Fall Foliage

Asheville Here We Come!

John McKinney

Another year, another fall trip to Asheville. This time we decided to spend more time than just a weekend and we rented a cabin in Maggie Valley. Turns out we came at the absolutely perfect time. It’s always a little of a gamble which weekend you choose when you’re going to see the leaves change. This year, going during the last week of October was that right time. The past few years Asheville for the foliage has been a guy’s trip up to hike in the mountains but this year, we made it a couple’s trip with another married couple friends of ours.

As we drove up to the cabin we looked out at the trees in mountains and we were pretty pumped, the leaves had changed a little but not too much and since we were going to be in the area for awhile we knew it would be incredible in the next few days.

Chimney Tops

Our first full day of the trip included packed sandwiches made from our stop at Ingles and hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. Nestled between Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, TN (two rather touristy towns) is the most visited national park in the country. This gorgeous, protected federal land is one of my favorite parks and one I have visited on numerous occasions. One of my favorite hikes in the park is to the tippy-top of Chimney Tops. There is also a place in the North Carolina Blue Ridge area called Chimney Rock which I’m not really a fan of. Chimney Tops, however, is awesome. I love it. It’s a beautiful hike through forests weaving your way up to a large rock face that you can climb and scramble up to the top of.

Climbing to the top of the rock face is what makes this hike worth it. The views at the top are some of the best in the area. Mountainous waves of reds, yellows, and oranges stretch as far as the eye can see. Climbing down today, however, was a little difficult due to it being unusually warm that day. I would not recommend climbing to the top via the large rock if it’s remotely warm out.

After burning our hands up a little, we made our way down the mountain to a waterfall not far from our cabin. The waterfall was right near the road but still a pretty sight. The water was extremely cold…so we did what any normal person would do…we dunked our head under the falls. After our natural shower of sorts, we made our way back to the cabin to take a real shower and head off to dinner at a delicious cajun restaurant in downtown Asheville called Mayfel’s.

After Mayfel’s, our friends told us about this place that instantly made my wife’s eyes light up, French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Here you could get a variety of treats, especially chocolate related items. What seems to be a popular selling point is their liquid chocolate drink that you sip out of an espresso mug. It’s not hot chocolate or chocolate syrup, it’s just liquid chocolate. I have to admit, it’s pretty delicious. Full of chocolate, we made our way back to the cabin for a relaxing night sitting in the hot tub. After a long day of hiking, it was definitely what the doctor ordered.

Apples & Wine

The next day, we decided to take the day off from hiking. We had seen a number of signs advertising apple picking so we figured we’d give that a shot. Apparently, late October is not the best time for that. Still surprisingly warm out we made our way to Grandad’s Apple Farm in Hendersonville. Our dreams of picking apples were dashed pretty quickly, it was late in the picking season and we only found one good apple to pluck. However, all was not lost at Grandad’s, they have a stand where they sell various apple products. I highly recommend the apple cider smoothie or the apple dumpling a la mode if you make it out to Grandad’s.

After our failures at Grandad, our next stop was Burntshirt Vineyards, a vineyard not far from Grandad’s. Soft music, peaceful sights, and good wine make for a wonderful and relaxing experience. We toured the vineyards and did a wine tasting. It was a lovely and quaint place. I would definitely endorse a trip out to see Burnshirt if you’re in the area and love wine.

That night we decided to grill chicken at the house and just enjoy the view from the back porch. Our cabin in Maggie Valley provided picturesque views with trees changing all around the back patio and all across the valley.

“Reds and oranges like a fire ablaze on the side of the mountain and yellows glowing golden in the afternoon Sun, if this was where the Devil held court, I could see why.”

Blue Ridge Parkway

The last full day we had was spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we drove up and down the winding roads with frequent stops to take pictures. Each vista more beautiful than the last. If you’re driving the Blue Ridge near milepost 450 make sure to check out Waterrock Knob at 451. It is one of the highest peaks in the North Carolina Blue Ridge. Even from the parking lot, you can see incredible views in multiple directions around the mountain. However, for the best views, you need to take the trail up to the peak. From high on the peak, you could see the Blue Ridge Parkway far down below serpentining through the mountains. Cars resembled RC cars and people mere ants.

Now, one of those toy cars on the road again, our next stop was 422, the Devil’s Courthouse. Hell must have been frozen over because the Devil’s Courthouse was anything but warm. The wind whipped to and fro as we ate our lunch on a picnic table at the bottom of the trail. The Devil’s Courthouse is an excellent viewpoint after a short, albeit steep hike up. To me, it doesn’t matter how difficult the hike was as long as the view is worth it at the end. I’m pretty sure that makes a donkey chasing a carrot on a string…but that carrot is so worth it man! Your thighs may burn a bit on the way up, think Stairmaster level of climbing, but it’s worth it. From this vantage, the Autumn view stretched on for miles. Reds and oranges like a fire ablaze on the side of the mountain and yellows glowing golden in the afternoon Sun, if this was where the Devil held court, I could see why.

From Hell To Heaven

After the Devil’s Courthouse, it was time to head back to Asheville for our last night out. Our destination, All Souls Pizza. This restaurant specializes in wholesome ingredients made into a delicious pizza. The prices are extremely reasonable and the pizza was heavenly.

Sadly, our trip had come to an end. Every vista and view was awe-inspiring. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky National Park. Until next year Asheville!

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