The Orchard at Altapass is a great stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway, at Milepost 328.3 (about 55 miles north of Asheville). It's between Mt. Mitchell and Linville Falls and just a few miles from Little Switzerland.
This 105-year-old apple orchard turned Appalachian Cultural Center celebrates the people, music, art, and natural beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains in North Carolina. Built by the Clinchfield Railroad in 1908, the Orchard sits right on the Parkway providing some most beautiful scenery around. They are open May-October on Wednesday-Sunday. Free admission!
While you tap your toes to our authentic mountain music, a friendly staff serves up fabulous ice cream and famous Orchard fudge, made fresh by Miss Charlotte. Live music every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Watch the entire life cycle of Monarch Butterflies at the Butterfly Conservation Center as well as thousands of busy tree pollinators in the the Orchard beehive. The Apple Core Grill offers delicious sandwiches and snacks.
After a trip around the dance floor, buy some local mountain art, jams, jellies, sauces, sweets, gifts, and more! You're never too old to take an Orchard hayride, where you gaze out at the mountain views while listening to stories that have shaped this area for centuries. Or take a hike on one of their trails.
Oh, and don't forget the apples in September and October. Buy their apples in the barn or walk through their huge orchard sampling a dozen varieties of heirloom apples off the tree and picking your own!
Wednesday-Sunday: 10 AM-5 PM (Closed Monday & Tuesdays)
Open on Monday holidays of Memorial & Labor Day
Live music performances on Saturday and Sunday
The history of the orchard is long and fascinating. Their trees grow right along the crest of the Blue Ridge, the Eastern Continental Divide. The gap on the east side, McKinney Gap, is the lowest passage through the Blue Ridge for a hundred miles.
On September 29, 1780, the location that is now the orchard saw the passage of the Overmountain Men, coming from settlements in Indian Territory. During the rail building era of the late 1800's, the geography dictated this site would be perfect for a railroad. 1908 saw the completion of the Clinchfield Railroad. The last piece was the Clinchfield loops, consisting of 18 tunnels in 13 miles of track and built beside and below the orchard. It was the 'engineering wonder of the 20th century' when finally done.
The name Altapass is a railroad gift. Alta meaning high, and pass noting McKinney Gap were combined by the railroad to name the community which grew as a resort near the Blue Ridge Tunnel. The community disappeared as quickly when the Clinchfield discontinued passenger service.
When the railroad building was done, the Clinchfield Railroad turned the land it owned above the tracks near the Blue Ridge Tunnel into The Orchard. The land above the Loops was particularly well suited to apple growing, thanks to its geography. Located on a southeast-facing slope, the Orchard is 'frost free' most of the time. Its peak of 125,000 bushels of apples a year were shipped on the Clinchfield.
When the Blue Ridge Parkway chose its path, it too followed the ancient buffalo track and came through the middle of the Orchard, dividing it in half. The momentum for the Orchard was lost, and it began to decline. The wild growth of the trees became a sadness for Parkway travelers. When it was offered for sale in 1994, Kit Trubey bought the land and her brother Bill Carson with his wife Judy started the preservation of the place, including its apples and its memories. The half of the Orchard that lies above the Blue Ridge Parkway has been sold to the Parkway, to assure its perpetual preservation. The remaining land will be protected by conservation easement.