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Time Outside: Blue Ridge Parkway

Corey Glenn // Contributor

The Blue Ridge Parkway provides stunning mountain vistas like this one over the Hominy Valley. 

While every Clemson student knows it’s just a short drive to the mountains, not everyone knows that some of the most stunning sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are not that much further.
Twisting north on U.S. 178 past Sassafras Mountain and going to the sun on N.C. 215 takes you to Beech Gap and the Blue Ridge Parkway in under two hours.
Turning north on the parkway will take you to some of the most famous and beautiful attractions on the parkway, including Devil’s Courthouse, Black Balsam, Graveyard Fields, Skinny Dip Falls, Frying Pan Lookout Tower, Mt. Pisgah and, eventually, Asheville, North Carolina. This section can get quite busy, especially on nice weekends in the fall, but the views of the French Broad valley are worth it.
Turning south, the crowds thin out, but so do the points of interest. However, there are still a few, including the highest point on the parkway at Richland Balsam, and the views of ridges on ridges are simply awe-inspiring.
Up on the parkway is a whole other world, with strange rock outcroppings, grassy mountain balds, rushing waterfalls and forests of Christmas trees. Wildflowers paint the roadside during spring and summer, while northern hardwoods put on a breathtaking show in the fall. Dark Frasier firs tower above lighter deciduous brethren, looking like trees on a lawn of other trees.
And then there is the parkway itself. The road is practically a piece of art: dancing among the peaks, ducking back and forth from one side of the ridge to the other, dodging through rough-hewn tunnels and popping out to spectacular overlooks. It’s simply a joy to drive, curvy enough to be interesting and engaging, but not so curvy as to pose a challenge.
Getting there and back is also interesting. The drive up to Holly Springs is pretty, and U.S. 178 is a challenging, twisty road that is best driven in daylight, but is a lot of fun if you’re into that.
N.C. 215 is also a gorgeous highway. Leaving Rosman, it twists up the side of the gorge of the north fork of the French Broad River and levels out into Balsam Grove. It then begins going up and up and up some more, climbing 3000 feet from Rosman to Beech Gap, where it meets the parkway while providing some spectacular views along the way.
In the winter, most of the parkway is usually closed due to weather, but the highlands can still be accessed using N.C. 215 and U.S. 276, providing a gateway to a winter wonderland of snow and ice that usually persists from January to March.
Overall, a drive up to and on the parkway makes a lovely day trip from Clemson, no matter the time of year.

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Corey Glenn
Corey Glenn, Asst. News Editor
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