Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2015 NC Mountains Fall Color Report Week 2

You may have heard about the rain we had last week...actually, it was ten full days! We were fortunate not to experience any flooding at the Inn, and while the Blue Ridge Parkway closed for a couple of days for workers to clear the roadway of any fallen trees, it is back open and offering great views of fall foliage at elevations between 3,500 and 4,500 feet.

Waterfalls are always a good choice after a rainfall, but take note of the increase in water volume and be very careful on waterfall trails after it rains. For perspective, take a look at Linville Falls (less than an hour from the Inn on Mill Creek) on a normal day:

Linville Falls, the highest volume waterfall in NC on a normal day
Then check out this dramatic photo of Linville Falls taken by the talented Danny Marshall on Sunday, October 4, after the crazy bout of rain we had:

Linville Falls [photo credit: Danny Marshall]
Right above where the waterfall wraps around a cut in the rock and plunges downward is an observation area along the main hiking trail, so that gives you an idea of the size of this waterfall. Amazing, right?!

Heading into mid-October, here are our destination picks for fall color hunting:
  • Mt. Pisgah and Graveyard Fields: Last week, we mentioned Graveyard Fields, which is southwest of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 418.8, and word on the fall color street is that the area will be reaching peak by the weekend of October 9-10. That is right on schedule based on previous years. If Graveyard Fields is super crowded -- not unusual this time of year -- try the three-mile roundtrip hike to Mt. Pisgah (located closer to Asheville at Milepost 407.6), and take advantage of near 360-degree views from 5,000 feet.

    Graveyard Fields area in early October of 2015 [photo credit: Jared Kay]
  • Craggy Gardens north to Highway 80 via the Blue Ridge Parkway: Craggy Gardens, a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville at Milepost 364, overlooks the town of Black Mountain. Its huge swaths of rhododendron attract hikers in the springtime. It's also known as a great spot to catch some fall color in sweeping vista views of lower elevations, even when the "Craggies" themselves are past peak after early October.

    [Craggy Gardens in early October of 2015 [photo credit: RomanticAsheville.com]
    We recommend hiking the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, which offers panoramic mountain views at the top. If a lot of people are at Craggy Gardens, try the Bald Knob Ridge Trail a little further north on the Parkway at Milepost 355.

    From Craggy Gardens, head north on the Blue Ridge Parkway past Mt. Mitchell, then turn right onto Highway 80 south, a very scenic (and curvy) road that we like to call a mini-Blue Ridge Parkway. Highway 80 will bring you to Highway 70, which you can take west back to the Inn on Mill Creek B&B.
  • Lookout Mountain in Montreat: Bordering the town of Black Mountain, NC, to the north is the community of Montreat. It's a spectacular area for hiking, with several trails of differing levels of difficulty. A popular trail is Lookout Mountain, a moderate trail over a half-mile long that takes you up in elevation to a rocky outcropping at about 3,600 feet (below the actual summit), looking down on Montreat and Black Mountain. The summit of Lookout Mountain does not offer the same views, but does provide the option of continuing on one of the other Montreat trails beyond it.
  • Linville Falls and Chestoa View: You saw that photo of Linville Falls above, right? It's pretty spectacular even without all the rain we had. The area is quite colorful in mid-October, and the hike to the falls is a good one. If it's a weekend, you might run into larger crowds, so a typically less crowded (non-waterfall) alternative is the Chestoa View Trail just south of Linville on the Blue Ridge Parkway headed the direction of Asheville. The views of Linville Gorge from the trail are amazing.
So what's happening in terms of fall color in our neighborhood? Here at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B inside Pisgah National Forest (2,300 feet), the color is much further along than in previous years -- a nice surprise! -- but fear not, late October guests, there is still a lot left to go.

The arbor deck at the Inn on Mill Creek...relaxing!
More color to come!
The dogwoods and sourwoods are doing major fall color duty, as are hickory, sassafrass, birch and beech. The tulip poplars once again (5th year in a row) ask us to keep our expectations low as they fade into bronze yellow and then quickly brown. At least they're providing good "leaf crunching" on the ground, always a nice fall sound! Maples are just getting started and were perhaps delayed a bit by the rain, so we are expecting some nice color out of them later in the month.

