Western North Carolina is a mountainous area where the Blue Ridge Parkway slices through the state on a northeast to southwest diagonal. An ideal setting of endless curves and fun in these mountains creates a natural playground for motorcyclists. Fifty miles east of Asheville, NC, right on the route, is a town known as Little Switzerland—the perfect base for our Shamrock Tour.
With little more than a handful of hotels, motels, restaurants, and shops scattered along the 226A, the resemblance of this stunning panorama of valleys and mountain ranges to the Swiss Alps is what gave the town its name. This small village was founded in 1910 and recently celebrated its centennial birthday. No matter where we look, we have a majestic view.
Since it was only a short two-hour trip from home, we landed at the Switzerland Inn last night so we could start the first of our four one-day loops early this morning. I’m on a 2013 Yamaha FJR 1300A, a comfortable touring bike that’s agile enough for the many twisties we’ll hit. Fabio, my companion, rides his 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650. It’s early May, and the air smells fresh as we wind south down the twisty 226A. The 16-mile-long Diamondback (as it’s called) requires our full attention. The asphalt has seen better days, but that doesn’t take away the pleasure of this beautiful tour.
We turn northeast in Marion to follow the foothills at our leisure. Now and then, we catch a glimpse of the backdrop that is the mountain range of the Blue Ridge. The morning mist adds a hazy glow to our peaceful meandering along Lake James Road.
At the Collettsville General Store, we stop to remove the liners from our gear. With the warmth of the day settling in, we decide that ice cream and people-watching are exactly what’s called for on this glorious Saturday morning.
Cooled off and eager to feel the pavement beneath us, we continue northeast past nurseries, farmland, and recreational areas until we finally reach 16 North, which brings us to our destination. It doesn’t matter how often I ride this stretch; it’s always fantastic, especially with such light traffic at this time of the year. Sporadically, Catawba Valley peeps through the trees as the leaves have yet to unfurl and block the scenery.
In Blowing Rock, a popular vacation spot just off the parkway, we’re lucky to find parking right on Main Street next to the Six Pence Pub. This place is known for its English fare and friendly staff—and it’s true that they make a shepherd’s pie like nobody’s business.
Right outside of Blowing Rock on 221 is the entrance to Grandfather Mountain State Park. It’s absolutely worth turning off our route, and after paying the entrance fee we follow the 20-mph speed limit and take several serpentines to the top. We leave our bikes, grab the cameras, and climb up the stairs. The 228-foot-long Mile High Swinging Bridge sways as we cross and sends a chill through my spine. Fabio barely contains his amusement, wryly noting, “You fearlessly ride motorcycles, but you dread heights?” Well, we all have our weaknesses, right?
Once at the highest point, the Linville Peak, we’re rewarded with an amazing view in all directions. We breathe in the moment before getting back on the bikes to return to our quarters via twisty 221, which runs just below the Blue Ridge and partially hugs the parkway.