Blue Ridge Parkway

This article is an itinerary.

Blue Ridge Parkway is in the states of North Carolina and Virginia in the United States of America. The Parkway wanders 469 miles between Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along a very scenic stretch of road.



Although the Blue Ridge Parkway is often seen primarily as a scenic byway with many natural attractions, it is also a cross-section of Appalachian mountain history. Stretching almost 500 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains through North Carolina and Virginia, it encompasses some of the oldest settlements of both pre-historic and early European settlement. Overlook signs, visitor center exhibits, restored historic structures, and developed areas, all point out and explain the interesting history.

Native American Culture and Influence

The Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, and the Monacan, Saponi, and Tutelo Indians of western Virginia, were among the earliest inhabitants of the Blue Ridge, leaving artifacts and changes in the landscape as evidence of their existence. Many of the fields still visible at the base of the mountains date back centuries to ancient American Indian agricultural methods of burning and deadening the trees and underbrush to provide needed grazing and crop land. Mountain and river names along the Parkway also reflect the American Indian influence. The best place to learn about the pre-history of the Appalachian chain in Virginia is at the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center museum (milepost 85.9). Arrowheads and early tools found in the Peaks area are exhibited. In North Carolina, the Parkway enters the Cherokee Indian Reservation at milepost 457.7 and features an informational display on the reservation at the Lickstone Parking Overlook (milepost 458.9).

European Homesteads

There are many surviving examples of early European pioneer structures along the Parkway, beginning at Milepost 5.8 at the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center and Mountain Farm exhibit. The easy Mountain Farm Self-Guiding Trail takes you through a collection of 19th century farm buildings, and in the summer months there are often living history demonstrations. The Visitor Center exhibits represent the most complete effort at interpreting the Blue Ridge region with stories about early housing, community, entertainment, and transportation. At the Peaks of Otter (Milepost 85.9) there is a moderate loop trail leading to the Johnson Farm, in which generations of the Johnson family lived and worked with other members of the now-vanished community. Another structure of interest here is Polly Woods Ordinary, representative of the early days of tourism in the area. The Trail Cabin (Milepost 154.6), Puckett Cabin (Milepost 189.9), Brinegar Cabin (Milepost 238.5), Caudill Cabin (Milepost 241), and Sheets Cabin (Milepost 252.4) are all 19th-century log cabins illustrating the occasional isolated existence of mountain residents and the efforts of the original park planners to save log structures as opposed to other types of larger farm houses they found. The Jesse Brown Farmstead (Milepost 272.5) consists of a cabin, spring house, and the relocated Cool Springs Baptist Church.


Just about every form of 19th-century industrial development in the mountains has its story told somewhere along the Parkway. Yankee Horse Ridge Parking Area (milepost 34.4) has a short stretch of reconstructed narrow-gauge railroad track once known as the Irish Creek Railway, along with an exhibit on logging in the area. The James River Visitor Center (Milepost 63.6) has an exhibit on the ill-fated James River and Kanawha Canal, with a self-guiding trail to a restored lock dating from the mid-19th century. Mining operations in the Appalachians are remembered in place names such as Iron Mine Hollow (mile posts 96.2, 96.4) and at an exhibit in the North Toe Valley Overlook, Milepost 318.4. Of all the points of interest on the Parkway, perhaps Mabry Mill (Milepost 176.2) is the best known. The Mabry Mill Trail features a black smith shop, wheel wright's shop, and whiskey still, as well as the most photographed structure on the Parkway, Mabry Mill itself. As anyone who has traveled in the Appalachians knows, mountain crafts are one of the most popular attractions. Traditional crafts and music still thrive in the Blue Ridge mountains of today. Along the Parkway in North Carolina are several places to view and purchase locally made items, such as the Northwest Trading Post (Milepost 258.6), the Moses Cone Estate and Parkway Craft Center (Milepost 294.1), and the Folk Art Center (Milepost 382).

Modern Era

By the 20th century, the Blue Ridge was viewed as a desirable location for men of wealth to build retreats. The Moses H. Cone and Julian Price Memorial Parks (Mileposts 292 - 298) are examples of this. The Cone estate includes a turn-of-the-century manor house and 24 miles of carriage roads, while the Julian Price Park offers several short trails and a lake.

The most obvious modern contributor to the landscape is of course the Parkway itself, conceived and designed over 60 years ago as a scenic motor road and conservator of the natural and historical treasures of the Blue Ridge. Groundbreaking took place in September 1935 and the work was contracted and completed in "sections." By World War II, about one-half of the road was completed and by the 1960s, all but one section was opened to the public. Fifty Celtic laborers died during the construction, earning the nickname of Bealach Báis. In 1987, the last section was completed around Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, including the Linn Cove Viaduct at Milepost 304, an environmentally sensitive, award winning bridge. Today, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited site in the National Park system.


