Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Stretching for 469 miles of pure, breathtaking beauty, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way through the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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).

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Moses H, Cone Memorial Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Excuse me…but is this Heaven?

The Absolute Best Places to RV This July

There is nothing that compares to the freedom of the open road, especially when following it takes you to some of the most magnificent scenery and interesting places in the United States and Canada

July means independence. Or, more accurately, watching people eat an inhuman amount of hot dogs before drinking and playing with fireworks to celebrate independence.

All of this is great fun, but it only gets you to the fourth day of the month. After that, you’ve got four weeks when the weather is nicer, the pace is slower, and half of America is on vacation. So why not take some time off as well?

To help you plan your mid-summer getaway, we found places with some amazing stuff going on. Here are the best places to travel this July. And be sure to catch up on all our recommendations for the best places to visit in April, May, and June.

Canadian Rockies, Alberta

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Canadian Rockies stretch 900 miles northwest from the Montana border. The lakes and peaks combined create gob-smacking scenery at any time of the year. But since an RV/car is indispensable for visiting the Rockies, accessing their beauty is easiest in the warmer months, when the highways are clear of ice and snow.

Glacial Skywalk along the Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Banff and Jasper are the two most popular destinations for visitors to the Rockies. They are connected by a 140-mile Icefields Parkway that offers unobstructed mountain views on both sides.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you doubt the Appalachians can hold their own with any other mountain range on the continent, travel this 469-mile stretch of road from Rockfish Gap, Virginia, to Swain County in North Carolina. Coupled with sweeping views of some of the oldest mountains on earth, you’ll see 300 miles of forest, tons of wildlife, rock tunnels, and two national parks (Shenandoah and Smoky Mountains).

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the way, you’ll find the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia, Chimney Rock in North Carolina, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate in Charlottesville, Virginia.

New Hampshire

Wolfsboro in the Lake Region © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For outdoor-adventure types in the east, no place beats New Hampshire in July. White Mountain National Forest is more green than white this time of year, with some of the best mountain biking and off-road cycling trails in the country.

Weirs Beach in the Lake Region © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kayaking and canoeing along Squam Lake makes for a calm, serene mountain getaway. Or hit Newfound Lake in the state’s Lake Region for the largest freshwater swimming beach in the state.

Newport, Rhode Island

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nowhere in New England compares to the Gilded-Age splendor of Newport, a coastal town set upon cliffs dotted with some of the most spectacular mansions of the 19th century. The must-do activity here is, obviously, touring the Newport Mansions, but that’s far from the only draw.

Historic Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport also hosts the annual Newport Regatta, one of the biggest sailing races in America bringing with it the best sailing parties. Held in July, the Regatta is the ideal time of year to visit, but even if you miss it there are still plenty of wide, sandy beaches to lounge on for the day, and a surprisingly good wine region just on the outskirts of town. 

Great Smoky Mountains

Clingmans Dome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This isn’t just Blue Ridge Parkway, Part II. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is 816 square miles unto itself, and you won’t see much of it from where the Blue Ridge Parkway drops you in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Touristy goodness of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Actually, for this trip, we’d recommend coming into the park from the other entrance in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and taking in all the touristy goodness of the Ober Gatlinburg amusement park and ski area, the Ripley’s Aquarium, and, in nearby Pigeon Forge, Dolly Parton’s own amusement park, Dollywood. The latter has has roller coasters and other thrill rides, but the Southern cooking, country music, musical revues, barbecue and bluegrass festivals and more that make it more than just some fair-food-and-cheap-thrills theme park.

Smoky Mountains on steroids © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Great quote from travel writer Doug Lansky: “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he comes to see.” Think about it.

A Byway Is Calling

America’s byways are gateways to adventures where no two experiences are the same

America’s byways provide unparalleled opportunities to experience the cultural, historical, ecological, recreational, or scenic qualities of the area.

There are several designations used to honor these routes. The most common type of designation is the National Scenic Byway, though there are also state scenic byways.

If a particular scenic byway is especially outstanding, it may also be recognized with the additional title of “All-American Road.”

Find the routes of your choice and get ready to hit the open road.

Arizona: Red Rock Scenic Byway

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All-American Road

Length: 7.5 miles

Take 20 minutes to drive, but allow several hours to include all activities along the byway.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All-American Road Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls.” Travelers are amazed by the high desert’s power, diversity, and sense of intimacy with nature. Inhabited for thousands of years, the stunning red rocks are alive with a timeless spirit that captivates and inspires.

Ohio: Amish Country Byway

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

National Scenic Byway

Length: 76.2 miles

Allow 1-2 days to enjoy the byway, or 3-4 hours to drive it.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Discover the cultural and historic treasures of the Amish and northern Appalachian people as you wend through curves and over the hills of the pastoral countryside. Experience simple living and sustainability along charming country roads, taking you to a bygone era still present, manifest in the people and their lifestyle.

