Brown Fuzzy Mountains: Off Season on the Blue Ridge Parkway

A young deer seen at one of the closed visitors centers along the Parkway enjoys a mid-afternoon snack in the video at the end of this hub.
A young deer seen at one of the closed visitors centers along the Parkway enjoys a mid-afternoon snack in the video at the end of this hub.

Everyone says the best time to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway is in the fall when the leaves are changing and the mountains are full of color. I agree that early autumn is indeed a great time to visit, but the mountains have a special beauty year round. From the oceans of green that fill the summer to the crystal ice that turns the trees into giant ice sculptures in winter, every day on the Parkway is a sight well worth seeing.

My sister and I chose to visit the Virginia section of the Parkway on the last couple of days of November and first couple of days of December. It was a great time as there were very few other visitors, plenty of solitude, lots of wildlife scurrying around, and plenty of brown fuzzy mountains to view. The bare trees had a special beauty that made our time on the parkway memorable and enchanting. I also was able to get some great Blue Ridge Parkway photos and hope you enjoy those that I have featured here.

The James River flows through the mountains of the Parkway.
The James River flows through the mountains of the Parkway.
The dam at Otter Creek was still well worth a visit despite the restaurant being closed.
The dam at Otter Creek was still well worth a visit despite the restaurant being closed.

The Journey Begins...

Our mountain excursion began after I had spent a month in Michigan and my sister offered to come up by train and drive back down to North Carolina with me. After discussing things we decided to meet in Lynchburg, Virginia, and travel down the Parkway to the North Carolina / Virginia border at which point we would head east, stopping to visit one of our other sisters in China Grove, North Carolina, before making our way home. With this as our plan, I met my sister when she arrived at the Amtrak station in Lynchburg at a little after 10 p.m. on Thursday night, November 29th.

Friday morning we woke up and enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the Country Cookin' restaurant and then made our way to the Blue Ridge Parkway, getting on the Parkway near its intersection with the James River. The James River Visitor Center was closed, but we were able to walk down to the river and enjoy the quiet beauty of the mountains and river with no one else around to cause any distractions. Rustling in the leaves attracted our attention several times and before we left we had seen several squirrels and a raccoon.

A mountain lake as seen from a Parkway overlook.
A mountain lake as seen from a Parkway overlook.
A stream trickles down the mountain at an old railroad site.
A stream trickles down the mountain at an old railroad site.

Beautiful Scenery Almost All to Ourselves

As we traveled down the Parkway and paused at the many scenic overlooks, we were captivated by the serenity that had come to the Blue Ridge Mountains as fall began to fade. Here and there a few trees still held the last vestiges of color and, of course, there were evergreens mixed in here and there, but for the most part, the trees were bare making it easier to see the forest despite the trees. The dry leaves on the ground were filled with random scuffling as creatures seen and unseen made their way through the woods.

Friday night we stayed in Waynesboro, Virginia, and had dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Gavid's Steak House and Family Grill. When you ordered a steak, you could specify how you would like it seasoned from a number of choices as well as add toppings such as onions and peppers. They featured a fantastic salad bar full of fresh, delicious veggies. The hotel we stayed at was a little sub-par, but not too bad. Overall, our mini-vacation was off to a great start.

Ice sheets form as water runs off the rocky face of the mountain and temperatures dip below freezing at night. Even the relatively warm daytime temperatures cannot melt it all.
Ice sheets form as water runs off the rocky face of the mountain and temperatures dip below freezing at night. Even the relatively warm daytime temperatures cannot melt it all.
View of Sharp Top Mountain from Abbot Lake.
View of Sharp Top Mountain from Abbot Lake.

Local Cuisine and Mountain Picnics

The next morning we began with a wonderful down home breakfast at Weasie's Kitchen before leaving Waynesboro and heading back onto the Parkway. Friday had been a bit overcast but Saturday turned out to be almost completely clear with beautiful blue skies. We picked up a sandwich at Subway to have a quick lunch on the Parkway and headed back into those brown fuzzy mountains. Despite the time of year, traffic was a bit heavier on Saturday and we quite often met other visitors throughout the day.

