Columbia State Historical Park (Columbia, Ca)

Columbia Historical State ParkFor part two of our northern California park visits we visited the Columbia State Historical Park. Columbia is a real working town that was restored to its 1850s gold-rush business district. Visitors travel back in time to the gold-rushing days where business staff dress in period clothing so visitors can experience stage coach rides, mine for gold, and much more!

Columbia State Historical Park is located at 11255 Jackson St, off highway 49 in Tuolumne County, Ca. Columbia has seen its ups and downs since its cry of “Gold” in 1850 – it survived multiple fires, water supply troubles, and population decline. In 1853 Columbia was one of the largest cities in California with a population of nearly 30,000. When the town became a state park in 1949, restoration efforts preserved the buildings and history.

IMG_6899Strolling down Main Street, we first stopped at Parrott’s Blacksmith Shop to watch the workers forge iron into handmade goods. They make interesting outdoor art, decorative indoor items, horseshoes, unique furniture and more! Then we visited the museums, including the interactive old-fashioned bowling alley. The dentist office exhibit gave us lots of “eeks” as we glimpsed into some of the old fashioned tools and supplies used to clean and pull teeth.

Then we visited Nelson’s Candy Kitchen, a fifth-generation owned and operated candy store. My aunt and uncle are personal friends with the current owner, Janice Nelson, who was extremely kind and patient to give us a personal tour of the candy making.  Needless to say, the girls’ bright eyes didn’t miss a moment of this tour! The shop uses a lot of the same recipes and equipment from when Janice’s family opened the store in the late 1800s. During the tour we talked to some of the candy makers who prepped milk chocolate chocolate turkeys for the busy Thanksgiving season. They dressed in period clothing and hand mixed all of the milk chocolate. The smells were priceless!

IMG_6908Janice showed us how they mixed and rolled the jelly candies, candy canes, and ribbon candies.  The process is very exact and relies on the mechanical workings of old machines, molds, and ovens. We were so grateful for Janice’s personal tour of her beloved candy shop – it was so neat to learn about candy making and hear her personal stories about the shop. No candy store visit would be complete without buying some nibbles. The girls loved gawking at all the sparkly candies and squealed in delight while tasting the different jelly candy and chocolates. My personal favorite was the salted chocolate almonds while the girls loved the flavored jelly candies.

To come down off our sugar high we continued walking down Main Street towards the old Wells Fargo building. Sadly we didn’t have time to pan for gold or ride the old-fashioned stage coach, but we did quickly walk through the old Wells Fargo office that features original scales, maps of stage coach routes, and other banking exhibits. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon or a few overnights exploring the gold-rush days, be sure to visit the small town activities and special events of Columbia. I only wish we had more time to explore the local businesses, especially the saloon!

Thumbs up: uniquely restored businesses, museum exhibits, kid-friendly activities/exhibits, town’s friendliness

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Historic Murphys Park (Murphys, Ca)

IMG_6879And so begins my multi-part series on public parks we explored in Northern Ca.  At the end of the summer we took the girls on a huge adventure to visit my aunt and uncle in Northern California.  It’s unfortunate we waited so many years before visiting them – we made amazing memories this trip and I’m so glad we shared it with our kids.

My aunt and uncle live in the small town of Sonora, Ca., and one morning they drove us over the dramatically high New Melones Reservoir bridge into Calaveras County and the small town of Murphys, Ca. to explore the small city park and have lunch downtown.  Historic Murphys Park is located at 505 Algiers Street in Downtown Murphys, a mid-1800s gold mining town turned charming Main Street with upscale retail shops, an inn, yummy restaurants and bars, and 20+ local winery tasting rooms.  Here’s a side note about Murphys: the town narrowly escaped the too-close-to-home Butte Fire, a fast moving wildfire that spread during the 2015 California wildfire season.

img_1773Murphys Park is a true community park – built by the people, for the people.  The all-volunteer, non-profit Murphys Community Club opened the park in 1948 and maintains the park for the public through membership dues, donations, and use fees for special events.  Upon entering the park your eyes are immediately drawn to the white wooden gazebo – perfect for photo ops, picnics, and outdoor music.  I was shocked to see rotisserie spits, presumably for hosting the exciting summer concerts that were advertised on big banners throughout the park. The shallow Murphys Creek runs through the park creating a relaxing and water recreational aspect. We splashed in the creek to cool off and enjoyed watching other park-goers gently tube the creek. Picnic tables and benches also align both banks of the creek.

