Saturday, September 14, 2013

Blue Ridge Parkway and Stone Mountain State Park

Upon departing from the Julian Price Memorial Park campground we were in the final stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway portion of our vacation; still, around each curve, over each hill, after each mile that we drove we found another scenic viewpoint to stop at, another vista to take our breath away, another glimpse of the blue hills that have given the Parkway its name.

There are miles upon miles of trails departing from the Parkway, everything from long hikes to short strolls like the “Jumpinoff Rock” trail at mile marker 260.6. We didn’t take advantage of these options to the fullest because of time constraints, but looking back at our trip I wish we had pulled off the highway more to explore. The various recreation areas (such as Julian Price Memorial Park that we camped in the previous night, or Linville Falls which we explored the day before) have miles of trails, and there is always the Appalachian Trail. Running parallel to the parkway from mile 0 to marker 103, hiking the AT has always been a dream of mine, however I feel as though I’ve at least gotten glimpses into the things I have in store for me some distant day, through the treks we made these last three days.

Our driving tour was far from over however, we still had some 80 miles to cover before our final exit from the Parkway. After numerous stops to stretch our legs, change a diaper, photograph an especially scenic spot or simply breathe the fresh mountain air we arrived at Stone Mountain State Park. A short distance from the Blue Ridge Parkway (unlike Mt. Mitchell which is adjacent to the highway), the park is famous for the 600 foot granite dome that towers over the park as well as the mountain climbing opportunities it has to offer to those more daring than me.

A selfie at the base of Stone Mountain, looking up
After a stop at the Park Office to obtain a map we continued to the lower trailhead parking lot. From this point several trails depart, including the 4.5 mile Stone Mountain Loop trail marked “strenuous” in my notes. I was sure we would not be able to complete the length that day due to time and child constraints, but I like to think I’ll have the chance someday. Taking hikers across the summit of Stone Mountain, it loops past a 200 foot waterfall and the Hutchinson Homestead. We were hoping to make it far enough to check out the homestead and possible get some great views of the dome itself.

The magnificent Stone Mountain is part of a 25 square-mile pluton, an igneous rock formed beneath the surface of the earth by molten lava. Time and the elements have eroded the layers of rock atop the granite block leaving the outcrop that is visible today, and in 1969 the park was established to protect the area. During our hike I experienced the strongest feeling of déjà vu; I later realized the park strongly resembled the National Forest of Fontainbleau, in France. 

Can you spot the climber on the right in the picture on the left?
It was near the homesite that we found the best views of the stone face. A most interesting historic site, the Hutchinson Homestead is a restored version of the farm built in the mid-19th century. With a log cabin, barn, blacksmith shop, corn crib and meat house, visitors can get a feel for the lives of early settlers in the area. From the fields beyond there is also a convenient entry to the boulder-strewn base of the large dome.

We found a large, flat rock I believe is the “threshing” rock described in the Visitor Center as the spot the settlers did all their threshing, and spread out our picnic. With one eye on the oh-so-fearless boys and the other on those adventurous souls climbing Stone Mountain, I believe my heart rate increased and adrenaline started flowing much the same as if I had been the one gearing up for some mountain climbing!

What, no fence on the threshing rock?!?!
A short hike later we emerged back at the parking lot and packed up for our final stretch on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It turned out we would have one final stop before turning off the scenic highway, at Cumberland Knob. More a testament to the vision and work to realize the Parkway than a scenic overlook, this northernmost North Carolina stop has picnic areas and hiking trails with informational placards about the history of the Parkway. In fact, Cumberland Knob was the first Visitor Center of the Parkway as well as the location of the first paved section of this 469-mile scenic Park that stretches across two states.

As I returned to the car and we drove the final stretch to our exit from the Parkway, I half expected there to be some grand finale to commemorate the 170 miles we had traveled. Instead there was just the unassuming Park Service sign quietly waiting for our return to this Blue Ridge paradise.


  1. Don't know of much of anything better on a hot summer afternoon than driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway... LOVE it.


  2. nice pictures! my grandparents live near the blue ridge parkway so i used to go there a lot when i was a kid :)

  3. I grew up about 20 minutes from Stone Mountain! We used to go all the time; we even had season passes. If you ever go back, the laser show at night is pretty cool. And there is a cute village with lots of old-timey stores and attractions. Definitely fun for kids!


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