Running 469 miles through 29 North Carolina and Virginia counties, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited single unit in the U.S. National Parks System. Named after the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a part of the Appalachian Mountain range, the parkway has no entrance fee. This toll-free drive takes about 10 to 15 hours. But, you'll want to take several days to take in the depth of the parkway's beauty.
Photo Alert: Any time of year, travelers are sure to capture stunning photos of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but the fall autumn colors are particularly spectacular.
Covering 25 tunnels through North Carolina and Virginia and with captivating views of lush forests, verdant meadows, and snow-capped mountains, the arresting scenery leaves travelers in awe.
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With views that stretch for miles, the area has plenty of outdoor camping, backpacking, and hiking for adventure seekers. Also, be sure to stop at milepost 408 where you'll find Mount Pisgah, one of the most beautiful and active areas of the Blue Ridge Parkway to explore.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Blue Ridge Parkway was initially called the Appalachian Scenic Highway?
Spring to fall is the best time to take in this gorgeous parkway. Travelers with RVs are encouraged as there are several campgrounds, hotels, and lodgings along the road considered by many to be "America's Favorite Drive." If you have the time for some off-road exploring in addition to the spectacular scenic attractions there are plenty of dining and lodging stops. It takes a week or more to take in all of the sights and towns along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The four districts divided along the byway are the Ridge region, the Plateau region, the Highlands, and the Pisgah region. If you can’t take it all in over one vacation, you can always come back to see the rest! You could split your trip while traveling the two gateway National Parks that lie at either end of the parkway.
Fun Fact: The Cherokee Indians, the prominent Native American tribe of the Blue Ridge region, called the Blue Ridge Mountains, Land of the Blue Mist. The Cherokee, displaced by the construction, protested the building of the Blue Ridge Parkway and received favorable terms for their efforts.
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Blue Ridge Parkway History
The Blue Ridge Parkway was a part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, designed to create jobs and improve infrastructure after the Great Depression. Engineers began construction in 1935 on the scenic byway. They started near Cumberland Know, North Carolina, and ended in 1987 near Grandfather Mountain State Park, completing all but the last seven miles. The chief landscape architect, Stanley Abbott, had a vision of a chain of parks and recreational areas with preserved viewsheds for the Parkway. At the start of World War II, approximately 170 miles opened for travel, with 160 miles still under construction.
Fun Fact: The Blue Ridge Parkway has been the #1 most visited unit of the United States National Park system for 70 years.
The Parkway starts at U.S. Route 441, at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park entrance, and ends at Shenandoah Valley National Park. The Parkway turns into the scenic Skyline Drive as it rambles through the Shenandoah Valley National Park.
Visitors who drive the Blue Ridge Parkway straight through take close to 15 hours to complete. However, with all of the waterfalls, scenic byways, and overlooks, most drivers typically take longer.
Pro Tip: The speed limit along the Parkway is 45 mph, which is probably slow enough since you’ll want to take in the stunning views.
Blue Ridge Parkway Attractions
Southern Highland Folk Arts Center
Off milepost 384, offers a great film and interactive exhibits on the history and culture of the Blue Ridge region. The Arts Center showcases Appalachian arts, crafts, demonstrations, exhibitions, programming, and educational events.
A tiny town off of milepost 334 that provides unique views and history. The small mining town can only be accessed directly from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Blue Ridge Parkway Tunnels
Dug through the mountains along the Parkway showcasing part of the stunning ambiance and beauty of the Blue Mountains. There are 26 Blue Ridge Parkway tunnels, most of which are in North Carolina.
The tunnels were necessary by the engineers who designed the route for limited impact. The longest tunnel on the Parkway is the Pine Mountain Tunnel at 1,434 feet long, while the Rough Ridge Tunnel is the shortest at 150 feet.
Fun Fact: Most of the tunnels built along the Parkway were constructed by hand back in the 1930s.
Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks
With over 200 scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, travelers have multiple chances to take in the glory of the Blue Ridge region. There are 68 overlooks in Virginia and 132 in Western North Carolina. One of the most popular overlooks is the Richland Balsam Overlook, with the highest elevation of 6,053 feet. With its breathtaking views of three different Blue Ridge sub-ranges, the Cowee, Nantahala, and Plott Balsams, it is by far one of the countries most stunning architectural feats.
Fun Fact: There are over 50 Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls.
At milepost 430, the Cowee Mountain overlook rests at 5,950 feet above sea level. This overlook offers magnificent views and stunning vistas of the mountains. Then at milepost 305.2, the Beacon Heights Overlook is great for sunrises and sunsets over the Blue Ridge range. It's a moderate trek, but the 360-degree views are worth the hike. Capturing views of Grandfather Mountain, Table Rock, and Hawksbill. Other famous Blue Ridge Parkway stops include:
- Graveyard Fields
- Looking Glass Rock
- Craggy Dome
- Raven’s Roose
- Bluff Mountain
- Mabry Mill
The Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are incomparable in their mystic and not to be missed!