We'll see you next week! Until then, for even more fall color reports, check in with our friends at RomanticAsheville.com and Blue Ridge Parkway Daily.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2015 NC Mountains Fall Color Report Week 1

Hey! It's time for this year's fall color reports! Why the exclamation points, you ask? Well, usually, our first week report doesn't have much to share in the way of color. Early fall in the mountains of North Carolina brings little bits of fall foliage here and there, while goldenrod and aster and cardinal flower generally make up for the mostly green landscape during the first week of fall. This year, however, is another story. We have real color to report! So let's check it out:

Higher elevations (those above 4,500 feet) along the Blue Ridge Parkway are already seeing pretty shades of gold and red dotting the landscape, with wildflowers and mountain ash berries complimenting the fall color palette.

Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain, September 23
Note: This has been a particularly rainy week in the mountains around Asheville, so fall color hunters have had a bit of a challenge getting to all the choice spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which can be really, really foggy during rainy weather. But once you reach these destinations, you may be able to catch a clear spot. And the extended forecast looks to be more reasonable going into next week.

Color starting to show on Bernard Ridge next to the Inn on Mill Creek
Sourwoods are providing a nice scarlet hue right now at our elevation, while birch and hickory add some sunshiny yellow on even the cloudiest of days. Things are still mostly green here at 2,300 feet. So, our recommendations for fall foliage viewing during the end of September and beginning of October are:
  • Linville Falls: It's the highest volume waterfall in North Carolina, so you know it's going to look spectacular after several days of rain! Be careful on the trails around Linville Falls as they can be slippery in inclement weather. Our preferred route to Linville Falls is via Hwy 221 north of Marion to the Blue Ridge Parkway. If rain is hampering your views, stop in to the Linville Caverns for an alternative afternoon of fun. Linville Falls Winery and the English Farmstead Cheese store are also right there on Hwy 221. And just two miles south of Linville on the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of our favorite overlooks, Chestoa View, and the Chestoa View Trail, which look out over Linville Gorge.
  • Grandfather Mountain: A state park and nature preserve, Grandfather Mountain is close to Linville Falls and color has been progressing rather nicely there this week. You must pay a small fee to enter the park, which provides access to a beautiful meadow, several hiking trails, wildlife habitats and more. Be warned that weekend crowds in the fall are very heavy. Other hiking options in the area include Linville Falls and Linville Gorge, and the drive around Grandfather Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway's Linn Cove Viaduct is pretty awesome, too.
Linn Cove Viaduct in the fall [photo credit: Hugh Morton]
  • Graveyard Fields: This is a unique spot -- a valley at 5,000 feet above sea level with higher peaks around it. Graveyard Fields gets its name from tree stumps that used to be in the valley. Now, there are trees and shrubs, boardwalks and trails, two waterfalls, and best of all, fall colors! Graveyard Fields, south of Asheville and Mt. Pisgah, is one of the first places in the region to see changing leaves every year. 
Graveyard Fields [photo credit: Jennifer Mesk Photography]

Monday, September 28, 2015

Wineries near Asheville, NC

Looking for a winery when you visit the mountains of North Carolina? The Asheville region has plenty of wineries, each with its own distinct flair. Here are the eight wineries (and two wine markets) that are closest to the Inn on Mill Creek B&B:

The Inn on Mill Creek is the red marker. As you can see, we are surrounded by vino. Read on for details:


Biltmore Winery
Biltmore Estate, 1 Approach Road, Asheville

Biltmore Estate's winery has been in operation since the mid-1970s. Our favorite Biltmore wines are the Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Limited Release Malbec. You need a Biltmore Estate admission ticket to access the winery on the estate; complimentary wine tastings are included in the price of admission. Biltmore wines can also be purchased at local wine markets and stores.

Burntshirt Vineyards
2695 Sugarloaf Road, Hendersonville
Burntshirt Vineyards crafts its award-winning wines from 100% estate-grown fruit, and the wine is produced and bottled onsite. Tastings and tours are available at the winery. There is also a nice picnic area. Burntshirt counts among its many wines a Merlot, a Cabernet Franc, two Chardonnays, and a Grüner Veltliner.

Photo credit: Burntshirt Vineyards
Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards
588 Chestnut Gap Road, Hendersonville
Located on 10 acres, the family-owned Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards has14 varieties of wine grapevines growing on two vineyards, and employs a full-time winemaker. The winery has been open to the public since 2012, and the tasting room at the winery is open year-round. Wines include a semi-sweet Riesling blend and a Chardonnay, as well as four different varieties of red wine.


Addison Farms
4005 New Leicester Hwy, Leicester NC
About 17 miles north of Asheville is Addison Farms, a family owned and operated winery, vineyards and tasting room. The winery has nearly 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and great wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, and Montepulciano.