We found a picnic table at one of the overlooks around lunch time and enjoyed our Subway Club sandwich while listening to the quiet of the mountains. We wondered down a nature trail after lunch but unfortunately a back injury that I had suffered has made any strenuous hiking a bad idea so we only ventured into the edge of the forest. Something about the mountain air seemed to lift the stress and strain of everyday life from my shoulders as we continued our Parkway journey.

A breathtaking view of Cahas Mountain.
A breathtaking view of Cahas Mountain.
Water cascades down from Rakes Mill Pond.
Water cascades down from Rakes Mill Pond.

A Great Weekend

We spent Saturday night in Salem, Virginia, just outside Roanoke. There we dined at Ragazzi's and then went to see the remake of Red Dawn at the local cinema. We decided to stick with chain motels for the remainder of our trip and managed to find a reasonably priced something-or-other inn that was about what you expect from something-or-other inns. The next morning we returned to the Parkway and continued to make our way south, just a pleasant Sunday drive.

The beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains can be breathtaking and even slightly overwhelming in the autumn when the colors are in full bloom. That same beauty is still there in the cooler months that follow, but the impact is more subtle and tends to inspire contemplation rather than inspiring awe. The brown fuzzy mountains still captivate, but the calm serenity of the bare trees leads one to think not only of the beauty of nature but also to spend time looking inward and seeing oneself in a more stripped down way than one might on a routine day.

Ducks enjoy the tranquility of the off season on the pond at Mabry Mill.
Ducks enjoy the tranquility of the off season on the pond at Mabry Mill.
Apparently the Department of Transportation thought it important to stress the need to stop.
Apparently the Department of Transportation thought it important to stress the need to stop.

Forgot to Tell My Pain We Were on Vacation

Our Sunday drive, despite all the inward-focused contemplation, turned out to be rather brief as I was just not up to the physical challenge of a third day of driving. Unfortunately, since having an accident at work that injured my back, I have good days and I have bad days and Sunday definitely fell in the bad category. We had expected to complete our Virginia Parkway journey in three days but decided we would have to finish on day four instead. We got off at Fancy Gap, Virginia and made our way to Mount Airy, North Carolina, to spend the night.

In Mount Airy we discovered something I never thought I would find -- a rib restaurant to challenge Michigan's Chicken King for the title of best ribs ever! The restaurant was called 13 Bones and though I cannot say they were better than Chicken King, I can say they were just as good. Of course it would figure that when I finally found a place to match Chicken King they would still be over 200 miles from my home! We found another something-or-other inn and hoped that I would be up to the drive on Monday to finish our Parkway adventure. We settled in for the night and I relaxed by looking the wonderful Mabry Mill photos I had taken.

The peaceful serenity of Little Glade Mill Pond.
The peaceful serenity of Little Glade Mill Pond.
One last look at the beauty of the brown fuzzy mountains.
One last look at the beauty of the brown fuzzy mountains.

Our Brown Fuzzy Journey's End

Thankfully, I awoke Monday and found it was going to be a good day with minimal pain so we drove back to Fancy Gap, Virginia, and continued down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since our final day of our Parkway journey ended up split between two days, we reached the North Carolina line early in the afternoon. As we left the brown fuzzy mountains of Virginia behind, we headed over to see another of my sisters who lives in China Grove, North Carolina. What better way to end our Blue Ridge Parkway adventure than with a visit with family?

We spent that afternoon and evening with our sister and had dinner at a barbeque joint she recommended called Gary's BBQ there in China Grove. The barbecue was excellent and I also tried the barbeque chicken which was even better. The next day we took the whole day to meander across our home state. I dropped my sister off at her house and then went home to recover from my travels, sort through my Parkway photos, and savor the memories of this wonderful off-season trip.

What is your favorite season to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway?

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