After splashing in the creek the girls played in the playground area. The smaller-age playground contains a slide, interactive spin toys, and climbing stairs.  The playground for older children features several tall slides, monkey bars, climbing ladders and walls, tunnels and shade sails. Two tot swings, two traditional swings and picnic tables are adjacent to the playgrounds.  Family names are carved into the nearby fence pickets, probably signifying park donors.

IMG_6924After exploring the park we visited retails shops in downtown Murphys and ate a yummy lunch at Firewoods. Before leaving Murphys, we visited the tasting room of Villa Vallecito Vineyards, which is owned by dear friends of my aunt and uncle.  The vineyard is a 20 minute drive from Murphys and features amazing views of the rolling hills and overlooks the New Melones Reservoir.  The owners treated us to the most delicious wines and snacks and gave the girls the most sincere hospitality. You can even rent the casita at the top of their property. If you’re heading to the Northern California area, include Murphys on your stop for wine, food, and community feeling – I can’t wait to come back with my wine glass in hand!

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Thumbs up: small-town feel, seating options, splashing in the creek, Villa Vallecito Vineyards wines and property views,

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Marla Dorrel Park (Cary, NC)

IMG_6770Over the past few years I’ve continually heard about the amazing “dragon” park in Cary with great play areas for all kids.  Well, we finally ventured to the super popular Marla Dorrel Park, which features the Kids Together Playground at the end of summer with friends.  With its unique play areas for graduated levels of difficulty, variety of wheelchair-accessible play equipment, nicely landscaped areas, and abundance of seating it makes a great park for everyone!

Marla Dorrel Park is located near Tryon Rd/Cary Pkwy at 111 Thurston Dr in Cary.  It features a basketball court, access to MacDonald Woods Park via Henshaw Greenway, covered pavilion, and the Kids Together Playground, a playground inspired by two girls whose sisters have special needs where kids of all levels of physical and mental ability can enjoy fully-integrated play. There’s a longer walk to the playground from the parking lot than most parks so make sure you have everything you need when get out of the car.  As you walk towards the park your eyes are immediately drawn to the beautiful crape myrtles and flowering plants near the pavilion. The large pavilion provides a great meeting spot for birthday parties and picnics and an easy place to spot the restrooms, which even has shorter toddler-level sinks.  Just past the pavilion is the infamous climbing dragon sculpture, Katal, resting in full sun while the kids run up, down and all over it.  Heading in the other direction, follow the widely paved sidewalks where you’ll pass interactive purple whisper benches on the way to one playground area full of tunnels, arched ladders, fire poles, shade sails, and more.

IMG_6761Beyond this playground is another play structure with graduated levels of difficulty that feature wheelchair ramp access, twisty slides, arched ladders, a fun rolling slide, interactive play items and so much more.  Tot swings, traditional swings and chair swings are also located nearby including a swinging platform with wheelchair accessible ramps.  The playground surface is mostly sand so bring your sand toys or enjoy the diggers; but wide paved sidewalks wind throughout making it easy to access all areas.  They even have wheelchair-accessible sand tables along the pathways!

After exhausting a lot of time on the bigger playgrounds, we visited the partially fenced-in toddler area, which features a playhouse, river of sand, water sources, sand table, and small climbing structures.  While our girls felt they have mostly outgrown this area, the shaded benches made for a nice place to stop for a snack.  And everyone enjoyed walking through the misting fountains.

