This week, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little ride…(I hope my fellow Forrest Gump enthusiasts picked up on that reference). Ok, so I really did have a reason – peak fall color. For this very reason, I chose to take “America’s Favorite Drive” on a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway and boy am I glad I did.
Of the 469 miles of parkway winding through North Carolina and Virginia, 46 of those miles carve their way through Haywood County. There are several routes you can take but I chose to hop on the BRP just outside of Maggie Valley via US-19 and headed north towards Asheville. This route takes the longest but is worth every twist and turn. There are a total of four parkway access points in Haywood County – US-19 in Maggie Valley, US 23-74 just outside of Waynesville, and Hwy 215 and Hwy 276 in Canton.
I rode pretty much the entire 46 miles by taking US-19 all the way to Hwy 276. Depending on how many stops you make, it could take you anywhere from a couple hours to an entire day just to cover the Haywood County section. And here is an important tip – fill up your vehicle before you go because the closest gas station on the parkway is over 50 miles away from the US-19 entrance at the Pisgah Inn. However, there does happen to be restroom facilities and a visitor center at Waterrock Knob (but no fuel). I highly recommend taking a break there to take in the views, grab some information or a snack, and maybe even take a quick hike to the top of the knob.
The parkway can be pretty crowded this time of year, especially the most popular overlooks and hiking trails, so today I thought I’d highlight a few of the overlooks that aren’t as widely publicized (and a few that are). With that said, there are a total of 74 total vistas and overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County, so needless to say you have plenty to choose from. It’s really fun to see how some of the views can be so different between one overlook to the next because of the drastic changes in elevation that occur. This is also one of the many reasons millions of people choose to cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway every year. There are tons of overlooks and vistas that provide amazing scenery and added adventures that you can enjoy by just putting your car in park and stepping outside.
Below are few of the overlooks I stopped to take in the sights from. Some you may have never heard of and some you may have, but I hope these handful of vistas will inspire your next trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Milepost 454.1 – Thunder Struck Ridge
One of the first overlooks you’ll come across once you hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway on US 19 in Maggie Valley and head North.
Milepost 445.2 – Mt. Lyn Lowry Overlook
You can barely see the 60-foot tall white cross at the peak of the mountain, but make this stop after night falls and you’ll see the light of the cross beaming in memory of a young lady named Lyn Lowry. General Sumter Lowry and his wife Ivilyn erected the cross in memory of their 15-year old daughter Lyn who passed away from a battle with leukemia in the 1960s. Since 1964 the cross has shined brightly over the Balsams and continues today.
Milepost 431.4 – Richland Balsam Overlook
No trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County is complete without a stop at the highest elevation point on the entire 469 mile scenic byway. The large parking lot offers sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and plenty of photo opportunities, including with the sign shown above.
Milepost 431 – Haywood-Jackson Overlook
Don’t overlook this overlook! Signifying the mountains shared by Haywood County and Jackson County, this pull off offers some pretty incredible, sweeping views. There is also a nice picnic area so you can dine al fresco among the gorgeous scenery.
430.7 – Cowee Mountain Overlook
One of the most dramatic overlooks on the parkway, the Cowee Mountain Overlook boasts waves upon waves of rolling mountains. Don’t miss this one as this photo doesn’t begin to do it the same justice as experiencing it in person.
Milepost 423.5 – Courthouse Valley Overlook
Sometimes overlooked by the popular Devil’s Courthouse Overlook, the Courthouse Valley overlook is a quieter pull off with some of the same amazing views.
Milepost 417 – Looking Glass Rock
This overlook is not lacking in popularity by any means, but this is such a unique view of Looking Glass Rock that it is worth waiting for a parking spot.
Milepost 411.9 – Cold Mountain Overlook
If the name Cold Mountain sounds familiar, then you’ve surely either seen the movie or read the civil war era novel by Charles Frazier named after the mountain itself. Many people don’t realize it is a real mountain, but the peak of Cold Mountain to the right of the sign is very real. Many of the characters in the story were real to, including Inman. He is even buried right here in Haywood County and you can learn a little more about that in another blog highlighting a few of our historic cemeteries.
If you like this story, also check out the Blue Ridge Parkway page where you can download the Blue Ridge Parkway map and plan your ride on “America’s Favorite Drive”!