Large tracts of national forest and animals are frequently sighted, at times crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway. That can be one of your best opportunities to see wildlife. Here are some iconic sights you'll see on a visit to the Boone Area's nature preserves.
Parkway area summits are the highest in the East. Two scenic species of evergreens symbolize the cool northern climate of the Southern Appalachians. Red Spruce grows widely and ranges all the way to New England. Fraser Fir is native only to high summits in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and southwestern Virginia. The nation's favorite species of Christmas tree grows in neat plantations along the Boone area part of the Parkway. Acid rain and ozone challenge both trees, and the tiny Balsam woolly adelgid is attacking Fraser Fir. In places you'll notice dead, skeletal stands of these evergreens-and places where the cool verdure of the forest is inspiring. Add sugar maples, yellow birches, and paper birches and you'll see why the Parkway's highest forests inspire comparisons with New England.
The tree-covered Southern Appalachians offer inspiring vistas from breezy mountaintop meadows called "balds." Despite being located at high elevations, these natural-appearing meadows are not true alpine areas like those that lie above timberline in New England and the West. Parkway peaks would need to reach 8,000 feet for a severe high-elevation climate to create treeless summits. Some think the unexplained meadows resulted from fires set by Native Americans to encourage game. The balds are one of the best places to enjoy the rhododendron bloom. The meadows can easily be seen on the Boone area part of the Parkway at Craggy Gardens (and near the Parkway at Roan Mountain).
The lacy boughs of Carolina Hemlock lend a northern feel to the Parkway's deciduous forests of oak, maple, and tulip poplar. These evergreens love water, so they grow to impressive height and girth in stream drainages and near lakes (such as Trout Lake in Blowing Rock). The bark of the hemlock contains tannin and was used to make a tanning treatment for hides. Sadly, the hemlock woolly adelgid may eradicate the species.
Head to the Daniel Boone Native Gardens in Boone to see and learn more about native plants.
A distinctive gargling croak denotes this giant black bird with a bulbous black beak. Often seen high on the Parkway, at Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell, the birds soar along rocky crags and brave even bitter winter winds to frolic in blustery gusts. Quoth the traveler: "The raven never bores" with aerial acrobatics.
It's easier than ever to glimpse flocks of wild turkeys along the Parkway-populations of the birds have grown dramatically in North Carolina in recent years. Clusters of gobblers can often be glimpsed at the edges of fields and forests.
With the Parkway surrounded by thousands of acres of national forest, you could glimpse the reclusive black bear. The often-sinewy bruins range from 125 to 250 pounds. Parkway campers should use caution not to tempt bears with easily accessible food. Never feed bears or approach too closely, especially a mother with cubs.
North Carolina has its own subspecies of northern flying squirrels. It's rare to see these nocturnal gliders, but you will see the red squirrel, another species found far to the north that lives in the cool evergreen forests of Boone area mountains.
The highest mountains and streams of the Parkway are home to more species of these slithering amphibians than any other place on the planet. Many Parkway area species are found nowhere else. Most salamanders are "lungless" and breathe through their skin, so staying damp is essential. Their preferred habitat of misty forests and streamside sites makes them easy to observe under rocks and logs.
You'll often see these furry, puffy-cheeked, roly-poly rodents calmly standing in the grass right beside the Parkway or perched atop stonewalls, munching away on the shoots of a verdant mountain summer. Members of the marmot group are also called woodchucks. They dig impressive burrows and experience a true three or more month hibernation in winter. Groundhogs whistle when alarmed, so mountain residents called them "whistle pigs".
Check out the natural animal habitats at Grandfather Mountain to get up close and personal with some of the area's native species.