My 80-something mother and I recently drove the Blue Ridge Parkway to the hot mineral baths of Hot Springs, North Carolina, about 35 miles northwest of Asheville. Mom had broken her hip and we sought the mineral baths as a therapeutic treatment. She wanted a change of scenery and a chance to see some wild turkey. Departing from the Roanoke Valley, we discovered that the North Carolina portion of the parkway goes through real wilderness. Areas offering gas stations, telephones, and restrooms are scarcer there than we were accustomed to. The solitude actually made us nervous.
Hot Springs is a tiny town nestled alongside the swirling French Broad River in the Pisgah National Forest. The town’s main thoroughfare and the Appalachian Trail are one and the same. We stayed in the Alpine Court Motel, a clean, old-fashioned establishment the front lawn of which joins this special Appalachian Trail segment. Sitting in our room we watched hikers trickle into town and discovered that the Alpine Court is a popular layover – a place where hikers immediately replace their boots with sandals, revealing feet blistered, scabbed, and raw.
We spent the afternoon soaking in a tub of indescribably comforting hot mineral water at the Hot Springs Spa & Campground a few blocks from the motel. The outdoor tubs are situated along the bank of the French Broad River, affording bathers a fine view of this wild mountain watercourse. The spa also offers therapeutic massage. My mother claims that the soak and massage alleviated her stiffness and improved her mobility.
After a day at the spa and dinner in Hot Springs in the company of sandal-clad hikers, my mother and I returned to the Alpine Court Motel and cranked opened the casement windows on opposite sides of our guest room. The lovely sound of frogs wafted in on a fragrant mountain breeze. I asked my mother, who studied music in college, what key the frogs were singing in.
On one side of the room they were singing in E, on the other D, she replied.
Before You Go:
Be sure to call the National Park Service for Blue Ridge Parkway road conditions (828/298-0398). Portions of the parkway near Asheville have been closed due to rock slides, and dense cloud cover can reduce visibility to near zero. Be warned that there is no cell phone service in Hot Springs and in many areas along the parkway. Always fill your gas tank and have your car checked by a mechanic before starting a long parkway drive.