The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the American landscape, at times suspended from towering cliffs and carved into rugged outcrops, effortlessly transitioning to skim across pastoral fields and beside charming log cabin houses encircled by split-rail fences. It serves as a conduit for travelers and a unifying thread for the region.
For those who have journeyed through the Southern Appalachians in North Carolina and Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a familiar and influential presence. We present a detailed beginner’s guide to navigating what is fondly known as “America’s favorite drive.”
Feel free to jump ahead or read on for insights on:
- The Blue Ridge Parkway at a glance
- History of the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Geography & design of the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Blue Ridge Parkway climate & wildlife
- Blue Ridge Parkway recreation & things to do
- BRP seasonal access & safety
Snapshot of the Blue Ridge Parkway
Distance: 469 miles (755 km) Elevation Range: 649–6,047 feet Operational Hours: Open all day, contingent on weather conditions Construction Period: 1935–1987 Purpose: A recreational motor route linking Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks.
- Recognized as “America’s favorite drive”
- Spans 29 counties across Virginia and North Carolina
- Features 26 tunnels (25 in North Carolina, 1 in Virginia)
- Celebrated as the longest linear park in the U.S.
- Ranked as the most visited site in the National Park system for 70 of the past 74 years
- Contributes approximately $2 billion annually to the economy
Historical Context of the Blue Ridge Parkway
This scenic drive is a testament to the National Park Service, initially envisioned during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to revitalize employment during the Great Depression.
Crafting the Parkway was a colossal task for the early designers, who had to navigate through formidable mountain passes with little guidance on the route. In the 1930s, this represented both an engineering marvel and an artistic venture, straddling the burgeoning national park ethos and the nation’s burgeoning automotive passion. The Parkway’s inception was a harmonious blend of these two American infatuations.
Chief landscape architect Stanley Abbott, at the age of 26, was tasked with encapsulating the Appalachian landscape’s panoramic mountain views for motorists. Abbott continued his dedicated work from 1935 until World War II interrupted in 1944. At that point, two-thirds of the Parkway was complete. Post-war, construction resumed in segments until 1967, concluding with the final seven-mile stretch around Grandfather Mountain in 1987.
Geography & Design of the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Parkway is segmented into four distinct regions:
- Ridge: Spanning miles 0–105.9, starting from Afton, Virginia, past Roanoke, and traversing the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Noteworthy sites include the Peaks of Otter Lodge at milepost 86.
- Plateau: Mileposts 106–216 traverse Virginia’s plateau region to the state border, featuring historic sites, diverse landscapes, and traditional music, with Rocky Knob as a highlight at milepost 169.
- Highlands: This stretch, from the NC state line (milepost 217) to Crabtree Falls (milepost 339), is marked by high peaks and includes destinations like Boone and Blowing Rock, with notable attractions like Grandfather Mountain and Little Switzerland at milepost 334.
- Pisgah: From mileposts 340–469, this region is home to attractions such as Mount Mitchell and the Parkway headquarters in Asheville, culminating near Cherokee, NC.
The Parkway’s design is a blend of artistic vision and mathematical precision, notably the use of spiral curves to ease drivers into turns smoothly, crafted by Abbott’s expertise.
Climate & Wildlife of the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Parkway’s ecological variety stems from its extensive elevation range, resulting in significant temperature shifts and weather changes. The route harbors an impressive array of biodiversity, with numerous tree species, plants, mammals, and birds, including endangered species. Visitors are advised to respect wildlife by maintaining distance and staying on designated trails.
Recreation & Activities Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Parkway invites travelers to explore its gentle curves with numerous scenic stops. Towns along the route offer dining, lodging, and cultural experiences, while outdoor adventurers can indulge in hiking, biking, fishing, and more, with the French Broad River and Mount Mitchell State Park offering unique natural experiences.
Seasonal Access & Safety on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Open around the clock, weather-dependent, the Parkway’s accessibility can be limited during winter due to closures from adverse conditions. Visitor centers and facilities also have varying seasonal hours. It’s recommended to check the National Park Service’s closure map before setting out.
For more details, visit the official Blue Ridge Parkway website at https://www.blueridgeparkway.org/