Belle Nicho Winery
Patton Valley Drive, Nebo
Belle Nicho Winery at Howling Dog Farm specializes in native and French American hybrid vines. This small farmstead winery uses organic practices to grow its grapes, and was awarded NC Green Travel recognition by the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources The winery is open just before Valentine's Day every year and stays open through New Year's.

Silver Fork Winery
5000 Patton Road, Morganton
With a beautiful tasting room that opens up to a patio with equally-beautiful views of the mountains, Silver Fork Winery is a guest favorite. You can take a tour of the winery and vineyards, or relax with a picnic lunch. Wines include Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and more. Silver Fork Winery is also pet friendly.

Photo Credit: Silver Fork Winery
South Creek Vineyards and Winery
2240 South Creek Road,  Nebo
South Creek Vineyards and Winery is set on a gorgeous piece of property in Nebo. Their award-winning Bordeaux style wines can be sampled in the tasting room at the winery. South Creek often has live music as well on the patio of an Italian Renaissance farmhouse that is over 100 years old. South Creek Winery is pet friendly.

Photo Credit: South Creek Winery Facebook Page


Linville Falls Winery
9557 Linville Falls Hwy. (Hwy 221), Newland
If you're headed north on Hwy 221 to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Falls or Grandfather Mountain from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, consider a stop at the award-winning Linville Falls Winery. Located just a quarter mile south of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Falls Winery's tasting room is open from 12pm-6pm. There are even hiking trails on the 40-acre farm.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

In addition to the area's wineries, two excellent locally-owned wine markets are located in Black Mountain, just 10-15 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, and both offer great wine selections and tastings: Artisan Gourmet Market and Merry Wine Market.

And if that isn't enough of the good stuff, there are bus tours that take visitors on tours of select wineries. French Broad Vignerons follows three "wine trails" -- the Catawba Valley Wine Trail, the Elevations Wine Trail, and the Gourmet Wine Trail. See more details at http://frenchbroadvignerons.org/wine-toursbus.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Follow Western North Carolina's Fall Season on Pinterest

Old Fort Picnic Area near the Inn on Mill Creek B&B
Our "Fall near Asheville" Pinterest board is now live and in full color! Fall color, that is. See all the brilliant reds, yellows, oranges and greens that make up the landscape during the fall season in the mountains of Western North Carolina -- even if you can't make it this year, you'll feel like you're here.

Photo Credit: RomanticAsheville.com
We'll be updating the board as the season progresses. Check it out at www.pinterest.com/innonmillcreek/fall-near-asheville/.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Black-throated Green Warbler

Ahhhh, September. The air turns crisper and temperatures start cooling down, but remain perfectly pleasant. It's a great month to get outside in the mountains of North Carolina! And it's excellent for bird watching because the changing seasons mean different and interesting birds are migrating through, on their way to their winter destinations. One such bird is our September 2015 pick for our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn series on the blog: the Black-throated Green Warbler.

Black-throated Green Warbler [Wikipedia]
Even though it's a small-ish bird -- around 4.5 inches long -- its unmistakable black throat and bright yellow head makes the Black-throated Green Warbler fairly easy to spot during both spring and fall migration here at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. Typically, they are seen in the mornings near the Pool Garden or in tree branches along the edge of Pisgah National Forest near the apple orchard, looking for insects.

During the summer, you may even see them here at the Inn. However, the Black-throated Green Warbler tends to be more visible in the summertime at elevations above 2,500 feet -- along the Blue Ridge Parkway north of the Inn, for example (the Inn on Mill Creek is at 2,300 feet). We recommend looking for them in the area between Asheville and Craggy Gardens, where you'll see the woods transition from birches and maples to spruce pines and fraser firs as the elevation climbs from 2,500 to 5,500 feet.

In the fall, the Black-throated Green Warbler will start heading south to Central America, the Caribbean and northern parts of South America -- that's when they'll go from higher elevations in a southerly direction through our "neighborhood" in the woods.

So if you're here in September, chances are likely that you'll see this little sunny-faced bird perched on a branch or fluttering through the garden at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B inside Pisgah National Forest.

Friday, September 4, 2015

2015 American Craft Week is Oct. 2-11

Sure, October is the month where Mother Nature transforms the mountains of Western North Carolina into a brilliant work of art with her color palette of golds, reds and oranges, but it's also when the colorful work of our local artisans is celebrated, during American Craft Week. This year is the sixth year for American Craft Week, which takes place October 2-11, 2015.

