5 Attractions along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Stay with Bluegreen Resorts in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and pick from one of three comfortable, luxurious, home-away-from-home vacation destinations: MountainLoft in Gatlinburg, Tennessee; Laurel Crest in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; and Foxrun Townhouses in Lake Lure, North Carolina. All three resorts provide you with a gateway to the many outdoor adventures the area has to offer, including those along the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most picturesque routes in the country.

Construction on the Parkway, the nation’s first-ever rural roadway of its kind, began during the Great Depression as a way to link Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. When you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’re traveling a stretch of a 469-mile piece of history. Along the way, you can visit sites honoring Native American Cherokee traditions, local artisans’ studios, music festivals, and, of course, sites of spectacular natural beauty. The entire stretch of the Parkway includes hundreds of scenic overlooks, with sights of mountains and gorges, vast forests, brilliant foliage in the fall, and flowering rhododendrons in the spring. Besides the two national parks that anchor either end of the Parkway, here are a few of the other attractions you can enjoy along its length:

  1. Cherokee, North Carolina – The town of Cherokee lies at the final southern milepost of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and is therefore close to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. When you stop in Cherokee, you can browse a number of shops selling authentic Native American arts and crafts, including fine artwork by Cherokee artists, pottery, basketry, weavings, dolls, pipes, and much more.

If gaming is your pastime, you’ll find local dealers, as well as the amenities at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. If you love outdoor fun, try kayaking, tubing, and other watersports in Oconaluftee Islands Park. And if you visit during the summer, you can take in the rich drama of Unto These Hills, an outdoor play that tells the story of the tragedy and triumph of the Cherokee experience.

 

  1. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad – Located in Bryson City, near Cherokee, the terminal of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad will be your gateway to a trip back in time as you ride in style in a vintage railway car from the 1940s. The railroad winds through some of western North Carolina’s more remote regions, taking you on a breathtaking tour of valleys, rivers, 25 bridges, and tunnels cut from the mountainsides. Much of the natural beauty of this area comes from its ancient past, when the movements of volcanoes and glaciers formed its peaks and valleys. Your ticket includes a fine dining experience, and you can choose from a 44-mile tour through Nantahala Gorge, with a stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or the 32-mile round trip Tuckasegee River Excursion.

  1. The Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina – The city of Asheville is less than 30 miles from Lake Lure by car, and is a major marker along the Parkway. Stop and tour the magnificent Biltmore House, whose gardens were designed by famous 19th century architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who also planned the landscape of New York’s Central Park. The rose gardens alone are worth a visit, offering some 250 varieties of blooms. The house itself, home to a branch of the Vanderbilt family, contains soaring ceilings, paintings by European masters, a library with more than 10,000 volumes, tapestries, and other features that defined a lifestyle of elegance and luxury at the turn of the 20th century.

  1. Chimney Rock – Located in the Hickory Nut Gorge, Chimney Rock State Park is minutes from Lake Lure and includes some of North Carolina’s most stunning landscapes. Hickory Nut Falls is one of the tallest and most spectacular waterfalls in the eastern United States and featured prominently in the 1992 film The Last of the Mohicans. And when you ascend Chimney Rock’s 1,200-foot height, you’ll be able to see to a distance of about 75 miles across the Blue Ridge Mountains and Lake Lure. Go rock-climbing or hiking in the park, or stroll along the Great Woodland Adventure Trail, which offers children and families a dozen learning and discovery stations.

  1. Grandfather Mountain – About 150 miles from Gatlinburg, Grandfather Mountain offers iconic views of North Carolina’s landscapes. The mountain’s variety of wildlife includes songbirds, squirrels, black bears, deer, bald eagles, and more. Grandfather Mountain’s naturalists protect many of these animals—as well as cougars, which no longer roam wild in the area—within seven environmental habitats. These large enclosures are designed to resemble as closely as possible the animals’ natural territories in the wild. Visitors can also take in a 360-degree panoramic view from a mile above sea level on Grandfather Mountain’s Mile High Swinging Bridge.

