an unincorporated community known for gem mining, mountain views, and a small-town atmosphere.
331 McKinney Mine Rd, Spruce Pine, NC, US
Emerald Village is home to 12 real, historical mines, and features attractions including a mining museum, a gemstone mine, gold panning, and mineral collecting activities. A ticket costs $6-8, and you can walk around the mines at your leisure to learn about the history of the spot. Emerald Village even offers cool blacklight tours during "special Saturdays,” which is something you won't find anywhere else. Kids will love sifting through gems and exploring the grounds, so this is the perfect activity in Little Switzerland for some family fun!
Get ready to leap back in time, because the Yancey History Association's Rush Wray Museum is one for the books. It's in a home that was built in the 1840s, and the entire first floor features Native American artifacts from the Paleo, Archaic, and Woodland periods. The grounds also contain an old smokehouse, a 1920s cabin, a blacksmith shop, and the Proffitt-Cousins cabin that is full of rich history. The Yancey History Association truly cares about preserving this history, and it shows through unique displays and a genealogy library for anyone researching their family's past! The museum is open from 10AM-4PM Wednesday through Saturday, and costs just $3.
Where else can you discover lush waterfalls, unique art communities, and rich history all in one drive? Taking the time to experience these beautiful North Carolina landmarks will provide for a one-of-a-kind trip that everyone will enjoy.