The Blue Ridge Parkway, voted ‘America’s Favourite Drive’, is a 469 mile track through the Appalachian Highlands connecting Shenandoah National Park (also known as the Skyline Drive) in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
After a thousand miles of unsuccessfully trying to connect to our destinations (Canada, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C.) without the use of major 6 lane, high speed, road rage type freeways, the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) is a breath of fresh air.
It is a narrow corridor weaving its way, uninterrupted, through thousands of acres of protected land. It is fiercely green and lush with hundreds of lookout points designated at elevations between, 500 to 5,000ft giving breathtaking panoramic views of just how far it extends. Beyond that, the surrounding nature is continuously changing as altitude affects the climate of given areas, altering the vegetation from the valley floors to northern species on the mountaintops.
Click on the photographs to enlarge and read all about them:
This small section of America can easily indulge weeks of your time. The views from the road alone are stunning. Trails heads etched on outlook boundaries fork into endless miles of walking, hiking, climbing, fishing, and swimming routes. Not even ¼ mile separate some of these outlook posts. And it seems that just when you start to get hungry, need to stretch your legs or find yourself craving a bit more brain food, a visitor center pops right up. Some are just a small cabin fittingly equipped with peppy and helpful rangers (reminiscent of a stereotypical Canadian Mountie; and I say that with love). Others are modern, informative and high-tech interpretative exhibits. Several National Park areas also offer camping and RV facilities right on the BRP.
The Blue Ridge Music Center is particularly wonderful. Learn all about the origins of country music right where it all began. Better yet, hear it from the story tellers themselves, live until 4pm.
The parkway is more than just a winding roller-coaster. The road weaves through small communities and farmlands, many of them were established previous to the construction of the BPR. Pristine little towns’ dot the valleys below and ramshackle old barns left behind give rich colour to the meadows. They help serve as a reminder of the history and significance this area once held. (From the first settlers to cross here, the mountain’s role in helping the Cherokee survive, an acting gateways for slaves seeking freedom, there is so much more you will learn on this road.)
Other towns are now committed to providing hospitality to the millions of travelers touring through here. You can also find small country towns, Amish towns, college towns and none have to be farther than 10 miles off of this scenic American drive. April and I developed a special affinity for a few of these places, mainly due to the people we encountered. It really always comes down to the people. (I could actually write an entire story just on couchsurfing the parkway, maybe I should…)
Tips & Highlights
- First of all, take your time. This is not a destination road. It is all about the journey and this is slow moving one.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway is completely free to drive as is the entrance to all national parks encompassed.
- You are more likely to run into a friendly deer than another human being. (At least in early summer. Fall tends to attract all autumn-leaves gazers.)
- Make sure you fuel up in town and get your groceries picnic ready because there are no amenities available on the BRP. This is also a great excuse to veer off into little places you would otherwise miss.
- Put on your boots and let your feet take you deep into the forests.
- There are hundreds of options for accommodations for every level of demand.
- We found campgrounds to be way too expensive for a simple piece of grass. Put on your best smile for a local and you could park in their backyard for free.
- You can use the Blue Ridge parkway Directory and Travel Planner as a mile to mile resource on everything there is to see and do along the drive or at nearby distances. http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/
- Do your research before you use up your gas money seeking out particular ‘highlights’. Even though there are plenty of visitor center pamphlets and milepost information, there seems to be no indication as to which attractions cost money. Don’t let words like ‘natural’ fool you into thinking you are welcome to come admire Mother Nature. For example: $20 to walk yourself to a bridge made of rock that was created naturally without a fee. (Can you taste the bitterness?)
While so many have attempted to make profit of the natural beauty that the parkway has provided, there are still treasure troves of wild land and stunning rock perches to be climbed. You will just have to find them on your own.
~ An Extraordinary Story by Karina Noriega ~
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