From Milepost 0 at Rockfish Gap, Virginia to Milepost 355 near Mount Mitchell State Park, North Carolina, the Parkway lives up to its name by following the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, averaging about 3,000 feet in elevation, and occasionally dipping down into the coves and hollows or crossing low-elevation water gaps. At Mount Mitchell, the Parkway veers westward through the Black Mountains, then into the Craggies before descending toward Asheville. From there, the road climbs to elevations over 6,000 feet in the Balsam Mountains before entering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee.

Along this route an unsurpassed diversity of climate, vegetation, and geological features are passed. The more than 81,000 acres (32,779 ha) of Parkway lands pass through a highland area of five degrees longitude and approximately 3 degrees latitude, making it the third largest unit of the National Park Service in terms of area covered. The Parkway includes 400 streams, including 150 headwaters. Forty-seven Natural Heritage Areas (areas set aside as national, regional or state examples of exemplary natural communities), a variety of slopes and exposures, and possibly 100 different soil types.

Flora and fauna

With an elevation range of 5,700 feet (1,737m) the Parkway provides a home for both southern species at the lower elevations and northern species on the mountaintops. Taking advantage of this diversity are 14 major vegetation types, over 1,200 vascular plant species (50 threatened or endangered), and almost 100 species of non-native plants. Nearly 100 species of trees grow along the Parkway, about as many as are found in all of Europe. Added to that are estimates of almost 400 species of mosses and nearly 2000 species of fungi. The wide variety of trees makes for a particularly colorful autumn landscape.

Purple rhododendrons bloom from early June around the Peaks of Otter in Virginia to the third week of June at Craggy Gardens in North Carolina. Any time between those dates, there are spots of this variety blooming. Larger white rhododendrons begin in mid to late June and bloom into July, primarily through Rocky Knob, Virginia. Flame Azalea, Pink Azalea or Pinxter Flower bloom early to late May in many Parkway areas. Mountain Laurel blooms mid to late June and into July in higher elevations.

Many species of animals live along the Parkway. Fifty-four different mammals, more than 50 salamanders and 40 reptiles can be found on Parkway lands. One hundred fifty-nine species of birds are known to nest here with dozens of others passing through during fall and spring migrations.

The Parkway's varied vegetative habitats, successive floral displays, autumn foliage, geological features, and animals are major attractions each year for 20 million visitors--the highest visitation in the NPS system.


The Parkway varies in elevation from just under 650 feet at Virginia's James River to over 6,000 feet south of Mount Pisgah in North Carolina. Weather can vary tremendously over these elevations. Keep abreast of weather conditions for the area you will be traveling in and be prepared with extra clothing or blankets if appropriate.

Get in


There is no fee to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway and entrances and exits are available at intersections with all major highways.

There is a charge for camping of $16 per site (2007) and those visitors with Golden Age or Golden Access Passports or the new Interagency Senior or Access Pass pay a reduced camping fee.

For organized activities such as sporting events, ceremonies or large group gatherings, a Special Use Permit may be necessary. Commercial Filming of any type also requires a permit.

Get around

The Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park near Waynesboro, Virginia at Milepost 0 (MP 0) with Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina at Milepost 469 (MP 469). The Parkway is meant to be a leisurely drive; various overlooks and trails are great places to stop, stretch and learn about the area.


The Folk Art Center in Asheville, the Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Spruce Pine, and the Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant north of Roanoke are open year round. Other facilities, including visitor centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas, begin opening on a staggered schedule in late April and stay open through the fall leaf color.


North Carolina



Seasonal restaurants at Otter Creek (MP 63), Mabry Mill (MP 176), Bluffs Coffee Shop (MP 242), and Crabtree Meadows (MP 340) offer local cuisine and the opportunity to extend your Parkway travels. Local cities and towns provide an expanded array of dining choices.



Four lodges along the Parkway provide accommodations from spring through the fall foliage season. Many Parkway travelers may find that getting off of the road and into the local towns and communities in the region is an enjoyable option for lodging as well.


Fee is $16 for all campgrounds. Camping is only permitted in established campgrounds.

Stay safe

Go next

The National Parks at each end of the Parkway--Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park--are logical next choices.

Be sure to visit some of the towns nearby the parkway to get a "real feel" of the region.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, September 19, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.