This park is loaded with a variety of play structures and picnic spots – we played and snacked for over 2 hours.  And, while it may be a super popular park (parking lot was almost full on our way out) it is so big and has so many play areas it doesn’t feel overflowing with people.

Thumbs up: variety of play equipment for all ages/abilities, lots of shade, abundance of swings, well-maintained landscaping, great picnic areas

Thumbs down: lush landscaping can be hard to see over when trying to keep watch on more than one child!

Biking To & Around North Wake Landfill District Park

IMG_6714If you can’t tell by the themes of some of my latest blog posts, biking has been our family’s new passion.  Having a bike hitch, bike trailer and at least one child biking on her own really opens up the family bike outings to beyond the driveway or cul-de-sac.  Even though Bill is usually the one to strap the bikes onto the hitch and gather all the gear, I’ve made it a point to learn how to do it on my own in hopes that I could take the girls out by myself.  Feeling rather confident about strapping all the bikes onto the hitch, remembering all the gear and snacks, I took the girls for a bike ride on Abbotts Creek Trail one summer morning in August.

For this trip, we parked at our tried and true parking lot at 10888 Bedfordtown Dr in the Bedford neighborhood.  After biking down the access path we turned right on the Neuse River Trail.  We then turned right onto the beginning of Abbotts Creek Trail.  We biked past the blue heron habitat and over a large wooden walkway before coming to Falls River Ave.  There wasn’t any obvious directional signs for how to stay on the greenway, but remember my past time on this trail, we turned left on the sidewalk of Falls River Ave.  After mostly walking our bikes up the hill, we then made another left to stay on Abbotts Creek Trail, which continues to be more hilly than the first portion of the trail.  Ashley walked her bike up several of the hills, but made up for it on the downhill portions of the trail. After about 1/2 mile of riding we turned left into the entrance of the North Wake Landfill District Park and biked/walked up the steep trails to the playground area where the girls ran around and climbed like monkeys for over an hour.

IMG_6703The bike ride back to the car was successful and even a bit adorable as my stop-and-smell-the-flowers daughter took advantage of light greenway traffic with her simultaneous bike ride swaying and singing.  Despite the hot weather, the girls made the trip so much fun and were so patient with me as I carefully installed the bike equipment back onto the car.


Fast forward to a few weeks ago when we headed back to the landfill park (9300 Deponie Dr, just off Durant Rd) with our bikes, but this time we drove in and parked at the playground and rode our bikes around the road surrounding the big hill.  The road around the hill has been updated from a two-lane car road to a two-lane road with one dedicated bike/pedestrian lane and a one-way car lane.  The road is about 1 1/2 miles long and a short median separates the bike/pedestrian lane from the car lane and has several pedestrian crossing areas.

DSC_0220We biked to the bottom of the trail that leads to the top of the landfill, parked our bikes and walked to the top.  I’m the only one in our family who has ever been to the top of the landfill, so I was excited to share the views with everyone.  The little ones took turns exclaiming their discomfort for walking up the hill, but it’s such a short walk (less than 1/4 mile) that they pushed through it.

Even though it was a cloudy morning, we could still see some downtown Raleigh buildings.  The beautiful blue sky poked through, which gave great contrast to the super lush grass on top of the mountain.  The girls loved being up so high and enjoyed playing photographer with my new big camera. We had the top of the hill to ourselves that morning, making it a really fun family outing!

With the girls being a bit older now, we really were able to utilize this park for all its assets – greenway access, advanced climbing features on playground, and large open spaces.  I look forward to bringing them back when they’re much older to explore the mountain bike skills course. It’s hard to imagine this place was once a fully functioning landfill.

