A Fall Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip (with a stop for beer…)
All week long, the Ford Mustang GT Convertible sat in front of my house, taunting me with my every passing glance. “Drive me… Drive me…” I could hear her whispering. Instead, I stood sadly in my front window, staring out at her cherry red paint and black convertible top, imagining what it would feel like to get behind the wheel and let her ponies roar. If only I could fit a car seat in the backseat! The weekend Blue Ridge Parkway road trip couldn’t come soon enough.
I felt like a teenage boy as I counted down the days to the weekend, looking for any errand to take her for a spin (once my wife got home from work that is…).
“Out of diapers? No problem honey, I’ll go buy more.”
“What’s that you say? Forgot to mention that we needed baby wipes, too and I need to go back to the store? Be right back…”
Each stop light was my drag strip. Each bend in the road was my chicane. I drove her hard and fast but could never quite get enough. City traffic couldn’t compare to the open road of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We began our Blue Ridge Parkway road trip began with a stop at Highland Brewing.
Since my wife and I still had the car seat issue, she stayed at home with the baby, and I invited a friend to join me for a bro-date. What he didn’t know was that I owned a series of Mustang GTs in the past and I couldn’t wait to see how the new model compared to some of the older ones. This wasn’t going to be your leisurely drive. He also didn’t realize that the car was a convertible and completely under-dressed. In a way, it was almost like having my wife with me as he turned his seat heater on and cranked the passenger side of the dual climate control up to 85 degrees.
We began our afternoon with lunch at Highland Brewing. Asheville’s oldest craft brewery is conveniently located near one of the Blue Ridge Parkway entrances. Highland doesn’t have an onsite restaurant, but they do often host food trucks. We sat down with a flight of beer and an assortment of tamales and empanadas from Ceci’s Culinary Cuisine.
Highland is often overlooked on the Asheville brewery crawl due to its location outside of downtown and the fact that many of their beers can be found in grocery stores throughout North Carolina. That’s no reason to skip Highland Brewery. Their taps are pouring plenty of delicious beers you won’t find elsewhere. In particular, I enjoyed a sampling of small batch pales and IPAs – El Dorado, El IPA, and Pieces of Spring IPA. It was a fun way to see how a single style can vary so greatly.
Oh, and the food from Ceci’s? The tamale with organic pork and green chiles was amazing.
Belly’s full, we began the drive north on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Our plan was to follow the Blue Ridge Parkway to Boone for a celebratory beer before heading back home to Charlotte. As parkway newbies, we quickly learned how overly ambitious that idea was. Things tend to move slower on the parkway – even in a Mustang. Although I did have plenty of opportunities to test her out.
No matter how short a distance looks on a map of the Blue Ridge Parkway, remember that those roads are filled with constant switchbacks, slower speed limits, and plenty of overlooks that you can’t pass up. We found ourselves pulling off at many more overlooks than planned as the changing fall colors and sweeping views kept catching our attention. Not that I’m complaining. Every once in a while, it’s good to slow down and enjoy Mother Nature.
Around Craggy Gardens, we decided that there was no way we were going to make it to Boone while it was still daylight. For reference, this was only 20 miles into our drive, and it took us an hour and a half. We altered our plans to wrap-up our Blue Ridge Parkway road trip at Mt Mitchel and exit the parkway on state route 80.
Mount Mitchel is a must stop on any Blue Ridge Parkway road trip.
Mount Mitchel is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. You pretty much drive to the top of the mountain where it’s a short walk to an observation deck. The drive itself takes about twenty minutes. I suggest factoring in an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and half if you’re just going up for the observation deck. There’s also a restaurant and concession stand at the top and some hiking trails.
Once you’re up there, don’t race to the top unless you’re in great shape or are used to high altitudes (6,684 ft.). Since my friend wasn’t dressed properly, we pretty much ran to the top of the observation deck. The path is paved but it is a tad steep. My heart was racing when I reached the top, and I couldn’t get it to slow down. I thought I was going to have a heart attack and sat on one of the benches to catch my breath.
Once my heart slowed down, I was able to enjoy the view. It’s surreal to realize that you’re standing above every other peak in the Appalachian Mountains. We were lucky that it was a clear day and our views were unobstructed by clouds.
We wrapped up the day on what was probably the steepest, curviest road I’ve ever driven.
Little did we know that route 80 is also referred to as the Devil’s Whip and is quite popular with motorcyclists. At the exit, I pulled off to a gravel parking lot where a group of motorcycles were gathered. As I walked past them to snap a photo of the Continental Divide sign, I could hear them talking with their buddies via walkie-talkies who had already transcended the twisting road, asking about traffic and cops.
I know what you’re thinking. This was the road that I was looking for… Perhaps if I was a trained race car driver, but I’m not. After nearly sending the car off the side of one of the first twists because once that 5.0 liter engine is revved up not even the brakes could slow it down, I was thankful for the mini-van who was white-knuckling the road, forcing the boy-racer in me to behave myself. I openly complained about the mini-van’s slow speed to my friend, not wanting him to know that I had nearly shit myself earlier.
One of the things I quickly learned about the 2016 Mustang GT is that my 18-year-old self wouldn’t have been able to handle the horsepower and finely tuned engine like I could the 1996 Mustang GT my parents bought me for high school graduation. With the increase from 240hp to 435hp, I would have killed myself. As a more experienced driver today, I still found her difficult to handle at times. Of course, Ford only loaned me the car for a week. With a little more time, I could have mastered her refined high-octane engine with more confidence. Still, I had a blast and enjoyed a week of mid-life crisis fun.
In fact, it got me thinking about what my mid-life crisis car might be. Between you and me, I’m leaning towards a Mustang GT. It is the car I owned when I won over Mrs. G. Too bad, she couldn’t go on the Blue Ridge Drive with me.
Know Before You Go
While we weren’t able to complete the entire Asheville to Boone leg of the Blue Ridge Parkway in one days planned, it is possible. You just need to get an earlier start than we did. Begin the day with breakfast in Asheville (check out my Asheville beer and food guide for recommendations), stop for lunch at Mt Mitchel, and finish the journey with celebratory beers in Boone (and yes, I have a Boone beer guide as well).
If you aren’t able to do the entire journey home-to-home in one day like I was from my base in Charlotte, there are plenty of recommended hotels in Asheville and Boone. I can personally recommend the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville for a unique mountain resort and Yonahlossee in Boone for a peaceful mountain retreat (it’s also right across the street from one of my favorite North Carolina restaurant crushes).
Would you like to go on a fall Blue Ridge Parkway road trip? Leave a comment below!
Thank you to Ford Motor Company for loaning me the Mustang. As always, my opinions remain my own. However, who couldn’t have fun in a Mustang!
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