7 Fun Things to Do in the Florida Keys

Spend your vacation with Bluegreen Resorts in the family-friendly city of Marathon, Florida, in the heart of the Florida Keys, where you can enjoy a wealth of activities in and out of the water. Bluegreen’s The Hammocks at Marathon can be your place to unwind after a day of exciting activities on the island chain. Here are just a few of the things you can do:

  1. Visit Dry Tortugas National Park.

Approximately 70 miles west from Key West and accessible via seaplane or boat, Dry Tortugas National Park is one of seven national parks situated close to Bluegreen Resorts destinations. You can clamber among the buildings of the Civil War-era Fort Jefferson, go bird-watching, take a history-filled hiking tour, or snorkel among the crystalline waves that surround the park’s seven mid-sized islands.

  1. Take a sunset sailboat cruise.

The Keys offer a wide variety of chartered boat excursions, the most romantic of which is an evening sail. A typical cruise lasts a few hours, and many cost less than $75 per person. Enjoy snacks, seafood, and wine or champagne at an on-board buffet and watch the sights of Miami and the Keys as you drift past their skylines. On some cruises, you can even help the crew raise the sails and take your turn at the ship’s helm.

  1. Meet Ernest Hemingway.

You won’t meet the late Nobel Prize-winning author himself, of course, but impersonators abound in Key West, particularly in the last week of July, when the community celebrates Hemingway Days. You can also take a half-hour guided tour of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum on Key West’s Whitehead Street.

The writer lived at this location beginning in the early 1930s, and the house still contains his furniture and many personal effects. The cats you’ll see roaming the grounds and the gardens are descended from his own pets. Filled with brilliantly colored hibiscus, gardenias, night-blooming jasmine, and many other flowers and trees, the gardens alone make the trip worthwhile.

  1. Make friends with dolphins.

When you tour the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key, one of the islands that make up the city of Marathon, you’ll learn about the habits of these highly intelligent and engaging creatures. The center works as a nonprofit group to promote the well-being of marine mammals and foster peaceful interactions between humans and animals. At the facility, you and your family can swim with dolphins, visit sea lions and birds, learn about the center’s rescue program, and play in the colorful children’s “Sprayground” miniature water park.

  1. Enjoy a beautiful church and grounds.

The Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea on Key West offers a serenely beautiful place to relax, contemplate nature, or attend a worship service. The oldest of South Florida’s Catholic churches, St. Mary Star of the Sea continues to serve the local community as part of an active parish. However, it also provides a quiet haven for visitors looking to connect with the history of the Keys. Dating from the mid-1840s, the buildings present a fine example of American Victorian architecture. The church’s grotto, dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, is said to provide protection to Key West from the worst impacts of hurricanes.

  1. Splash around!

A visit to the Florida Keys wouldn’t be complete without plenty of opportunities to indulge in water sports. From your home base in Marathon, you can find many places to go scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, kayaking, paddle-boarding, and many more. Local businesses offer rentals, charters, and tours. On a guided kayak tour, for example, you might explore the mangroves, lagoons, and back channels of Marathon and its islands, or venture into the open waters of South Florida.

  1. Watch the sun set on Mallory Square.

Mallory Square, at the northwest edge of Key West, is famous for its Sunset Celebration, an evening of arts and entertainment that begins about two hours prior to sunset. This now-iconic experience draws numerous tourists, so be prepared for crowds. But, if you like the excitement of a street fair, complete with buskers, food carts, drinks, arts and crafts displays, fortunetellers, and more, you won’t want to miss this festive event.

Regular performers include jugglers, bagpipers, tightrope-walkers, unicyclists, and even sword-swallowers and flame-throwers. To make it even more enticing, one of the best things about the Sunset Celebration is that admission is always free.­­­­­

Seven Great National Parks Near Bluegreen Resorts Destinations

When you book a vacation with Bluegreen Resorts, you’ll enjoy access to numerous picturesque city and state parks, from the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the tropical paradise Kaua’i. A number of locations also serve as gateways to the nation’s national park system.