Thumbs up: park located along the greenway, great playground areas with variety of features, separated two-lane road around landfill hill, clean and fully functioning restrooms

Thumbs down: poor signage along Abbotts Creek Trail at Falls River Ave

Neuse River Trail Beach – MP 4.5

IMG_6510Last summer Bill and I biked by this “beachy” section of the Neuse River Trail and vowed we’d make it back with the kids on a bike ride someday.  That someday was this summer, with Ashley leading the pack on her big girl bike and Claire chomping on snacks in the bike trailer.    The Neuse River Trail is our favorite spot for family bike rides with young kids because the trail is relatively flat and wide with several parking spots along the way making it easy to break your ride into small chunks.

For this bike ride we parked at the trail parking lot in the Bedford neighborhood at 10888 Bedfordtown Dr, biked down the access path and turned right onto the Neuse River Trail heading south.  We followed the greenway for about 2 miles before coming to milepost 4.5 where there’s an oxbow in the river that has created a wider sandy spot along the river bank.  Note: if you don’t want to bike/run the 2 miles, you can park closer to the oxbow at 6100 Thornton Rd and bike/run 1/2 mile. We parked and locked our bikes in a grassy spot off the greenway and walked down to the beachy area with our picnic supplies and towels (everyone already had
bathing suits on).
splashing in the neuse river beachIt hadn’t rained recently so the beachy area was actually wider and longer than I’ve seen it at other times and the river flowed slowly.  The water was pretty warm except in the middle of the river, which was over our heads in several spots.  We didn’t bring life jackets with us and the water wasn’t very clear so the girls mostly played near the shore line looking for tadpoles, playing in the sand/mud, or splashing in the water with the other young family that was there.  While we were there a few paddle boarders passed by including a father and young daughter out for a ride (next summer’s bucket list goal).

After playing in the water for awhile we enjoyed our picnic lunch on the beach before heading back to the car.  The bike ride north was a bit more uphill than the ride out, but the girls kept their cool and did great.  I look forward to returning to this secret spot again next summer!

Helpful Hints:

  • Wear shoes good for getting wet in the river
  • Bring life jackets for little ones
  • Be conscious of recent rains before coming out; river levels may be too high to safely play
  • Bring towels and small sand buckets
  • Parking options: 10888 Bedfordtown Dr (2 miles away) or 6100 Thornton Rd (1/2 mile away)

Thumbs up: fun bike ride/swimming activity, exploring the shore line for tadpoles and fish, lots of shady spots, very private area where you can’t see the beach from the greenway

Thumbs down: water was murky so be careful when swimming

Durham Central Park

IMG_6488Part of my summer bucket list for the past few years included a trip to the Durham Farmers’ Market.  Unfortunately, we never made time to visit Durham during the summer (unless it was for a Bulls game) until this summer.  A few weeks ago we had an atypically quiet weekend at home so we decided to head out to the Durham Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning.  Little did we know the farmers’ market is just one piece of a very fun and popular urban park, Durham Central Park.

Durham Farmers’ Market is located at the pavilion in Durham Central Park at 501 Foster St in downtown Durham.  After hunting around for a parking spot (there’s a lot of nearby construction), we parked in what seemed like a valid spot at a local business that is closed on Saturdays.  We then walked the few blocks to the farmers’ market to find a mecca of food, art, and fun!  The main farmers’ market area is located under the covered pavilion, but there are also dozens of pop-up tents and food trucks nearby.  We strolled by all the pop-up tents in the lawn area, which featured mostly artists selling handmade jewelry, doggie products, art, iron-made products and much more.  Then we walked through the main area, sampling fresh fruits, cheeses, and veggies and looking at the local art.  We bought some amazing corn, tomatoes, edamame, and fresh blackberries.

IMG_6484After exploring the main area, we walked across the street to the mini food truck rodeo area, where we bought some fresh tea and loco-pop popsicles.  There were tons of vendors at the market selling clothing, unique handmade items, cold drinks, household items and more.  After window shopping we walked across the bridge at the intersection of Foster and Hunt St where it dumped us out into the large lawn area, also part of Durham Central Park.  We walked up the hill to scope out the skateboard park, which is also located across from a police station.  After watching the skaters for awhile we headed back down the hill past the Leaf open-air performance area to the fabulous playground area, Mt. Merrill.

