Driving the USA: I-26 to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Home Again

I’m from upstate South Carolina, just an hour from the mountains. During a visit home this week, my family and I decided to take a trip up to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Although the Blue Ridge offers spectacular scenery any time of the year, the fall is particuarly special as the trees’ leaves flame out into a thousand colors, the air turns crisp but not cold yet, and you might-just might-see monarch butterflies making their way south.

Taking I-26 out of Spartanburg, we headed west towards Asheville, one of my favorite places in the Carolinas.

We took the exit for the Asheville Farmer’s Market and enjoyed wandering through the vendors’ stalls:

On display, stacks and rows of autumn fruit, vegetables, and homemade goodies: horseradish jelly, jalapeno pickled eggs, vidalia onion salad dressing, strawberry rhubarb jam, hot apple cider, boiled peanuts, muscadines, honey of at least a dozen varieties, and hot sauce in at least 100 varieties.

Back on the Blue Ridge, we pulled off at Cherry Cove, where we saw one of the last monarch butterflies fluttering southwards, making its way through a swarm of ladybugs. The East Fork Overlook had photo-worthy views, as did Graveyard Fields, where we had to jockey for parking. Despite its name, it was THE best place for leaf peeping. It also looks to be a great place for camping, judging by the handful of tents dotting the valley.

To head back home, we avoided the interstate and took Highway 276, a country road that’s less crowded but no less scenic. It runs parallel to a little creek that’s been running low since the last time I saw it, but there are lots of places to pull over to enjoy the view or have a picnic, my two favorites being Sliding Rock Falls and the Coontree Picnic Area.

For more stops, camping spots, and tips, check out this useful list. I’m willing to bet the leaves will be spectacular through next weekend, but if you can’t go, enjoy our views!

Practical Info:
-There are no tolls on this road.
-Gas has been scarce in the area in recent weeks, and prices vary widely from one station to another. You may want to check www.gasbuddy.com before taking off. There are no gas stations on the section of the Parkway mentioned in this article.