The Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) is worthy of every motorcyclist’s bucket list of must-ride roads. The indescribable scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains combined with a great road that has very few access points makes for a dream ride. Many riders travel the 469-mile length of the BRP and exit the Parkway only for gas, food, and lodging. Have you done that, perhaps wondering about the roads that cross on the Parkway’s signature stone bridges? Or been curious about the few roads that parallel the Parkway for short distances? One of those roads is totally worth a side trip.
A road less traveled
One of the secrets of the BRP is that the roads, which cross under or over it, are some of the most interesting roads in the region. NC-181 is one of those roads. It crosses over the BRP between mile markers 312 and 313 and runs a total length of 36 miles. NC-181 has a north-south alignment and connects the North Carolina towns of Newland in the north to Morganton in the south.
The northern section
Heading north from the BRP, NC-181 travels through the Pigsah National Forrest and the towns of Pineola and Linville before ending in Newland at NC-194, for a total of eight miles. This places you near Grandfather Mountain State Park, which the famous Lynn Cove Viaduct of the BRP wraps around. From here you are a short ride from the vacation destinations of Blowing Rock and Boone, and are surrounded by great mountain roads.
The southern section
This section offers some wonderful riding as it descends from the BRP to the historic town of Morganton. After you cross the bridge over the BRP, the road turns to parallel the Parkway before descending the mountain. For the next 13 miles, the road features a nice mix of sweeping curves and a few tighter turns as it passes through the mostly undeveloped woodlands of the Pigsah National Forest.
Brown Mountain Lights
There are ample passing zones and a number of scenic pullouts along this section, including the Brown Mountain overlook. From here, on one side you can see Table Rock, Hawksbill, Sitting Bear, and Gingercake mountains. In the other direction is Brown Mountain, home of the locally famous “Brown Mountain Lights.” Mysterious lights have been reported above the mountain for decades. Many legends abound about the source of the lights, and it’s a regionally popular thing to bring a chair in the evening and watch for the phenomenon.
On into Morganton
The remaining 12 miles of NC-181 southbound to Morganton is a typical country road passing through farmland and homesteads. The historic town of Morganton offers opportunities to eat, shop, and explore before gassing up and returning to your BRP adventure.
NC-181 is not as technically challenging as some roads that cross the BRP but it offers nice riding and a chance to explore the beauty and communities of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Till next time, ride safe!