Discovering the amazing Blue Ridge Parkway
Published: Sunday, August 3, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 4, 2014 at 9:21 a.m.
Riding the backbone of the Appalachian Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles. Started during President Franklin Roosevelt's administration, the project was originally called the Appalachian Scenic Highway.
Part of its purpose was to put many people to work; private contractors, state and federal highway departments, Italian and Spanish stonemasons and thousands of Civilian Conservation Corps personnel built this amazing road. Construction took 52 years, with the last stretch near Grandfather Mountain opening in 1987.
The southern terminus is at the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. It travels north to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Skyline Drive (a separate entity managed by a different National Park Service). The parkway is one of the most visited of the National Park System, with its slow-paced and relaxing drive offering stunning vistas, as well as close-up views of rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes.
There is limited access, no commercial signs and no gas stations along the two-lane parkway — all part of the beauty and enjoyment. No commercial vehicles are allowed, the maximum speed is 45 mph and there are 26 tunnels (some with a maximum height of 18 feet).
The parkway contains three mountain ranges, with 16 peaks above 5,000 feet, including Mount Mitchell, the highest east of the Mississippi at 6,683 feet. There are seven campgrounds, 360 miles of hiking trails, 13 developed picnic areas (with restrooms) plus many overlooks and picnic tables to relax and take in the area's serenity and scenery.
Bicycles are allowed, but prepare for long distances between developed areas; and in some sections the climb is 1100 feet in 3.4 miles.
Temperatures vary, and it can be at least 10 degrees cooler at higher elevations — great on a hot day. Popular attractions include Grandfather Mountain, Blue Ridge Visitor Center, Mount Mitchell, Crabtree Meadows, Craggy Gardens, Pisgah Inn and Restaurant, Cold Mountain Overlook and Looking Glass Rock.
At Graveyard Fields there are three easily accessible waterfalls, and during July and August, blackberry and blueberry picking is popular. At Devil's Courthouse, a strenuous half-mile trail leads to the summit, and at Waterrock Knob a moderately difficult trail affords breathtaking views of Maggie Valley and the Smokies.
Linville Falls (150 feet high) was a popular resort destination before the parkway was built. The road to the falls and campground is at milepost 316.5.
Near Galax, Virginia, the Blue Ridge Music Center has noontime jams on the deck. The Peaks of Otter is named for three mountains positioned in a triangular pattern and its lodge is open year-round. Wildflowers bloom mid-May through August, and fall foliage is at its peak in October. During winter, sections of the parkway may be closed due to snow and ice.
Call 828-298-0398 for information and download the phone app to access content with or without a cell signal.
It's time to make some memories driving through this special area of the USA.
Claudine Dervaes has more than 33 years of experience in the travel industry. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.