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Peak experiences await along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We’re all about taking the scenic route. Picture this: A gorgeous fall day, windows down, sunroof open, fall foliage galore… as you wind along the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia for 469 miles of “America’s Favorite Drive” (aka the Blue Ridge Parkway).
The pleasantly picturesque route presents unparalleled glimpses of regional flora, wildlife and natural wonders—and hands-down the best views of those colorful leaves (pro tip: peak color along large swaths of the Parkway is projected for the third week of October this year—with late September to early November considered ideal leaf-peeper season).
That poetry in motion (aka your Parkway joyride) stretches along 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties, ideal for both the avid adventurer and the laid-back vacationer—serving up a plethora of outdoor ops, breathtaking hikes, eclectic (and delish) downhome eateries and charming overnight accommodations.
To help you hit the road for the highlands, we did the hard work for you. Here, we hone in on three Parkway paradises and our top picks for each. Make sure to pack your hiking boots and your fave flannel fit. Coming right up: adventure, served on the rocks.
Blue Ridge Hiking Company
There’s no better way to peep peak color this fall than with a hike through the Great Smoky Mountains—and Blue Ridge Hiking Company has you covered. Choose from day hikes or overnight backpacking trips, all of which are led by an educated guide, so getting lost isn’t an issue. Asheville, blueridgehikingco.com
Oconaluftee Indian Village
Travel back in time to the 1760s with a visit to the grounds of the Oconaluftee Indian Village. A Cherokee cultural expert will guide you on an interactive journey through Cherokee lifestyle and history, winding through paths featuring traditional Cherokee dwellings, work areas, sacred ritual sites and more. Cherokee, visitcherokeenc.com
Rainbow Falls at Gorges State Park
Despite TLC’s advice to not go chasing waterfalls, we urge you to lace up your hiking boots for a 4-mile hike through a lush forest and wildflower meadow to marvel at this majestic 150-foot waterfall. Rainbow Falls spills into a pool scattered with boulders, creating clouds of mist that, when the sun hits it just right, cast colorful rainbows—a magical sight to see. Lake Toxaway, ashevilletrails.com
You won’t be able to get enough of five-time James Beard-nominated chef Meherwan Irani’s innovative Indian street fare (from chaat and pakoras to uttapam and thalis) at Chai Pani, which translates to “tea and water,” slang in India for going out for a cup of tea, a snack or “a little something” (though you’re going to want to get a little bit of everything—trust us). Asheville, chaipaniasheville.com
The Falls Cafe & Grille
Dine out at The Falls Cafe & Grille for a casual dining experience with not-so-casual views. Whether you’re shoveling down some classic American grub (think burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads) or gaping at the beautiful Toxaway Falls, this fam-style eatery promises a top-notch experience. Lake Toxaway,
Founded by fudge enthusiast Larry Denman (aka “Mr. Fudge”) in 1976, Heavenly Fudge features recipes that have been carefully tested, tasted and perfected over the years. Today, a variety of fudge flavors are offered, from bourbon pecan to peanut butter to chocolate salted caramel, as are hand-dipped chocolates and candy bars. Cherokee, fudgedepot.com
Trade and Lore
This artisanal coffee shop has a whole latte love for fellow local businesses, including Cooperative Coffee Roasters (the cafe’s primary roaster), Bee Charmer (for local honey), Eat More Bakery (purveyor of vegan and gluten-free baked goods) and more. By night, post up at Trade and Lore for a local brew, glass of wine or canned cocktail on the patio. Asheville, tradeandlore.com
Sapphire Mountain Brewing Company
Home of the self-proclaimed “finest foam heads and flat breads” in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this inviting restaurant and brewery dishes signature handcrafted wood-fired pizzas, bar-friendly apps and other pub grub, alongside cocktails, wine and a plethora of local craft brews (think 10 rotating draft options from area breweries)—with majestic mountain views to really seal the deal. Cheers! Lake Toxaway, sapphiremountainbrewingcompany.com
Qualla Java Cafe
Owned by three enrolled members of federally recognized Indigenous nations and a Colombian national, Qualla Java Cafe offers high-quality small-batch Colombian coffee, as well as tea, smoothies and other noncoffee drinks—best enjoyed on the riverfront directly behind the shop. Top of the mornin’ to ya, indeed. Cherokee, quallajava.com
Haywood Park Hotel
After hitting the trails, kick up your feet at this historic boutique hotel located in the heart of Downtown Asheville, complete with top-tier service and lavish amenities to boot—think on-site dining at Isa’s Bistro, in-room Jacuzzi tubs and complimentary valet parking. Plus, some of the city’s finest food, art, theater, breweries and live music, all within walking distance. Asheville, haywoodpark.com
The Greystone Inn
Do it all or do nothing at all at The Greystone Inn, a private resort located right on the shores of Lake Toxaway. Treat yourself to some R&R with customized massages, body exfoliation therapy and a facial, or get your feet wet through stand-up paddleboarding, tubing, kayaking, swimming and other outdoor activities. Lake Toxaway, greystoneinn.com
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort
Want to play your cards right? Test your luck (and rest your head) at North Carolina’s first major casino, also home to a 21-story luxury hotel located among the beautiful mountain setting of Western North Carolina (with superb amenities like a 24/7 fitness room, indoor pool, and outdoor pool boasting cabanas and a bar area). We’re willing to wager that you’ll find Harrah’s to be an outstanding place to stay. Cherokee, caesars.com
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