IMG_6504The playground features amphitheater-style rock climbing, two slides, climbing net, and some shade sails.  I especially loved the cute bird cut-outs perched on top of the poles.  There are also some benches sprinkled along the nearby sidewalk and some shady spots in front of the playground by the wooded area.  We grabbed a few of those shady spots and had a quick picnic with our edamame and blackberries. The girls loved jumping back and forth between having a snack and playing on the playground.  It was neat and unusual to see large boulders used as a climbing element in a playground.

Not wanting our fun morning in Durham to end, we headed back to our car and drove the short distance to Fullsteam Brewery for some yummy summer beers and lunch from the rotating food truck.  A heavy rainstorm popped up while we were there so we enjoyed our lunch to the tune of loud rain pinging off the metal warehouse roof.  In reading up about Durham Central Park since visiting, it seems like there’s some momentum for making improvements and continual development.  I look forward to visiting again in the future and seeing how the park shapes up over the years!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: playground’s close proximity to fun and food, climbing boulders on playground, diverse mix of artisans and farmers at market,

Thumbs down: I don’t recall seeing informational plaques about Durham Central Park while there, needs more picnic tables/benches

Fuquay-Varina Splash Park

Fuquay-Varina Splash ParkWhen we didn’t travel this summer, we explored lots of different places in Raleigh – the library, nature parks, the pool, and trampoline parks.  After feeling like we exhausted places in Raleigh, we mixed things up and visited different places outside Raleigh.  First on our stop was the Fuquay-Varina Splash Park with dear friends who have girls the same ages as ours.  The splash park is located inside South Park, about 40 minutes south of Raleigh at 900 S Main St.

Splash pads (separate from a pool) are few and far between in Raleigh and can offer a fun alternative to the pool.  Fuquay’s splash park is 6,000 sq ft of fenced-in water happiness for all ages!  Its most popular feature is the large green bucket that fills up and dumps like a big waterfall every few minutes.  Before the bucket nears its tipping point, most of the children line up below to squeal in excitement after the water dumps.  If being drenched isn’t your thing (or your child’s idea of fun), there are smaller water spray features throughout the splash pad including water guns, misting tunnels, gentle short sprays great for early walkers/babies, and taller sprays for bigger kids to run though.

IMG_6454The splash pad costs $2 per child for non-residents (cash only) and is free for Fuquay-Varina residents with a Resident Splash Card.  During the summer, the splash pad opened at 11am so there was quite an initial rush and it was at capacity by the time we got there at 11:15am.  After about 15-20 minutes the attendant called for everyone inside the splash pad to exit while the next group entered.  This juggling of guests continued for a few cycles before the crowds naturally evened out.

 

After spending our time in the splash pad, we headed to the large adjacent pavilion for a picnic lunch.  There is also a nearby playground and swings for all ages, but our girls wanted to quickly eat and head back to the splash pad.  Despite little shade, the playground was wildly popular among other park guests and provided a nice option while waiting to go back into the splash pad area.

After another splash session, we packed things up and headed home with a quick stop in downtown Fuquay-Varina for froyo at Sweet Creations.  It’s been at least four years since I’ve visited Fuquay-Varina and it’s neat to see all the new and established downtown businesses doing so well.  I look forward to exploring the new Fainting Goat Brewing Company during my next trip!

Even though several area pools have closed for the season, the Fuquay-Varina Splash Park is open through September 11 with limited hours.  Despite its shorter hours, the splash park will still make for a nice reprieve especially from the upcoming weekend’s heat.

