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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Blue Ridge Parkway & Pumpkin Patch

October is peak fall foliage in the North Carolina mountains, so I took full advantage of the lovely weather today and went sight seeing. I packed a picnic lunch, filled the gas tank, picked up a friend, and buckled my toddler and her friend into their carseats to head west to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We picked up the Parkway off 421 between Wilkesboro and Boone and headed north. The leaves are mostly green still in Greensboro, but the closer we got to the mountains, the more they changed to beautiful vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow.

We had our two 2-year-olds with us, and the scenic overlooks and stopping areas along the Parkway allowed plenty of opportunities for them to burn their energy and for us to snap some photos. Our first stop was a photo opp at Elk Mountain Overlook where the kids even found a wooly worm to examine.

Next up was E.B. Jeffress Park where the kids played in the fallen leaves, and we thought about the short hike to the cascades (and ultimately decided against it since we had the kids with us).

From there, we did some "drive by shooting" and snapped pictures along the way. We had to stop near a farm so the kids could examine the cattle - and the cattle were equally intrigued by our kids.

We stopped again at the Blue Ridge Music Center near the NC/VA border. The kids enjoyed listening to some live mountain music, and we enjoyed wandering through the Roots of American Music exhibit.

Once we hit US-52 in Virginia, we decided it was time to head back to Greensboro. However, a small, handwritten sign as we were getting off the parkway caught our eye - "Pick your own pumpkin - follow signs!" The signs led us through Fancy Gap, VA and to Blue Ridge Pumpkins. We pulled up to the farm, and were immediately greeted by one of the family members who owns the farm, who said we were welcome to choose any pumpkins from their 5 acre farm. Pumpkins were $8/each or 3/$20 - no matter the size! We wandered through the patch, cut our three chosen pumpkins from the vines, and set them on the path for one of the farmers to pick up and drive back to our car. The kids were able to get their faces painted while we drank apple cider and hot chocolate, and the farmers even allowed the kids to sit on a pony. They also had a hay ride available, and a maze for the kids to explore. I can't even express how impressed we were by this pumpkin patch - the staff, the affordability, and the overall friendliness. It will definitely be part of our fall Parkway tradition! This last stop on our day trip was definitely our favorite.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

NC Mountains Camping Trip

I took an adult-only camping trip to the NC mountains this weekend. My friend and I headed out of Greensboro on Friday afternoon around 1pm, and picked up 40W towards Asheville. We took exit 44 to NC-151 South which was an amazing mountain road full of twists, turns, and steep hills. From there, we picked up the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway and continued south to NC-215 South which led us right to our campground.
Blue Ridge Parkway - Cherry Grove overlook

At the Ridge Campground is owned by a great, friendly family who has 35 acres of land along the North Fork River, complete with a trout farm and riverside tent sites as well as RV hookups. They also have horses, goats, dogs, and other animals on their property - including a very friendly lab, Buck. We are tent campers, and set up our site Friday night right on the river. The locations are semi-secluded and our closest neighbors were several sites away. Our only complaint was the bathhouse/outhouse was pretty run down and had questionable plumbing. On the plus side, the firewood we bought from the campground owners was a large quantity at a very reasonable price and the other campers were friendly.
At the Ridge Campground - Riverside tent camping, Balsam Grove, NC

Saturday  morning, instead of cooking breakfast over the campfire, we headed into Brevard, NC to eat at The Sunrise Cafe - great coffee, and super delicious breakfast burritos! From there, we headed back south to seek out some waterfalls. Our first stop was Nantahala National Forest to view the Whitewater Falls, which are the highest waterfalls east of the Rockies. It was beautiful! The path from the parking lot down to an upper viewing area was easy, then to view from the lower viewing area we had to descend several stairs. The lower viewing area has great photo ops! We started down a trail, but realized the paths didn't really go anywhere (and we weren't prepared to hike 47 miles!) so we headed back up to the parking lot.

Nantahala National Forest - Whitewater Falls

From Nantahala National Forest, we headed back to Gorges State Park and enjoyed their brand new visitor center (seriously, brand new...the grand opening is NEXT weekend!) and exhibits. They have a few trails that lead to waterfalls, but it was too late in the day for us to start out on a hike at that point, so we enjoyed the views from the car.

Gorges State Park

We headed from Gorges State Park to Cashiers, NC to find a restaurant for a late lunch. We discovered Wild Thyme Cafe and enjoyed a delicious lunch of quesadillas, despite the slow service.

After returning to the campground for the night, we socialized with some other campers, relaxed by the fire with the resident dog, Buck (aka Bert), and enjoyed a dinner cooked over the campfire. We decided to head out of town a different route than we came in on, and traveled back through Brevard on NC-64. We eventually stopped for breakfast at Mills River Restaurant, which is southwest of the Asheville airport. This was a little homestyle restaurant, fully decked out for Halloween, with good home cooking.

Overall we had a wonderful weekend in the mountains, saw some fall foliage, and found a great new campground close to the BRP.

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