South Dakota: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

National Scenic Byway

Length: 68 miles

Allow four hours to drive the byway or one day to experience the entire byway.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This byway will lead you on a delightful adventure as it winds its way around spiraling “pig-tail” shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles and over pristine, pine-clad mountains. Highlights include Mount Rushmore, Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake, the Needle’s Eye, and Cathedral Spires rock formations.

Virginia: Colonial Parkway

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All-American Road

Length: 23 miles

One hour to drive the byway.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Colonial Parkway not only illustrates the English colonial experience in America, but is also an outstanding example of American parkway design. Retaining its original scenic and historic integrity to a remarkable degree, the 23-mile route connects the historic sites of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.

South Carolina: Edisto Island National Scenic Byway

Edisto Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

National Scenic Byway

Length: 16 miles

Drive the Edisto Island Scenic Byway and enjoy the peaceful barrier Edisto Island provides from the hectic 21st Century world of today. The route traverses salt marsh, creeks, maritime forests, farm fields, and historic churches from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean. Stop at a roadside stand and buy a handmade sweetgrass basket, fill it with fresh local produce at a roadside market and fresh seafood dockside.

Edisto Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Go for a picnic on the beach, keeping an eye out for dolphin and horseshoe crabs. Go shelling. But most of all, take your time and breathe deep: this “Edis-slow ramble” is a visual delight, with much that will soothe the spirit and awaken the senses.

North Carolina and Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All-American Road

Length: 469 miles

Four days to enjoy the byway

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Parkway provides spectacular mountain and valley vistas, quiet pastoral scenes, sparkling waterfalls, and colorful flower and foliage displays as it extends through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.

Worth Pondering…

There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.

—Jamie Francis

The Most Instagrammable Travel Destinations for 2019

The RV lifestyle makes it easy to explore these Instagram-worthy travel destinations

For fun and adventure, consider our top Instagram-worthy travel destinations for 2019.

This compelling list of photogenic destinations captures some of nature’s most beautiful spots.

The RV lifestyle makes it easy to truly immerse yourself in the culture of a destination while checking off those bucket list destinations.

Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah

Driving through Monument Valley makes you feel as though you’ve just traveled back in time. It combines old country western feels with road trip vibes, and offers some of the most perfectly framed photo ops that are totally ‘Instaworthy.’

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Nearly 800,000 acres of desert east of the Coachella Valley, Joshua Tree National Park rewards visitors with a full range of peculiar treasures: spiky yuccas, spiny cacti, spindly ocotillos, gangly Joshua trees, and geological formations, including Jumbo Rocks.

The lower Colorado Desert merges into the higher Mojave Desert, and cholla cactus and ocotillos give way to Joshua trees. An even bigger wow (think Instagram-worthy) can be had at Keys View. To the west, distant San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak—both topping 10,000 feet—scrape the sky. Looking south, you can spy the Salton Sea.

Canadian Rockies, Alberta

The Canadian Rockies stretch 900 miles northwest from the Montana border. The lakes and peaks combined create gob-smacking scenery at any time of the year. But since an RV/car is indispensable for visiting the Rockies, accessing their beauty is easiest in the warmer months, when the highways are clear of ice and snow. Banff and Jasper are the two most popular destinations for visitors to the Rockies. They are connected by the Icefields Parkway, a 140-mile highway that offers unobstructed mountain views.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina/Virginia 

One of the most scenic roads in America, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile road that winds along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains providing a unique view of picturesque landscape and history. The Parkway connects Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park at the north end with North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the south end.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Step out of your car and into a natural wonderland. The vibrant colors of the Petrified Forest will keep your eyes engaged, while these fascinating ancient fossils will engross your mind. Check out the Rainbow Forest Museum first, so you can orient yourself and determine your trail route.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Take a break from being a road warrior and go caving instead. Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 caves—formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes. Experience the Big Room and Natural Entrance trails at your own pace. Ranger-guided tours include King’s Palace, Left Hand Tunnel, Hall of the White Giant, Lower, Spider, and Slaughter Canyon cave. If you visit from May to October, be prepared to witness the spectacular flight of bats at twilight.

Sequoia National Park, California

I love being close to nature, especially feeling the fresh clean air passing through my lungs and hearing birds sing as a river passes by. Sequoia National Park is a truly special place that is definitely Instagram-worthy. Those huge trees hold an amazing energy and knowledge. At over 3,000 years old, some even pre-date the birth of Christ.

Moki Dugway, Utah

Driving the Moki Dugway in southeastern Utah is not for the faint of heart. A three-mile section of gravel switchbacks chiseled into a nearly vertical cliff side, Moki Dugway descends 1,200 feet down to the western end of the Valley of Gods (known for its buttes and towering pinnacles). The few guardrails don’t hide the wreckage of the occasional vehicle that went over the edge. 

Worth Pondering…

Every picture I take is like a diary entry.

—Gilles Peress