Blue Ridge Travel Ideas for the New Normal

Our recent experience with the Coronavirus has left many of us hesitant leave our homes, let alone travel. At the same time, the self-isolation has also been challenging, and for many, feeding anxiety and depression. We live in the constant tension of feeling cooped up at home while feeling anxious about going out in public. We all need a vacation, and as states start to reopen and travel once again becomes an option, the choices we make about how we travel and where we travel is going to be very different.

For those looking for a getaway in the near term, travel options will be largely shaped by safety concerns like social distance, mask-wearing in groups, limiting time in indoor spaces, etc. For those reasons, planes, bus tours, and cruise ships are much less appealing; instead, many travelers will travel only in their own vehicles because it feels safer. This means that many will limit travel to within a few hours of their home. Additionally, more remote locations that allow travelers to be outdoors and maintain physical and social distance from others will have more appeal than densely populated urban cities. Finally, travelers will focus on securing lodging that is especially clean, sanitary, and limits exposure to guests and staff while also being comfortable and restful.

Many businesses (like ours) are tweaking our service models to help facilitate social distancing, implement enhanced cleaning, and integrate safety practices. These things are critically important, and it is exciting to see how knowledge sharing across the industry is helping to create a much safer and healthier travel ecosystem.

However, there is one really big question outstanding – what will travelers actually do when they travel to the Blue Ridge Mountains? We are well positioned for those looking to get outdoors while enjoying wide open spaces, social distance, and travel by car. To inspire you as you envision a visit to Western North Carolina in ways that allow for social distancing and safer travel, we have captured some of our own favorite ideas.

Harry takes in the mountain views while social distancing at lake JunaluskaEnjoy a One-Way Walk around Lake Junaluska: For locals and visitors alike, Lake Junaluska has always been a great spot to walk and unwind. With the threat of the Coronavirus, the administration of the conference center has created a one-way clockwise route around the lake. This means that visitors can safely walk the entire 2.3 mile loop and never have to cross paths with another walker. This is a great way to safely enjoying the stunning mountain and lake views, and Lake Junaluska hosts a wide variety of waterfowl and other birds that makes for great wildlife viewing. Dogs are always welcome on the trail.

Take in the Views by Car: We feel safe in our own cars, and the Blue Ridge Parkway is an obvious choice for travelers to take in the mountains from their vehicle. Travelers can cover a lot of ground in a relatively short time, and with scenic overlooks every mile or two, if an overlook is too crowded for personal comfort, they can just keep driving to the next one. It is important to call out that the Parkway’s rest stops, toilets, campgrounds and visitor centers have been closed during the pandemic. Plan ahead by visiting the Parkway’s website and checking the alerts as well as the interactive map for real-time information.

Hike the Trails Less Traveled: You can find stunning hiking everywhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Smoky Mountain National Park. Some trails are closed; others (like Water Rock Knob or Clingman’s Dome) may always be congested. however there are loads of less frequented spots, including those with access to the gently-used Mountains-To-Sea Trail.  (One of my favorite access points on the Parkway is the Grassy Ridge Mine Overlook at mile marker 437. In addition to being one of the most serene hikes I have enjoyed, I have never passed another soul on that trail, and the overlook has picnic tables next to the parking lot.) Note that the Parkway’s rest stops, toilets, campgrounds and visitor centers have been closed by the pandemic; they also close roads due to weather and construction, so please plan ahead and check the Parkway’s website for the most current real-time information. Also check the Mountains-to-Sea site for best practices for trail use.

Explore the Local Cuisine: Food is an important part of travel; most restaurants (as of August) have reopened with limited capacity for onsite dining while still offering take out or delivery service. While this is sometimes executed with limited menus, the selection and the quality of the food in the area is still phenomenal. Because the list of restaurants and the services they can provide is evolving throughout the phases of the reopening, visitors can always just call us (828-452-0991) or ask us upon arrival for the most up-to-date recommendations.

Happy and Safe Travels!

Chad, Josh, and Harry