Drive Down the Blue Ridge Parkway
A father-daughter duo takes on the mountains and mansions along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.
Sitting in the car feels good after all that activity. We enter Pisgah National Forest on U.S. 276 and brake for Looking Glass Falls, one of the hundreds of waterfalls in the state's southwest corner. The late-afternoon sun makes me a little dizzy as we snake south and west along the Blue Ridge Parkway. A dense canopy of trees shades the road, only to yield to a bright, open stretch at the next turn, forcing me to push my sunglasses on and off. I steal glimpses of the undulating mountain ridges, and Dad gives the digital camera another try at milepost 431, the parkway's highest point.
Approaching the town of Cherokee, we see billboards for tribal bingo and kitschy amusement parks like Santa's Land, home to the Rudicoaster. We've got other plans:Unto These Hills, an outdoor play about local Cherokee history with a cast of more than 100. We're moved by the tale of gutsy tribe members who refused to leave their homeland during the forced Trail of Tears march and instead hid out right here in the surrounding Great Smokies.
34 Hwy. 441 N., Cherokee, 828/497-2746, $70
221 W. State St., Black Mountain, 828/669-0999, latte $2.50
Chimney Rock Park
431 Main St., Chimney Rock, 828/625-9611, chimneyrockpark.com,, $14
2771 Memorial Hwy., Lake Lure, 877/386-4255, lakelure.com, canoe rental $20 per hour
Unto These Hills
Mountainside Theatre, Cherokee, 866/554-4557, cherokee-nc.com, June 5–Aug. 29, $18
After a good night's sleep at the modest Newfound Lodge, Dad and I—both serious pancake people—hitPeter's Pancakes & Waffles. I opt for the cakes with chopped pecans. Dad, the family cook, declares his buckwheat stack terrific. Outside, we notice that the street signs are written in curly Cherokee letters as well as in English, a reminder that we're within the 100-square-mile Qualla Boundary, owned by the Eastern Cherokee and held in trust by the government. There's a glut of souvenir shops with names like Sundancer Crafts and Totem Pole.
We browse atQualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, which sells cloth dolls and stone carvings made by a cooperative of Cherokee artisans. My mom would love this place; I buy her a beaded red-felt ornament shaped like a pair of moccasins. When I find my dad, he's tugging at a huge bow and arrow. Across the street at theMuseum of the Cherokee Indian, we scope out a 22-foot-long dugout canoe and an exhibit with dioramas, audio clips, and digital images.
The weather is too gorgeous to stay indoors any longer, especially withGreat Smoky Mountains National Parknext door. Newfound Gap Road brings us to the North Carolina–Tennessee border at an elevation of 5,046 feet, where the road intersects the Appalachian Trail. Just before setting off on the narrow path, we chat with backpackers who are embarking on a five-day loop on the AT. Dad swaps stories from his hiking glory days, and I learn for the first time that he has covered sections of the trail in seven states. Now he can count our few hours in Tennessee, too.
Back in North Carolina, we follow curvy U.S. 19 northeast through Maggie Valley. A forgotten-by-time rural tableau unfolds: covered wooden bridges, a white clapboard Methodist church, crows soaring over knee-high cornfields, a lone woman tending a vegetable patch. We pass Hot Springs and pick our way in the dark, pausing near an underpass while Dad puzzles over the map. When a car pulls up close, we get tense—the New Yorker's instinct—but the driver just wants to help us find our way. It's almost midnight when we roll into Boone without a reservation;Holiday Inn Expressnever looked so welcoming.
Holiday Inn Express
1943 Blowing Rock Rd., Boone, 888/733-6867, expressboone.com, from $89
Peter's Pancakes & Waffles
1384 Tsali Blvd., Cherokee, 828/497-5116, pecan pancakes $5
Museum of the Cherokee Indian
589 Tsali Blvd., Cherokee, 828/497-3481, cherokeemuseum.org, $9
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
865/436-1200, nps.gov/grsm, free
Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual
645 Tsali Blvd., Cherokee, 828/497-3103
Tweetsie Railroad, a Western-themed amusement park, has live shows and thrill rides, but a historic steam locomotive is the main attraction. Dad and I join the kids on the three-mile train ride, even though we've been warned about outlaws and Indians in these parts. A gun-toting cowgirl boards our cabin, and sure enough, it's a holdup!