By Jay Clarke
RISMEDIA, Sept. 12, 2008-(MCT)-Soon the leaves will turn gold and red, and the hillsides here and elsewhere in western North Carolina will burst into a kaleidoscope of color.
In many regions of the country, autumn brings scenic splendor, but in this state’s mountain country it is nothing less than spectacular. The color changes start in the high elevations, spread to mid-mountain and develop last in the valleys _ and that makes the viewing period a long one.
On the Parkway
Some of best panoramas are seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs for 251 miles through the heart of western North Carolina’s mountains at elevations up to 6,047 feet. This roadway, according to the U.S. National Park Service, is the most visited unit of America’s National Park System and offers many spots where motorists can pull over to admire the picturesque scene below. The best viewing comes in mid-October.
Grandfather Mountain near Linville, for one, offers easily accessible views that are unmatched in peak color season. Particularly photogenic are the sweeping curves of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Linn Cove Viaduct set against the reds and yellows of the hillside. In the southern sector of the parkway, Graveyard Fields and Looking Glass Rock also offer splendid vistas.
But there are many other sites, low and high, with enthralling scenes.
Behold the turning leaves, for instance, from the Cherohala Skyway as it rises from its start near Robbinsville to the Santeetlah overlook at 5,390 feet. Near the town of Franklin, you can drive to the Wayah Bald area, where its old stone observation tower is atop the 5,385-foot summit.
Park near the top of Whiteside Mountain, close to the town of Cashiers, to admire the autumn views and 3,000-foot sheer cliffs, or walk the two-mile hiking trail there. In the town of Sylva, on Fisher Creek Road, Pinnacle Park provides tourists a brilliant fall panorama. And in the waterfall country west of Hendersonville, lovely views of cascading waters framed by vivid foliage are plentiful.
Here along Lake Lure’s 21 miles of tree-lined shores, autumn’s leafy displays can be seen from all around.
Lake Lure’s best-known attraction, Chimney Rock Park, gives you a birds-eye view of the lake and its surrounding area. An elevator takes visitors up 26 stories to the bald rock at the 2,280-foot summit. If riding an elevator seems too wimpy, you can hike your way to the top.
The view from on high also gives visitors a perspective on the layout of the town itself, which is about 30 miles east of Asheville. Private cottages and bed and breakfasts nestle in the many lake coves, and an admission-only public beach lines the shore at the town center.
Here you can find the Lake Lure Inn and Spa, a historic hostelry where such famous visitors as author F. Scott Fitzgerald and presidents Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt once stayed.
In the Movies
Movie stars Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey stayed at the inn, too, during the shooting of “Dirty Dancing.” Though the movie’s setting supposedly was New York’s Catskill Mountains, the filming was actually done at a lakeside summer camp. Lake boat tours take visitors past the site of the filming, but the resort is long gone.
Scenes from several other movies have been filmed at Lake Lure, among them “The Last of the Mohicans,” “My Fellow Americans” and “Firestarter.”
As in most mountain country, the Lake Lure area is popular with active travelers. Besides boating and hiking, visitors can go horseback riding, biking, tubing on the Broad River, which runs through town, and even try their hand at gem mining. Several golf courses are in the area.
Big-city services are available in Asheville, whose websites offer additional directions to good autumn color viewing as well as information on lodging, harvest activities and events. Visit www.fallinthemountains.com for weekly color reports starting in early September. Autumn colors bring a flood of visitors, so lodging reservations are advisable well in advance.
© 2008, The Miami Herald.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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