One of the best ways to enjoy the colorful leaves besides taking the Blue Ridge Parkway, is by taking a drive down a country backroad in the High Country’s Blue Ridge Mountains. With lower speed limits, little traffic, breathtaking beauty, country stores and diner stops and exciting twists and turns these routes are sure to be a memorable experience.
1. SUGAR GROVE to BEECH MOUNTAIN
This route takes you through the valley of Sugar Grove where you will see farmlands along the Watauga River. You will then meander around curvy dips and dives through the mountains before reaching Beech Mountain, “the highest town on the east coast.” Beech Mountain is a great place for a night’s stay or dining with a view.
ROUTE: 24 MILES/ 55 MINUTES
DIRECTIONS: Take Hwy 421 to Hwy 321N, turn left on Buckeye Road, take right on Pinnacle Ridge Road. See map below:
2. VALLE CRUCIS to BANNER ELK
This route takes you through historic Valle Crucis where you can stop at the Mast Farm Inn for lunch and the original Mast General Store before heading through the countryside of Matney. You can stop at Apple Hill Farm to take an Alpaca Farm Tour or stop at roadside apple and honey stands. Your destination will be Banner Elk, where you will find little shops and galleries to meander for the afternoon.
ROUTE: 12 MILES/ 45 MINUTES
DIRECTIONS: Take Hwy 105, turn right on Broadstone Road, turn left on Hwy 194. Turn left on Main Street in Banner Elk.
3. BLOWING ROCK to CROSSNORE
This route will take you through the mountains below the Blue Ridge Parkway for a different viewpoint and tree covered country roads. You will pass roadside apple stands and country stores. You will then drive the Blue Ridge Parkway through one of the “large view” sections before getting off on another scenic byway. Be sure to stop at the Crossnore School to view the Ben Long Fresco and world-famous Crossnore Weaving Room.
ROUTE: 27 MILES/ 50 MINUTES
DIRECTIONS: From Blowing Rock take Yonahlossee Road/Blowing Rock Hwy 221 to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Get off the Parkway at NC-181/Jonas Ridge Hwy. Turn onto Linville Falls Hwy/ US 221/ NC-194. Take this highway into Crossnore.
4. BOONE to TODD/ WEST JEFFERSON
This route will take you through Todd along the former railroad route. The road runs along the New River, thought to be the second oldest river in the world! The small community of Todd is a great place to rent a canoe and take a 2-5 hour float down the river or rent a bike and cruise the easy railroad grade road while you take in the leaf color. After you leave Todd, continue on to West Jefferson, a small picturesque town known for its arts community, great historic dining and brewery and the Ashe County Cheese Factory Store.
ROUTE: 35 MILES/ 45 MINUTES
DIRECTIONS: From US Hwy 421, turn onto NC-194. Turn left onto US Hwy 221, then turn left onto Jefferson Avenue to enter downtown West Jefferson.
5. SPARTA SCENIC DRIVE
This route will take you through the Little River Valley and will pass early 1900’s farm homes and late 1800’s churches that make for great photography in the fall!
ROUTE: 15 MILES/ 40 MINUTES
DIRECTIONS: From Main Street in Sparta take US-21 to Chestnut Grove Church Road. Turn right on NC-18 and then right on Little Pine Road. Turn right onto Fox Ridge Road and follow back to US-21.