One of the most scenic roads in America, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile road that winds along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains providing an unique view of picturesque landscape and history.
Noted as the longest scenic road in America that was planned as a single unit, construction began in 1935 as a public works project, just two years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt drove the Skyline Drive. Traversing Shenandoah National Park, this drive inspired him to connect these two great national parks with a scenic road.
As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the project helped the economically depressed people of the Appalachians. Hand-cut stone archways, fences, bridges, and tunnels line many parts of the road, framing spectacular views of the mountains.
The Parkway starts at Rockfish Gap, Virginia, intersecting Skyline Drive, and winds southwest through Virginia into mountainous western North Carolina.
Along the way, travelers will find campgrounds and hiking trails, glimpses of small-town Appalachian life. Like a living museum, the parkway is filled with the history of its unique, pioneering families. Mountain culture, music, and art is preserved throughout the region.
The parkway’s sweeping turns and breathtaking views lure many RV travelers who marvel at the picturesque views along the route of the Black Mountains, Great Craggies, Pisgahs, Great Balsams, and the Great Smokies.
The northern half of the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Virginia, is RV-friendly, save for the Bluff Mountain tunnel at milepost 53.1, which may be a tight squeeze with a clearance of 13 feet 7 inches. On a recent road trip, we used the parkway as a guide to traverse Virginia and North Carolina from north to south. We hopped on and off frequently to enjoy not only the serene beauty of the drive itself, but a wide variety of intriguing attractions nearby.
Each season along the Blue Ridge has its own beauty with pink wild rhododendrons lining the roadway and carpets of wildflowers filling the forests in spring and summer. Then, autumn brings a brilliant patchwork of red, yellow, rust, and green. Winter presents a completely different panorama of quiet, snowy landscapes.
The Blue Ridge Parkway’s points of interest appear on maps by milepost numbers that increase from north to south. The border between Virginia and North Carolina is at milepost 217.
A classic gristmill, beautiful Mabry Mill (milepost 176.1) is a favorite attraction and the most photographed spot along the Parkway. Surrounded by outdoor interpretive displays, a millpond smooth as glass reflected the old mill. Both the blacksmith shop and then the grist mill were built by Ed Mabry sometime around 1905 and operated until 1935.
Near the Virginia/North Carolina state line, Cumberland Knob (milepost 217.5) is where construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began. A visitor center offers a selection of publications about the parkway while the woodlands and open fields offer good hiking opportunities.
Following the trail of the Blue Ridge Parkway had taken us to some memorable places, but like all first-time travelers on this unique American road, we had sampled just a few of the many treats that await travelers there. We look forward to exploring the area in greater depth in the future.
The parkway connects Shenandoah National Park, near Waynesboro, Virginia (milepost 0), with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Cherokee, North Carolina (milepost 469). There are entrances and exits at all major highways. In Virginia, interstates 64, 81, and 77 all have directions for accessing the parkway; the same is true for interstates 40 and 26 in North Carolina
There is no fee for accessing the Blue Ridge Parkway. Simply drive on or off wherever the road intersects with other highways and byways. The National Park Service offers several dry-camping campgrounds with RV sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway for $20 per night. RV parks with full hookups are also available within a modest drive of the parkway.
Once in a lifetime, you see a place, and you know, instinctively, this is paradise.