Stumbling Over the Tanawha Trail

I love the Blue Ridge Parkway!  Driving along the crest of the mountain chain, one is treated to mile after mile of purple mountain majesty, hidden valleys,  rippling hills, highland fields full of wildflowers, farms with sheep or cows grazing, and small villages with church steeples rising to heaven.   The Parkway offers short, easy leg-stretcher hikes,  mountain top overlooks that steal your breath, creeks to cool your toes, and trees that stretch their branches over the road offering sun-dappled shade.

On our recent summer vacation to Asheville, NC, we chose to drive large sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway, in lieu of driving way out of our way in order to go farther, but faster.  It’s a trade-off.  The Parkway takes longer, but it is gorgeous, it is quiet, it is uncrowded.  We learned last year that it works for us.  Plus, I had always wanted to see the Linn Cove Viaduct.  So, after dipping our feet in an ancient winding river, and then a lovely picnic lunch at milepost 259, we drove a little further and came upon the Linn Cove Viaduct at milepost 304.

The Linn Cove Viaduct is a 1243 foot bridge that wraps around the mid-ridge level of Grandfather Mountain, one of the highest mountains East of the Mississippi.  Grandfather Mountain is part of the Black Mountains, along with Mt. Mitchell and Craggy Garden.  The Black Mountains challenging elevation is home to Red Spruce and Fraser Firs, which appear much darker than the green leaves of deciduous hardwoods which populate the Blue Ridge. The bridge, made in sections of concrete, was the last part of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be completed.  If you look at the huge slabs of stone that emerge from under the Viaduct, you’ll know why the bridge had to be built this way.  The side of the mountain is basically a boulder field.  The bridge is made of 153 50-ton segments of concrete which connect seven permanent piers set 180 feet apart.  Although based on bridges in similar circumstances in mountainous regions of Europe.  It is still unique  – the design included almost every kind of alignment geometry ever used in highway construction, and no two of the 153 segments are alike.

Goes around Grandfather Mountain – engineering masterpiece

At the southern end of the bridge there is a Visitor Center with information about the Viaduct, and the usual Visitor Center attributes! Just off the parking lot there was a sign that pointed out a path to a viewing platform.  Because our Blue Ridge Trail Guide did not show a trail, we thought we would simply be walking a short distance to an overlook (or under-look).  Instead, we stumbled upon a wonderful hike called Tanawha Trail that goes under, and behind the Linn Cove Viaduct – so around and over and through those enormous slabs of rock!  Mr.  Garner and I loved it!  Around every corner was something beautiful, or amazing, or fun!

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Here are a few pictures.  It was quite misty the day we were there, so some of the photos reflect that (literally).  We found several types of lichen and moss, trees determined to grow amidst the boulders, and lovely wildflowers that tumbled sunny yellow and bright crimson down a shady embankment.

We found out from another pair of hikers that the trail is quite long – 13.5 miles!  Since we were hiking sans the children, who were waiting for us in the car, we reluctantly turned around.  Turns out the Tanawha Trail is a National Park Service Trail, and we were using a Blue Ridge hiking map, so it wasn’t listed…But the description sounds wonderful “spectacular views…ancient ecosystems…cascades…hemlock forest…”  We liked what we had seen so far, so we promised each other to put this hike on the list for our October trip to Grandfather Mountain, amidst fall color, and crisper air!

This is the third in a series of posts about our wonderful summer vacation in the Blue Ridge!  Thank you so much for reading!  If you are interested in the other posts you’ll find them here:

We Set Out Accompanied by Wildflowers
Dipping Our Feet in the Ancient New River

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