Fall is the most popular time for travel here in Western North Carolina. The changing colors are always stunning, and the weather is mild and cool. However, in 2020, we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic. As you consider safe and healthy travel, we wanted to share a few ideas.
Lose Yourself on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Actually, it would be pretty tough to get lost on the Blue Ridge Parkway since it is a single 469 mile-long road. The closest junction to the BRP is a few minutes southwest of Waynesville. We often talk about the Parkway as a popular destination, but this year it is an especially appropriate area to explore because of the ease of social distancing. Travelers can comfortably explore the area by car and find multiple hikes for every skill level. Be sure to plan ahead – some restrooms and services remain closed due to the pandemic, but certain sites have started to reopen.
You might also want to investigate some of the wonderful hiking trails along the Parkway, such as Graveyard Fields or Devil’s Courthouse. If you are looking for a trail less-traveled, seek out the gently-used Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Since most of the traffic on the parkway consists of motorists, there is ample opportunity to park and begin a hike at many of the the overlook trailheads.
Be sure to allow time to visit the many, many scenic overlooks all along the Parkway. There is an overlook at almost every mile marker; many have picnic benches, while others have areas to spread out a blanket for lunch. Each overlook has a unique view, and it is definitely worthwhile to stop at several and enjoy those views while taking lots of photos to make your friends back home jealous.
Head Out to the Forests and Parks
Much of Western North Carolina is actively preserved as either national or state parkland or forestland. These areas are well-managed and maintained, making them easy to enjoy while staying socially distanced. The most famous is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is America’s most visited national park, featuring scenic trails, waterfalls, mountains and caves.
Pisgah National Forest is also an excellent area to explore. While perhaps not as frequently visited as the nearby Smoky Mountains National Park, it is just as beautiful and is a very fun area to explore. It features wonderful trails, waterfalls, as well as gorgeous drive viewing. Additionally, local trails like Pinnacle Park can offer some excellent hiking and rewarding views.
Explore the Biltmore
Head to nearby Asheville and see the famous Biltmore Estate. The Biltmore house has now reopened for house tours. Note that they have limited the capacity for tours, so please plan ahead and make sure you have a confirmed reservation. They are enforcing the wearing of masks and social distancing.
While the most popular attraction is the main house, there is much to see at the estate. Guests can stay outdoors and enjoy the more than 8,000 acres of tree-lined gardens and trails. The trails are beautifully curated with plants and trees for you to discover.
Food is always available onsite, but you can bring along your own lunch and enjoy a relaxing picnic on the lawn. You can even rent bikes and explore the miles of biking trails, or explore the estate by horseback.
Check Out the Local Event Calendar
Haywood county has always had an active events calendar year round. Even with all that has happened this year, there are lots of interesting activities and events still taking place, although many have been re-imagined to incorporate more social distancing. Click here to see the Haywood County Events Calendar, and to learn more about the plans for this year’s Apple Harvest Festival.
Stay in Safe Accommodations
As you book accommodations, consider the size and layout of the property as well as their COVID safety practices. If you have questions, call the property to discuss processes and procedures. Does the accommodation provide adequate space to allow social distancing between guests? Do the staff follow local and state requirements regarding the wearing of masks and gloves? If you are uncomfortable with the answers you get on the phone, you are probably going to be just as uncomfortable when you arrive. Also, don’t be afraid to look at smaller boutique properties like inns or bed & breakfasts; health departments regulate their sanitation and safety practices just like larger hotels, but may offer less density of guests than hotels. (Check out our own COVID page for examples of what you might expect.) Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you feel safe and comfortable.
Wishing you safe and healthy travels,
Chad, Josh, and Harry