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

Linville Falls & Boone, NC

img_1574For Memorial Day weekend we headed out to the Grandfather Mountain area on the annual Raleigh Jaycees camping trip for some cabin camping.  This was the first time we had ever been to the Boone/Blowing Rock/Banner Elk area and we can’t wait to go back!

We stayed at the Grandfather Mountain campground, which is not on the state park property, but only about 5 miles away at 125 Profile View, Banner Elk.  Being our first year up there (and with a baby), I was reluctant to jump into tent camping so we opted for one of the nearby cabins.  It was a two-bedroom place with a small kitchen, bathroom, living room, and cable TV…basically a primitive hotel room on a campground, but I was happy! All our friends camped at the nearby open field, so we happily mooched off their campfires and s’mores all weekend!

My goal for the weekend was to make sure we had enough fun outdoorsy things to do during the day to keep baby entertained.  I researched a few things ahead of time and got some advice from friends so our weekend was pretty jam-packed, but just the way I wanted it.

On Saturday morning we headed out to Linville Falls, which is about 10 miles southwest of where we stayed.  It is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway and maintained by the National Park Service.  From Grandfather Mountain campground on 105, you follow 105 south, turn onto 221 south and then north on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  In about a mile onto the BRP, you’ll take a right into Linville Falls.  Follow the road for a few miles where you can take pictures near the unexciting overlooks and then it’ll dead end into the parking lot for the park.

Earlier last week I found an amazing Craigslist deal on a Kelty 2.0 child carrier.  It was a crucial purchase for this weekend.  We quickly strapped Ashley in and away we started for the visitor center and maps.  Linville Falls has  three main trails – Erwin’s View Trail (moderate), Plunge Basin Trail (difficult) and Dugger’s Creek Loop Trail (easy).  Each one has a few different overlooks to hike to and the map clearly notes the length of each trail, which are all under 1.5 miles.  Being our first major hike with Ashley and the backpack we opted for Erwin’s View Trail.  Here’s a link to a Linville Falls map.

The first overlook we came to was the Upper Falls Overlook.  The narrow pathway of stones led to a large rock outcrop where you had gorgeous views of several falls.  Upstream the river was rather wide and then near this overlook the river narrowed creating a gushing of water down below.  Large rocks lined the downstream falls making the last section of waterfalls look like an infinity pool.

Next we continued on towards the northern most falls – Chimney View (closed due to fallen tree branch) and Erwin’s View.  The hike up there was very moderate.  In general, the majority of the paths were very easily travelled with 10ft+ wide paths sprinkled lightly with tree roots and stones.  At the clearing near the top is where Chimney View is located, which was closed.  There was also a nearby pavilion with some benches.  A little further up the path was Erwin’s View.  We had to climb a few stairs to get to this section, but it was well worth it.  As you look across the river you see the opposite view from the upper falls.  Even though the view of the falls is far away, the mountain views were gorgeous.  We stuck around here for about 20 minutes to let Ashley get out and enjoy a quick snack before heading back down.

After leaving Linville Falls we tried going to Linville Caverns, which is only about 5 miles away but decided to leave it for another trip after we found out that child backpack carriers weren’t allowed.  So, we headed back north to downtown Boone in search of lunch.  Back at VT, our club field hockey team once travelled to App State for a game, but we never had the chance to explore anything besides the football field.  Downtown Boone definitely reminded us of being back in Blacksburg with the local shops and restaurants and college students and families out and about, except downtown Boone was much busier than any summer day we’d ever seen in Blacksburg.  We stopped in at Our Daily Bread and scarfed down some yummy sandwiches and cups of water.

After our fun adventures on day 1, it was time for showers followed by yummy campfire burgers and s’mores!

Thumbs up: gorgeous views, relatively easy hike, photo ops

Thumbs down: get there early in the morning as it gets busy with tourists

P.S. Yay for my one-year blog anniversary!