American Craft Week features events, demonstrations and more at galleries, studios and shops, all centered around handmade crafts (something for which the Asheville area is extremely well-known). Some of the 2015 American Craft Week participants include downtown Asheville's New Morning Gallery, Blue Spiral 1 Gallery, and Mountain Made Gallery, as well as Grovewood Gallery just north of downtown and the studios in the River Arts District in west Asheville; Seven Sisters Gallery in Black Mountain; and Turtle Island Pottery's showroom in Old Fort.

Turtle Island Pottery in Old Fort, NC
In addition, the Asheville Area Arts Council will be hosting a textile exhibit, Connections, during American Craft Week and through the entire month of October at the AAAC Gallery in the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville.

Asheville Art in the Park will also be taking place during American Craft Week, on October 3 and October 10. It's a handmade market in Asheville's Pack Square, where 10% of the proceeds go toward a community grant that supports local artists.

See more details about each participating gallery and group on http://americancraftweek.com/wnc and keep on eye on that site for further information about American Craft Week activities in Western North Carolina.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Blue Ridge Parkway Hike: Rattlesnake Lodge

Don't let the name scare you: Rattlesnake Lodge is a neat destination hike off the Blue Ridge Parkway just six miles north of Asheville, North Carolina. The hike has many points of interest and takes you through a pretty area of the mountains.

Who owned Rattlesnake Lodge? None other than Dr. Chase P. Ambler. A well-known physician in his day, Dr. Ambler was not only passionate about healing his tuberculosis patients, but was also devoted to forestry conservation. As one of the founders of the Appalachian National Park Association (est. 1899), Dr. Ambler was at the very front of a movement to create a national park system, and many credit him among others with the eventual establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- a peak there is named after him -- as well as Pisgah National Forest that surrounds Asheville. In fact, the first tract of national forest land purchased under the Weeks Act of 1911 is located in the Curtis Creek Recreation Area in Old Fort, not far from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, and it's marked by a sign that dedicates the land to Dr. Ambler's memory.

Curtis Creek Recreation Area near the Inn on Mill Creek
So now that we know who Dr. Ambler was, let's talk about his lodge: Rattlesnake Lodge, constructed during 1903-1904, was Dr. Ambler's summer home for his family when the kids were out of school, although Dr. Ambler liked to go up to the lodge during the winter and spring as well. Regarding the name Rattlesnake Lodge, the story goes that Dr. Ambler would pay anyone a $5 bounty (a week's wages at that time), if they brought him a rattlesnake. The ceiling of the lodge's living room was adorned with rattlesnake skins!

Dr. Ambler and his family (photo credit: A. Chase Ambler, Jr.)
The lodge was on more than 300 acres of forested land, and included the main lodge, a carriage house (for parking the carriages before you walked or rode your horse to the lodge), stables and a horse barn, caretakers' cabins, a spring house, a tennis court and shallow swimming pool, terraced gardens, and storage buildings. Dr. Ambler eventually acquired 1,300 additional acres around the lodge, selling it to the government in 1916, which then made it part of Pisgah National Forest.

After the death of Dr. Ambler's wife in 1918, it is said that Dr. Ambler never returned to the lodge, (which burned down in 1926). In 1920, he sold the remaining 318 acres, which was bought and sold a few more times before being acquired by the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is part of U.S. National Park System.

The trail system around the lodge is now a portion of North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST). This section of the MST is maintained by the Carolina Mountain Club, which counts Dr. Ambler as one of its six original members. Quite serendipitous!

Rattlesnake Lodge (click to enlarge)
So now, you can hike on the MST to the site where Dr. Ambler's Rattlesnake Lodge stood and check out the cool ruins, as well as see the beautiful woods that Dr. Ambler wanted so much to protect. The hike is a moderate three miles through hardwood forest. Expect to see wildflowers if you are there in late spring or summer, into the fall season. At an elevation of 4,400 feet, it's a great hike in mid-October when the fall color show is in full swing.

Along the Mountains-to-Sea trail near Rattlesnake Lodge (October 22, 2014)
To get there, take the Blue Ridge Parkway north from Asheville near the Folk Art Center (milepost 382). Travel a little over six miles, then turn left onto Ox Creek Road (after that left, you'll then turn right after 0.2 at the t-intersection to stay on Ox Creek Rd). You'll see a small parking area (fitting 4 or so vehicles) on the right after about a mile. The MST is blazed with white circles.

A full description of the hike can be found at: www.hikewnc.info/besthikes/blue-ridge-parkway-section-4/rattlesnake-lodge.