As we hunker down for the thick of winter, it’s easy to think of the Blue Ridge Parkway and say “see you in the spring, old friend.” But the cooler months bring the opportunity to experience the ribbon of road anew.
Winter is a stark and lovely contrast to fall, when visitors flock to the route to witness the fiery displays of autumn color. This is the season to see the landscape without the regalia—a breathtaking glimpse of nature at rest, giving those who call the mountains home a chance for a soulenriching experience.
Instead of wheels to carry you, it’s boots, crosscountry skis, and snowshoes when a section of the Parkway closes. There is a thrill that comes with leaving the car behind and setting out for a brisk adventure. The blocked road essentially becomes a broad greenway, giving you a great path to take in the crisp air and let the serenity of nature sink in. Adventurers can expect unobstructed panoramic views and wildlife sightings. Be sure to bring a camera and capture the vistas. It’s fun to return to those spots in the warmer seasons to snap new images and compare how the landscape changes throughout the year.
The outing can be completely enchanting. Take the time to say hello to likeminded nature enthusiasts you cross paths with and compare notes on the hike ahead. Keep an eye out for animal tracks in the snow. Find a rhythm in the sound of your muffled footsteps on the powder beneath your feet.
To thoroughly enjoy the experience, don’t lose sight of the conditions that closed a stretch of the Parkway in the first place. Weather can be fickle in the mountains, so dress appropriately for varying temperatures, including sudden drops in degrees. If you’re reluctant to venture out, check out www.brpweather.com. Blue Ridge Parkway Weather, a site launched by the creators of Ray’s Weather, shares images from webcams all along the route. A time-lapse feature allows you to see how the conditions have changed during the last 12 hours. Also be sure to bring a companion or tell someone where you plan to go exploring in case of an emergency.
To check conditions along the Parkway, visit www.nps.gov/maps/blri/road-closures. If you need emergency assistance, call (800) ParkWatch or (800) 727-5928. With all the precautions in place, get out there and reclaim your connection to nature and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A note from the Parkway: If you head out beyond the gates for a winter stroll, please remember parking directly on access ramps or in the roadway near closed gates is prohibited in order to maintain safe emergency access. Stick to designated parking areas.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2014-2015 issue of Carolina Mountain Life magazine.