Parkway Pleasantries

The 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway is the first road in the world designed for leisure travel, and the ribbon of pavement that cozies up to Jackson County’s northwest border is a great example. These miles are the highest elevations of the Parkway, culminating in the 6,053-foot-tall Richland Balsam Overlook. It’s all national land up here, meaning a day trip is in order – you can drive awhile, stop at overlooks for picnics and inspiration, and hike at the numerous trails that sprout off the road, each with its own personality, challenge level, and highlights.

Devil’s Courthouse, Mile 422

The trail to the courthouse is paved but steep, traveling a half-mile through an interesting virgin forest. The view at the top is certainly rewarding, with a couple stepped stone overlooks, a perfect, albeit windy place for a picnic. The bare rock of the outcrop is steeped in folklore, the devilish profile said to contain a cave where the devil holds court. We think this high altitude hike is closer to angels though, with its rare plant species and heavenly views.

Richland Balsam Overlook, Mile 431

Stop at the parking lot and soak it in, or hike the nearby Richland Balsam mountain, which rises to 6,410 feet and offers a cool respite on hot summer days. The 1.5 mile forest hike is short on views, but passes through a spruce-fir stand, the high elevation climate making it feel more like Canada than North Carolina. It’s breathtakingly green, the surrounding moss and pine soaking up moisture from the mountain fog and frequent rain showers. You might even spot a salamander or two.

Richland Balsam Blue Ridge Parkway (1)

Waterrock Knob, Mile 451

Waterrock Knob has quite the sight to behold for those in need: a visitor center with bathrooms. Once business is taken care of, this stop has the last hiking trail along the Parkway before it ends, stunning east to west views, picnic areas, and 50 mile views. The 1.2 mile round trip summit hike is steep, gaining about 400 feet of elevation and ending with multiple vantage points.

Graveyard Fields, Mile 418

This unique area was given its name after a windstorm toppled trees, making them look like gravestones. It might be the most popular hiking spot around, so be mindful of full parking lots during busy times. As you pull in and survey the map, you’ll see why it’s so popular: the mile-long valley plays host to several waterfalls, semi-flat trails that open to blueberry meadows, and dazzling fall leaf colors. Hike one third of a mile down to Lower Falls for a great summer swimming hole.

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About the Author

About the Author: Pat Barcas serves as Creative Resources Manager for RTX, based in Asheville, NC. You can find him hiking the mountains of Asheville, gardening, traveling, and hanging with his growing family. His favorite RTX exchange destinations are Rangeley, Maine, Lake Tahoe, Banff, Canada, New Smyrna Beach, Florida, Cape Cod, and Orange Beach, Alabama. .


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