9/28/2011 - A colorful journey on Highway 276
by Clayton Hensley, Knoxville Day Trips Examiner
Journey through the Mountains of Western North Carolina and enjoy the scenery that Fall is offering - starting now!
Along US 276 in Western North Carolina, Mother Nature is starting to show her true colors as we head into October. This winding road that stretches from I-40 near Maggie Valley to Brevard, NC remains one of the best places to enjoy a Fall Color drive.
Over the last full weekend of September it was easy to see what is going to be happening the next few weeks. At the Big East Fork Trailhead near Cruso hues of golden yellow, deep reds and vibrant greens mixed together to start to whet your appetite for Mother Nature's annual Fall presentation.
As you wind through the dozens of curves from the river up to the Blue Ridge Parkway the colors become even richer, especially when the sunlight beats down on the treetops amplifying those golden colors. Just before the Big East Fork Trailhead you enter the Pisgah National Forest, a legacy of the famed Biltmore Estate. This is where the modern day American Forestry program began.
While you can continue this great Fall Drive without getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway, exiting here is a great diversion as there are many great overlooks and attractions just minutes away. Going north on the BRP takes you to Mt. Pisgah, once the boundary line for the Biltmore Estate. Today, you will find a quaint inn there with breathtaking views, a campground, a small gift shop and a relatively short trail to the top of the peak, one that offers 360 degree views.
Taking the BRP south brings you a top of the world view of Cold Mountain (made famous by the novel and movie of the same name) and of Looking Glass Rock, a massive rock face that actually has roots in volcanic activity.
Continuing on U.S. 276 toward Brevard you will find yourself tempted by places like Sliding Rock, a natural waterslide and Looking Glass Falls, a 65 foot high waterfall flowing right beside the road. At this point you are in Transylvania County, "The Land of Waterfalls." In all there are some 250 waterfalls in the county, dozens of which are on public lands and easy to access. Brevard is also home to the White Squirrel.
The Cradle of Forestry, the Pisgah Wildlife Center and the Pink Beds Picnic Area are other attractions along the way. All of these attractions are worth the trip anytime of the year, but Fall colors work to enhance the sheer joy of seeing them.
To start your journey on U.S. 276, take Exit 20 off I-40 and just follow the 276 signs through Waynesville. If you don't stop too much you can make it all the way from Knoxville to Brevard in less than three hours. However, with so much to see, just plan on making a day of it.