Thumbs up: large park with fun recreational options, fenced-in splash park area, inexpensive entry fee, well managed crowd control, shaded dry seating areas outside the splash pad, large family-friendly restrooms
Thumbs down: earlier opening time might help with large crowds

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (Outer Banks, NC)

pea island national wildlife refugeWhen we were in Nags Head last month we spent the last full day exploring Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is located on a barrier island of the Outer Banks in NC.  The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is part of a larger national wildlife refuge system with more than 500 units that was founded by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 to conserve the nation’s natural living treasures.  The Pea Island Refuge was established in 1938 to provide a resting and winter habitat for migratory waterfowl. It features a visitor center, the North Pond Wildlife trail (which is part of the larger Charles Kuralt Trail), and 13 miles of beaches.  We did a little bit of everything just before the big storms rolled in, making the trip a perfect last day adventure!

Before exploring the hiking/walking trail in the refuge, we stopped at the Pea Island Visitor Center.  It is located a few miles south of Oregon Inlet along NC 12 (not to be confused with the National Wildlife Refuge Center main complex located on Roanoke Island). Volunteers run the visitor center and it’s free to explore.  It features a few exhibits detailing the refuge’s history and animals in the area, a gift shop, scavenger hunts for kids, and telescopes for viewing into the marshes.  Pea Island received its name because the migratory snow geese that frequented this area ate plants with peas in them.

IMG_6261After exploring the visitor center we headed to the North Pond Wildlife trail, which is a 1 mile total walk to the observation deck and back to the visitor center.  We first walked along the boardwalk and scoped out the turtles in the “turtle pond.” Continuing on, we walked along a partially paved/boardwalk path between North Pond and New Field Pond where we glanced through fixed binoculars towards North Pond.  The trail then became narrow and sandy, but continued to offer beautiful unobstructed views of the ponds.  At the end of the trail, we walked up the double decker observation deck, where we could see for miles and identified egrets and turkey vultures.  Butterflies were plentiful this day, too.  The observation deck features some informational plaques about animals in the refuge and fixed binoculars for viewing.

IMG_6265The North Pond Wildlife Trail is part of a larger grouping of trails that make up the Charles Kuralt Trail.  It was established to encourage people to enjoy the wild lands and recognize this great NC native broadcast journalist who loved exploring remote places.  The Charles Kuralt Trail consists of 13 refuges or hatcheries along eastern NC and southeastern VA, offering interesting places to explore.

It was a really hot day, so we quickly walked the 1/2 mile back to the visitor center parking lot (although more adventurous hikers can complete the 4 mile loop around North Pond).  After a short bathroom break, we grabbed our picnic lunch and beach bag and walked across highway NC-12 for more beach time.  The Atlantic Ocean was beautiful this time of year and the water was relatively calm despite the large thunderstorm that popped up an hour later.  Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the remains of the Oriental, a Federal transport during the Civil War, which shipwrecked in 1862.

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: beautiful pond views, light foot traffic,

Thumbs down: Bathrooms near trail head

Glen Burney Trail (Blowing Rock, NC)

Glen Burney TrailWhile we were in the NC mountains, Bill and I scooted out for a day date hike and beers in Blowing Rock.  We hiked the Glen Burney trail located just off Main St at 229 Laurel Ln in Annie Cannon Gardens.  The Glen Burney Trail is 1.6 miles long (3.2 total miles out/back) and parallels the New Year’s Creek, which eventually flows into the Catawba River Basin.  The trail is unlike others I’ve ever hiked because it starts at 3,920 ft in elevation and drops 600 ft to the base of the falls.

The hike started off moderate as we crossed a few gentle streams and walked along even ground.  Then we hiked by dramatic backyard views of a private home and ruins of a former sewer plant that was in use until 1929.  Soon thereafter, the trail became more strenuous as we crossed large roots, steep hills, and fallen logs.

IMG_5763We arrived at the first waterfall, the Cascades, a little past halfway down the trail.  The creek water gently flows over these moderately sloped rocks, allowing hikers to cautiously climb up the rocks to higher ground.  We stopped to take in the sights and sounds before moving farther down the trail. On our next stop we hiked to the base of the trail at Glen Marie Falls.  We climbed up large boulders sandwiched between small streams to get higher views of the mountains in the distance.  Again, we stopped for several minutes to take in the quiet sights and sounds.