With the National Park Service celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, there’s never been a better time to visit one of our national parks. Here are a few of the memorable national parks you can explore when you stay at a Bluegreen Resorts destination:

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is the United States’ oldest and perhaps best-known wilderness playground. When you stay at Bluegreen’s Montana resort, Lake Condominiums at Big Sky, you’re only about an hour’s drive away from the park’s more than 2 million acres of hot spring geysers, stunning waterfalls, and amazing wildlife, such as bison, grizzly bears, wolves, elk, white-tailed deer, and more. If you visit in the winter months, you can enjoy skiing or riding a snowmobile. Summer tourists can take part in hiking, backpacking, permitted camping, and trout fishing. For those looking for some civilization amid the wilderness, Yellowstone’s amenities include plenty of lodges and visitor centers.

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is a quick day trip away from your Bluegreen lodgings at Cibola Vista Resort and Spa in the Phoenix, Arizona, suburb of Peoria. The park draws more than 4 million people annually to experience the breathtaking displays of light and shadow along its 2 billion-year-old walls that unfold along the wilds of the Colorado River. If you’re brave enough, take a rafting tour down the river’s rapids, or travel into the depths of the canyon on a guided mule train tour, some of which feature overnight camping. The sunsets along the canyon’s North and South Rims have inspired awe in generations of people. Today, the park is a designated World Heritage site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

When you spend your vacation with Bluegreen at Laurel Crest in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, or MountainLoft in nearby Gatlinburg, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited destination in the entire national park system. Spanning eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains offers vistas of the scenic Appalachian Trail, as well as numerous waterfalls, fed by a foggy climate that rivals that of the Pacific Northwest. More than one-third of the park is covered with old-growth forest and a large part of the park is accessible to cars and recreational vehicles, which makes it one of the world’s best spots for a fall foliage tour. Admission is free, although there is a small fee for overnight camping.

Biscayne National Park

About an hour away from Bluegreen’s Solara Surfside resort just north of Miami, Biscayne National Park is home to one of the largest coral reefs in the world. Most of the park is underwater, and you will need to explore the series of canals and lagoons, as well as the reef itself, via a boat tour, which will give you an up-close view of the birds, fish, sea turtles, and manatees that make the park their home. For a reasonable price, you can also camp overnight at two of the park’s islands.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Florida is your jumping-off point for three national parks, including Dry Tortugas National Park. Situated at the tip of the Florida Keys, the park is approximately 70 miles from Key West, and can be reached only via ferry or seaplane. This makes it an accessible day trip from your comfortable home base at Bluegreen’s The Hammocks at Marathon, a central location in the island chain. The Dry Tortugas islands got their name from explorer Ponce de Leon’s sighting of more than 100 turtles in the early 1500s, and later became a base for pirate operations. The park is a beautiful place for diving and snorkeling, but keep in mind that you’ll need to obtain equipment from commercial providers. History buffs will also enjoy a tour of Fort Jefferson, which was used in Civil War days as a prison for Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Everglades National Park

Not far from Surfside and Miami, Everglades National Park is the nation’s only wilderness area with a subtropical climate. The park offers you an immersion into one-fourth of Florida’s original wetlands, now fully protected within its borders. Endangered species such as the Florida panther, the manatee, and the American crocodile shelter within the park, the geography of which includes stretches of wet sawgrass prairieland, as well as mangrove swamps and stands of tropical hardwood trees. You can encounter graceful herons and slow-and-steady turtles along the Anhinga Trail, or enjoy a look at dolphins and other marine mammals during a kayak or boat tour.

Shenandoah National Park

The last park on the must-see list is less than an hour’s drive from your charming cabin or yurt at Bluegreen’s Shenandoah Crossing in Gordonsville, Virginia. Tour the park by car along Skyline Drive running near the stunning Shenandoah River Valley, or hike through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Expert hikers may especially enjoy the challenges posed by Old Rag Mountain, but keep in mind that the strenuous nine-mile circuit poses significant danger. More tender-footed visitors will love setting up a picnic and looking for signs of deer, enjoying the birdsong, or thrilling to the park’s riot of fall colors.