Another park Chris and I discovered recently on a day trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway was the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area in Jefferson, N.C.
We stopped by there yesterday on our way to search for North Carolina’s New River State Park.
Driving up the mount, you wind through a middle class neighborhood. Toward the summit, the homes give way to an oak-chestnut forest.
There are two overlooks on the way up the mountain providing views of North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. Although hazy, I could just pick out the outlines of Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, the two tallest peaks in Virginia, located in Grayson County.
The road ends in a long parking lot. Off of that a path winds through a large picnic area, which includes one covered and one handicap accessible picnic areas.
Following the path through the picnic area leads visitors to the park’s hiking trails: Summit Trail, Rhododendron Trail and Lost Province Trail. There’s also an outcrop of rock, called Luther Rock, that gives a view of the valley below on three sides.
The trails are listed as moderate to strenuous and you should except a work out, although the trails are no more than 1.1 miles. The Summit Trail is 0.3 miles, Rhododendron Trail is a 1.1 mile loop and the Lost Providence Trail is a 0.75 mile loop off of the Rhododendron Trail.
It seems that the park is a popular picnicking area for the locals. The parking lot and picnic tables were full of families. We also met lots of people along the trails and on Luther Rock.
Common plants seen along the trail are rhododendron, laurel, oak, chestnut, birch, soloman and false soloman seal, bloodroot and jewelweed.
We also discovered a few new plants we’d never seen before — a type of coreopsis we’ve never seen before, whorled loosestrife and purple-flowering raspberry.
There was plenty of wildlife to see too. We saw a groundhog, a bird that looked like a Northern bobwhite and a large chipmunk.
We met a couple who were peering through binoculars at a bird singing in a tree close to the Rhododendron Trail. I couldn’t see it, but it sounded like a towhee, a black and orange bird. According to several bird guides, towhees sound like they are saying, “pick up your tea,” with the second syllable stressed and the fourth syllable trilled.
Butterflies we saw included morning cloaks and frittilaries.
I think this would be a perfect place to go for a picnic and a short afternoon walk. But parts of the trails are strenuous. So if you have asthma or are not used to outdoor activities, just take it easy.
Linville Caverns isn’t state owned, but is still a main tourist destination for the mountains.
Located in Marion, N.C., the business has a gift shop and gives guided tours inside Humpback Mountain. The caves were discovered by a local fisherman over a hundred years ago when he noticed trout swimming in and out of the bottom of the mountain. The stream flowed under the mountain and led to a cave with three levels. On level is completely submerged in water.
Guides share several local legends and tell you about the various rock formations. The cave is a constant 52 degrees, no matter the temperature outside, and water drips from the ceiling of the cave. So wear a jacket!
I’ve wanted to visit the Linville caverns and was excited for this stop on our trip. And I wasn’t disappointed. Although the tour was short (maybe 30 mins.), it was very informative and interesting. The price was reasonable – $12 for two adults. The business’ Web site lists $7. I don’t know if we got an off season discount or a discount because it was later in the day.
I don’t think I’d want to visit the caverns in the summer, however, because our guide said up to 9 tour groups may be touring at the same time. With just 5 groups walking through at the same time that day, we had to wait a few times for other groups to finish and move on or walk by us so we could continue the tour.
Next stop was Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River at 6,578 feet. The park is 1,946 acres and boasts fantastic views.
Chris and I saw some nice views, but the observation deck was closed for renovations. So I don’t think we got to experience the whole affect.
Looking in one direction we could see the valley below. Turning to the other direction, we couldn’t see the valley due to smog. I wonder if the observation deck would have made any difference.
After snapping a few pictures and strolling around the small museum, we decided we had seen enough and climbed back into our car for the final leg to Asheville, N.C., where we would stay for the night.
But, the parkway was closed between the park and Asheville, so we had to turn around and drive 11 miles north to take a detour to Asheville. That added an extra half hour onto our trip, but at least I can now say I’ve been to the highest point in the eastern part of our country.