Spotlight: Blue Ridge Parkway - More Than Just A Road
Fall is one of the best times to discover the Blue Ridge Parkway’s palette of colors, music, history and nature.
What You’ll Find
Billed as “America’s favorite drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469 miles without so much as a single stop sign or distracting billboard between Virginia's Shenandoah National Park and the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s one of the National Park Service's most visited places, but you'll be hard pressed to ever hit bumper-to-bumper traffic. You will, however, find miles of mountains (including the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, just off the parkway at milepost 355 in Mount Mitchell State Park), unique geology (visit the Museum of North Carolina Minerals, milepost 331), waterfalls (like the stunning 75-foot Linville Falls, on a spur road between mileposts 316 and 317), forest, flora, fauna and meadows that span far beyond those two yellow lines.
There are dozens of access points onto the Blue Ridge Parkway between the northern end (milepost 0) near Waynesboro, Virginia and the southern end (milepost 469) near Cherokee, North Carolina. The largest cities on the route are Asheville, North Carolina and Roanoke, Virginia, but the parkway provides many inviting gateways to welcoming, bucolic rural towns.
The parkway offers five reservable campgrounds, as well as authorized concessions such as the Peaks of Otter Lodge, the Rocky Knob Cabins or the Pisgah Inn. In communities along the parkway, find a range of lodging options—from bed and breakfasts, lodges, cabins, mom-and-pop motels to artistically decorated hotels. Check the Blue Ridge Parkway Association's Where to Stay page for ideas.
Make Sure You
Explore the area’s musical heritage. Visit the Blue Ridge Music Center (milepost 213) to enjoy concerts or learn how the Southern Appalachian mountains were the “mixing bowl” for a recipe of African, German, British, Scottish and Irish musical traditions and instruments. The Center is near the town of Galax, Virginia, home of the annual Old Fiddler’s Convention each August.
Further north, visit Rocky Knob (milepost 169—download a map (PDF)) for a picnic or a hike on the Black Ridge or Rock Castle Gorge trails. Set up camp at Rocky Knob campground (milepost 167), then drive into eclectic Floyd, Virginia. Floyd is an interesting mix of farmers and counter-culture, where they say overalls and tie-dye live in harmony. Floyd may only have one stoplight, but it’s a regional destination for old-time and bluegrass music, as well as annual world and classical music festivals. The Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store is a year-round hit with travelers and locals alike.
The parkway website offers four suggested itineraries, but Blue Ridge Parkway Interpretive Specialist Peter Givens suggests scrapping your itinerary entirely. "It's in our nature to plan, but the best way to experience the parkway is to go with the flow and explore the natural beauty and local color of all the areas and communities," commented Givens. Watch the parkway reveal the cultural, historical life and farmland of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and let the slow pace of rural life draw you in.
Enjoy the view but watch the road! The road twists and turns to reveal jaw-dropping scenery around almost every curve. Wildflower watchers seek rhododendrons, flame azaleas and mountain laurel in the spring, while leaf-peepers arrive each October for the fiery colors of maple, tulip poplar and oak leaves. Come on a weekday if you have the option, and watch for drivers who may stop suddenly when something colorful catches their eye.
Visit Mabry Mill (milepost 176) for a meal of Virginia country ham with buckwheat, cornmeal or sweet potato pancakes. After your meal, be sure to pick up a bag of grits to cook up at home, and then take a short walk to pose for a snapshot in front of arguably—the country’s most photographed, water-powered gristmill. On Sundays (seasonally), try some flat-footin’ to the live old time mountain music (just watch how the locals move their feet and follow along) or watch the blacksmith demonstration. If you’re still hungry, there’s a locally-owned and operated fudge factory just 2 miles down the parkway at Meadows of Dan.
Download the Blue Ridge Parkway Association’s Directory and Travel Planner or pick up a print copy at visitor centers and many off-site locations, or try the Blue Ridge Parkway Mobile App.