Road Cycling the Blue Ridge High Country | home
Check current conditions at weather stations across the Blue Ridge Parkway at BRPWeather.com
The Blue Ridge High Country has long drawn folks from the flatlands in search of "mountain air." The climate atop the Blue Ridge can both pamper and punish cyclists.
What makes the weather in the mountains so different?
The air generally cools about three degrees Fahrenheit with every thousand feet of elevation gained. On a summer day when it's sizzling in Atlanta or Raleigh, it can be pretty pleasant at elevation 3,300 in Boone and maybe even a bit chilly 5,500 feet above sea level atop Beech Mountain. In winter, on the other hand, a rideable day in the lowlands can be raw and bitterly cold in the high mountains. Down in the valleys, "so deep you have to pipe in sunshine," tall mountain walls limit the sun's rays, creating pockets of cooler air and making the days seem shorter.
When moist air rises over the furrowed peaks of the Blue Ridge, it cools and often sheds its moisture. Blowing Rock, one of the High Country's wettest spots, gets an average of 66 inches of precipitation per year. That's about a third more wet stuff in an average year than towns in the foothills just a short drive below. You're more likely to encounter fog, too. Sometimes fog forms in the cool bottom lands along rivers and creeks. Other times, low clouds will enshroud the ridge tops, while the valleys below are clear. You can literally climb into the clouds here.
A near constant summer breeze stirs the air and keep things comfortable during the year's longest days. Those same winds aren't so welcome in the winter, as they sharpen the chill and swirl savagely, making riding a bike a delicate balancing act. The varied terrain of the mountains tends to channel wind through low spots on the ridges called "gaps." The Blue Ridge is notched by scores of these low points in the mountain wall. The early settlers made note of how the gaps channel the wind and gave them names like "Windy Gap" and "Air Bellows Gap."
Not only is mountain weather different, but the rhythm of the seasons is different, too.
Spring comes later
The azaleas can be in bloom and the air warm as a friendly hug along the Atlantic in Charleston, while in Boone it can be gray and chilly, with just a brave crocus or two to give us hope that winter's end is near. Spring's late arrival in the mountains has its advantages, though. Spring in the South means daffodils, dogwoods, and a green-gold burst of color as the trees revive. It's beautiful, but all too brief. With a visit to the mountains you can `rewind' spring and enjoy it all over again. Temperatures lag behind the lowlands; highs typically hit the low 70s in the piedmont in April, but it's not until May that the average temperature is 70 in Boone. "Averages" don't mean a lot during spring, as the weather is famously variable then.
Summer is cooler
Average summer high temperatures are in the 70s atop the Blue Ridge. Afternoon rains aren't uncommon. Haze often obscures the views. It can get sticky, but rarely sweltering. On a fair day, July atop the Blue Ridge can feel like May `down the mountain.' Rhododendron and wildflowers brighten the landscape, and mountain breezes stir the warm summer air. Summer is a sweet season on the Blue Ridge.
Fall comes earlier
Not only can you `rewind' spring, but you can also `fast forward' fall. Want to see fall color and feel some crisp fall air weeks sooner than you would in the flatlands? Ride up. Atop the loftier peaks of the High Country, leaves begin to change in late September. In the valleys, mid-October is the trees' time to shine, while in the foothills, Halloween usually marks the color peak. Fall is normally the High Country's driest season, offering many days of blue skies, moderate temperatures and expansive views.
Winter is longer
Atop the Blue Ridge, it gets cold sooner and stays cold longer than in the Piedmont below. Snow and ice become concerns for cyclists. Winter temperatures swing widely, depending on whether the weather is coming from the warm Atlantic or the cold interior of the continent. Winter riding requires careful planning and the right clothing, but it has its own rewards. Winter's crisp, clear air and bare forests mean the best views, and tourist-oriented roads like the Blue Ridge Parkway are practically deserted. The foothills of the Blue Ridge offer a variety of challenging, scenic and lightly-traveled routes with weather conditions more conducive to winter cycling.