Where we droveNo hikes to report this week, but we did get some miles in driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway — which has tons of nearby trails, so I did accomplish a bit of scouting for future treks.

We’ve got a mere smattering of color around the Triad (had our first cold weather last week) but it’s already past peak leaf season at the highest elevations in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Colors were subtle rather than spectacular, which actually makes the big blasts of yellow, red and purple really stand out.

Not a lot explaining needs to be done here: we just drove up Interstate 77 to U.S. Highway 21 and jumped on the Blue Ridge Parkway a few miles south of the town of Sparta and headed south. After about 95 miles we turned around, returned north, got off at U.S. 421 and headed back home.

Winds were blasting and it was seriously bone-chilling cold. Didn’t help that we started out at the crack of dawn.

Early morning sky

We did get some help from the weather gods: seems like the hills are fogged in every time I come up, but this time we had abundant blue above all day.

Morning light on the trees

Caught some of that nice early morning sun hitting the trees here.

Grandview Overlook

A sign for those needed to be told they were looking at a grand view.

Blue skies over the mountains

About half the leaves are gone from this tree; we saw a lot of that.

Moses Cone home

This is the estate of a guy named Moses Cone, a textiles titan who built the place in the 1890s and had 25 miles of carriage trails built so he could enjoy his view.

Lake Prince

Lake Prince — again, it looks like we missed peak colors by a few days.

Lookings northeast from the parkway

The hills don’t light up down here like they do in New England — far too many everygreens in these forests.

Linville River

Linville River, just a few miles north of the famed Linville Gorge, a highly touted hiking locale. Lots of trees here have already given up their leaves for the season.

Another shot of Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain is the prime attraction on this stretch of the Parkway. It’s another prime hiking destination.

Grandfather Mountain

Another look at the snowy peak.

Vivid color

One of the better bends in the highway.

A few notes on Blue Ridge Parkway leaf-peeping:

  • Early Sunday morning — before folks get out of church — is the best time on the weekends to be up on the Parkway.
  • Bring warm clothing and hang onto your hat: it gets seriously breezy.
  • Leaves are very slippery. Same is true of bridges if there’s been a freeze overnight.
  • Easy hikes of less than two miles abound. Toss your clod-hoppers in the trunk and get out in the woods — often there are excellent views not far from the parking lots. (I’ll actually abide by this advice next time).