After Glen Burney Falls, we started our ascent back up the trail and stopped at the Glen Marie Falls.  We had passed the sign for these falls on the way down the mountain. We hiked a short ways off the trail to the reach the falls, and it was well worth it.  I walked along the creek rocks to enjoy cooling off in the waterfall where water gently flows from a 30+ft boulder.

We then continued our ascent up the mountain, which was much shorter than our hike down; walking down we focused a lot of our time on our footing.  Overall, the hike took about 1 1/2 hours and was strenuous, so we were right to hike this trail without kids.  Judging by the little foot traffic, it’s a hidden gem of a hike even though busy Main St is a few blocks away.  After our hike we wandered around Annie Cannon park, which features several spots for quiet reflection, a small creek, an amphitheater, and beautiful landscaping.

Thumbs up: beautiful views, little foot traffic, easy access to waterfalls, unique hike down and then up

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Blue Ridge Parkway: Moses Cone Memorial Park & Linn Cove Viaduct

IMG_5696We were very fortunate to spend a few weekends in the NC mountains this summer.  On our second mountain trip we met up with my in-laws and stayed in a beautiful mountain cabin near the Appalachian Ski Mountain between Boone and Blowing Rock.  On a tip from friends, we headed out to the Blue Ridge Parkway and visited the Moses Cone Memorial Park & the Linn Cove Viaduct.

The Moses Cone Memorial Park is located along the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 294, just a short drive from Blowing Rock.  Moses Cone Memorial Park preserves the country estate of Moses Cone, who was a textile businessman and conservationist in the late 19th century.  The park features 25 miles of hiking and bridle trails and Flat Top Manor, which is a 13,000 sq ft Colonial Style mansion.  The bottom floor of the manor houses the Parkway Craft Center, which features handmade crafts by regional artists and a souvenir shop.  We also had the pleasure of watching a pottery demonstration, which the craft center regularly schedules.

After the pottery demo and catching some breathtaking views outside the manor overlooking Bass Lake, we headed left of the house to walk the Figure 8 trail.  This short 0.7 mile hike is great for families with small children or grandparents as it is well shaded and flat.  Originally created by Moses Cone for his daily walks, this unpaved path meanders in a figure 8 shape through the property, making it a perfect walking trail to explore the variety of trees and flowers.  Informational signs highlight the hickory, oak, maple, mountain laurel and black cherry trees along the trail.  If you’re craving a longer or more strenuous hike, check out the map of trails around the park.

IMG_5732After spending over an hour at the park, we turned left out of Moses Cone Memorial Park and headed 10 miles south to the Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304).  At an elevation of 4,100 ft, the Linn Cove Viaduct is a concrete bridge engineering marvel snaking around Grandfather Mountain; it is over 1,200 ft long and consists of 153 concrete sections weighing 50 tons each.  Construction of the Linn Cove Viaduct was completed in 1983, cementing the final link of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Coming from the north, we drove over the viaduct and then turned left into the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center parking lot.  We hiked the short 0.2 mile walk along the Tanawha Trail to the Linn Cove Viaduct observation deck.  Along the short walk we saw several mountain springs and a variety of mountain flora. Walking underneath the viaduct gives you a sense of the bridge’s massiveness – each bridge segment spans several arm-lengths in width, and has enormous amounts of concrete supported by large piers.  We then walked higher up the Tanawha trail to get an eye-level view of the viaduct and mountains in the distance.  Though our trip to the viaduct was quick, everyone in our group (not just the engineers) really enjoyed and appreciated seeing such an engineering feat up close.

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: beautiful views from Moses Cone Park overlooking downtown Blowing Rock, access to close-up views of viaduct, infinite outside experiences along Blue Ridge Parkway

Thumbs down: manor house in desperate need of painting and renovations, bathroom facilities at Moses Cone Park