A meandering road snaking for 469 miles along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 100 trailheads and over 300 miles of trails. It passes through a range of habitats that support more plant species than any other park in the country: over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 kinds of fungi, 500 types of mosses and lichens, and the most varieties of salamanders anywhere in the world.
The nation’s first and longest rural parkway began as a 1930s depression-era public works project. Taking over 52 years complete, it was designed to simulate a park-like environment, blending natural surroundings and panoramic views with farms, streams, forests, and local culture.
The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the Appalachian Mountain chain, twisting and turning through the beautiful mountains. From Shenandoah National Park, the scenic drive travels along the Blue Ridge Mountains for 355 miles. Then, for the remaining 114 miles, it skirts the southern end of the Black Mountains, weaves through the Craggies, the Pisgahs, and the Balsams before finally ending in the Great Smokies.
Enticing nature lovers, the Blue Ridge Parkway spans more than 70,000 acres of forest and includes 14 vegetation types, 1,600 vascular plant species, and 130 species of trees.
Taking a break along the way, visitors can stop at a visitor center and learn more about the area from the many exhibit and restored historical structures. The drive is long, but there are more than 100 trails along the Parkway for travelers to stretch their legs. In addition to hiking, the parkway also offers bird-watching opportunities, horseback riding, ranger guided walks, and nine campgrounds, on top of ample opportunity to photograph America’s Favorite Drive.
The magnificent views and historic attractions are too numerous to enjoy in just one trip which may be why the region attracts so many repeat visitors. It doesn’t matter whether you start from the north or south or anywhere in between—just don’t be surprised if you wander in and out of the parkway during your explorations.
You’ll need over a week on the Blue Ridge to adequately absorb all that surrounds you. With more than 260 overlooks, each stop provides one dramatic scene after another.
The road is narrow winding in some sections and tunnels have height restrictions, RVs of all sizes have been traveling the parkway for years. Of course, your everyday explorations will be best enjoyed using your dinghy; we based our coach in RV parks along the way, moving several times as we traveled south. The many entrances to the parkway allow you to enter or exit easily.
Entering the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap (milepost 0), our first stop was the visitor center at Humpback Rocks (milepost 5.8) where we gathered information and talked with the ranger on duty.
You’ll find a visitor center and campground with 24 RV sites at Otter Creek (milepost 60.8).
At the Peaks of Otter (milepost 85.6), another visitor center provides more park information. There, we also explored the Johnson Farm, restored to 1920s appearance.
Mabry Mill (milepost 176.1) is one of the parkway’s best-loved attractions. Surrounded by outdoor interpretive displays, a millpond smooth as glass reflects the old mill. The slowly turning waterwheel spills a small cascade of water into the pond while, inside the mill, park interpreters give demonstration on the workings of the gristmill.
The North Carolina section of the parkway starts at Milepost 216.9, outside of Cumberland Knob.
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (milepost 294), preserves the country estate of Moses H. Cone, textile magnate, conservationist, and philanthropist of the Gilded Age. Its centerpiece is Flat Top Manor, a gleaming white 20-room, 13,000 square foot mansion built in 1901 in the grand Colonial Revival style. The Manor is now the home of the Parkway Craft Center.
The Linn Cove Viaduct (milepost 304) hugs the face of Grandfather Mountain and is recognized internationally as an engineering marvel. This was the last section of the Parkway to be completed and a model of the construction technique highlights a visit to the Linn Cove Visitor Center.
A slight detour at milepost 355.4, via State Route 128, led us to the highest point east of the Mississippi River. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell offers incredible views of color-washed lower elevations.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has six exits in the Asheville area. So there’s no excuse not to stop off in that charming city on your summer vacation and tour Biltmore Estate, the country’s largest private home.
The parkway south of Asheville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its range of elevation. From about 2,500 feet, it gradually rises to 6,047 feet at the parkway’s highest point, Richland Balsam Gap, milepost 431, and then descends to just over 2,000 feet, all through the undeveloped beauty of national forest.
Excuse me…but is this Heaven?