Long before we fell in love with Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, we had a huge crush on the magical North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains fall vibes. From waterfalls to gorgeous hikes, and many adventures in between, this was our go-to vacation spot when we lived in the mountain-less swamp called Florida.
But our first long weekend in North Carolina will always be our favorite. So, if you are a nature-lover like us, here’s our guide to the perfect romantic fall getaway to the Blue Ridge Parkway area (engagement optional).
Why a Weekend in North Carolina?
The first-ever REAL vacation Buddy and I took as a couple was to Transylvania County in western North Carolina. About an hour from Asheville, this area is known as “The Land of Waterfalls.” It boasts more than 250 waterfalls within a few miles of each other, many of which are easily accessible. Plus, Buddy had this area on his bucket list since he was a teenager, so we just had to plan this romantic getaway to NC!
Going in late September through late October and (even early November!) is a great time to get a little fall chill without icy conditions and you have a good opportunity to see autumn colors! Although, at higher elevations, there’s always a chance for a dusting of snow the closer you get to winter. However, this time of year isn’t nearly as busy as the summer time – and it is gorgeous!
1. Take a Leaf Peeping Drive
Of course, visiting the Carolinas in fall likely means that you are trying to spot some of those iconic autumn leaves. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a great place to take in the colors with easy pull-offs to admire overlooks and trails to get a closer look!
Driving along the winding roads of the parkway is already exhilarating. Adding in such bright, beautiful scenery during the fall season just intensifies the experience!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah National Forest are other great places to see the color change! Make sure to check reports to have a better chance to visit the North Carolina mountains during peak color.
2. Blue Ridge Parkway Overlook Hike
You would think after driving the seven hours from our hometown of Jacksonville, FL, to North Carolina we would be ready to head straight to our hotel to get some sleep. But not us, we were ready to explore!
After making a few stops along the way, we ended up seeing a sign for the Devil’s Courthouse Overlook and decided to stop for a nice little hike.
The sign said it would take about 20 minutes to get to the overlook, and although I was wearing a ridiculously impractical outfit for a hike (flip-flops, a sundress, and a blanket for a jacket), we decided to go for it. And the views were SO WORTH IT. Although, we did realize growing up in Florida did absolutely nothing to prepare us for higher-altitude hiking. Which is kind of hilarious in retrospect, since we ended up making a home in Colorado three years later.
Another great overlook hike is Craggy Gardens Pinnacle (1.2 miles round trip)!
3. Stop to Pick Seasonal Fruit
You-pick farms are an iconic stop on a fall road trip in the Carolinas. Stroll through an apple orchard to collect a bag of goodies for your road trip. Or stop for snacks at one of the multiple road-side farm stands.
4. Waterfall Hikes & Other Trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway
A popular hike we loved along the Blue Ridge Parkway was the Graveyard Fields and Falls hike. It was just so scenic and serene! But there are tons of great hikes to stop at along the way!
Other popular hikes include Mount Pisgah (2.6 miles) and Lunch Rocks Trail (4.9 miles). Of course, this area is also home to the Appalachian Trail so you could hike some of that also.
Want a challenge? Look into hiking Mt. Mitchell, Looking Glass Rock, Roan Mountain, Table Rock Mountain, and Beech Mountain.
5. Late-Night Blue Ridge Mountains Stargazing
After our explorations, we set out to find our lodging for the night as it began to get dark. The winding roads lulled me to sleep as Buddy drove us over an hour to our destination for the night – a little cabin in the woods. Before we got there, Buddy woke me up with eager excitement to show me his wonderful discovery – the stars!
He stopped in the middle of the road and turned off his lights so we could look up through the sunroof at more stars than either of us city kids had ever seen. I wouldn’t suggest doing this since it is dangerous as hell. But at the time (and still) I was pretty damn impressed with how amazingly romantic this man of mine could be when he wasn’t even trying.
Stargazing on the cooler nights in the high country is a great place to re-connect with nature and your inner peace.
After a few minutes of silently admiring the clear night sky, we completed our journey and got some much-needed sleep.
6. Exploring the “Land of Waterfalls”
Our first full day in Transylvania was spent admiring waterfalls (duh) in Dupont State Forest! We were able to fit in 5 or 6, but there are so many to see! And many of them aren’t very hard to hike to.
The most effort we put in was to see the view of the top of Triple Falls. Although the view from the base was still my favorite, getting to see the entirety of this huge waterfall was pretty amazing and literally breathtaking (again with the altitude – I really struggled on this one).
Fun note: A few years later we were watching “Hunger Games” and thought the waterfall used in one of the scenes looked really familiar – sure enough it was Triple Falls! (Read about our return trip to Triple Falls here.)
7. North Carolina Arboretum
For fellow lovers of gardens and natural spaces, the North Carolina Arboretum is a must-visit. It has multiple lovely trails to walk and plant life to admire.
8. Looking Glass Falls & Sliding Rock
With an easy parking lot nearby and hiking trail down to the falls, a stop at Looking Glass Falls is a must when driving the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Sliding Rock is another must-see nearby and a favorite of summer visitors who slide down the rock into a pool below. Nearby Linville Falls is also a go-to photo-opp stop!
9. Grandfather Mountain
After enjoying some gorgeous waterfalls, we headed to Grandfather Mountain to see the views from the Mile High Swinging Bridge. This spot was high on my must-see list for good reason.
However, once we got there, we found another awesome hike to go on – Black Rock Nature Trail. Since we didn’t read much about it on the sign, we had no idea what to expect, but this hike did not disappoint and is still a go-to story when we talk about hikes we’ve really enjoyed.
This 1.8-mile (round trip) trail led through a gorgeous, rocky forest to an opening with a giant rock, a ladder propped against it and a rope coming down from the top (which we couldn’t see). Since I was yet to discover my love for hiking, this was a little bit out of my comfort zone. And Buddy isn’t a huge fan of heights so we just kind of looked at each other in bewilderment for a few minutes.
Then, as if my monkey spirit animal appeared and told me to CLIMB, I just went for it. And, luckily, Buddy followed suit – because he would have missed out on some awesome views!
Side Story: Our Engagement
High on life and fresh air, we skipped back to our car with huge smiles and great memories. But before leaving, we decided to snap a few more pictures at the bridge. Buddy casually asked an elderly gentleman to take our picture while we were on the bridge. I suspected nothing.
I was wondering how much I trusted this old man on a MILE HIGH SWINGING BRIDGE with our new Nikon DSLR that he didn’t even bother to use the neck strap for. And Buddy was carefully getting down on one knee to propose! I had joked that this would be the perfect spot, but I didn’t think it would actually happen! And he knew how much I would love a picture of that special moment, so he entrusted his new camera with a stranger to make it happen. It was perfect.
After I said yes and we rescued our camera, we ran back to the car to share a teary-eyed, exciting moment of pure joy. And, of course, about two dozen kisses. We have had a lot of adventures in the seven years since that day, but it still stands out as one of my favorites.
10. Linville Caverns
Before we raced home to tell our family and friends our exciting news, we had one last day in North Carolina. So, we spent it at Linville Caverns. This was a really “cool” and kind of slimy place to explore. It was my first time in a cavern. And, although the small spaces we had to squeeze through freaked me out a bit, it was definitely a fun experience that I’d do again.
Other North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains Fall Activities:
- Folk Art Center
- Biltmore Estate
- Downtown Asheville
- Chimney Rock State Park
With or without a proposal, this area of North Carolina is the perfect setting for nature-loving couples to unwind. You could seriously take hundreds of different weekend getaways in NC and make countless special memories!