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Blue Ridge Parkway - An Overview

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Blue Ridge Parkway - An Overview
© NCBrian via Flickr
Along the southern Appalachians in Virginia and North Carolina runs one of the country’s most stunning scenic drives. For 469 miles, drivers get a tour of nature’s beauty thanks to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The road connects two national parks - Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains - and is filled with overlooks and trails to explore along the way.

Contact Info:

Mail: 199 Hemphill Knob Road
Asheville, NC 28803
Phone: (828) 271-4779
Email

Overview:

The Blue Ridge Parkway is designed for slow-paced travel, 45 mph or less, which helps visitors take in all of its splendor. Overlooks, picnic areas, campgrounds, visitor centers, hiking trails, and other areas of interest are available along the road. The best way to experience the Parkway is to take advantage of these opportunities. Printable and downloadable maps are available showcasing trails perfect for exploring, biking, birdwatching, and photography.

History:

During the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a project began known as the "Appalachian Scenic Highway." Work began on September 11, 1935 near Cumberland Knob in North Carolina and in Virginia the following February. It took 52 years to complete. On June 30, 1936, Congress formally authorized the project as the "Blue Ridge Parkway" and placed it under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

The area also serves as a cross-section of Appalachian mountain history. As it stretches almost 500 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains through North Carolina and Virginia, the Parkway holds some of the oldest settlements in prehistoric and early European settlement. Visitors can actually trace much of the history of Appalachian culture by stopping at overlooks to read signs, checking out visitor center exhibits, and exploring restored historic structures.

When to Visit:

Summer is the busiest time on the Parkway as all facilities open and visitor activities are scheduled on a regular basis. May is probably the best month for a drive as wildflowers are in full bloom. Expect to see Black-Eyed Susan, Queen Anne's Lace, and Butterfly Weed along the meadows. Autumn is also a great time to enjoy the Parkway as you can enjoy hundreds of miles of stunning fall foliage.

Getting There:

The Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park near Waynesboro, VA (Milepost 0) with Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, NC (Milepost 469). There are entrances and exits at all major federal and state highways. Asheville and Boone, NC and Roanoke, VA are the largest cities along the way and perhaps the easiest points of connection. For visitors who live in Virginia, Interstates 64, 81, and 77 all have directions for accessing the Parkway. The same is true for visitors living in North Carolina who may use Interstates 40 and 26.

Major Attractions/Things to Do:

Fishing: The Parkway gives ample opportunity to fish trout, bass, and panfish along regional watersheds, 13 man-made lakes, streams, ponds, and rivers. Fishers must obtain a state license from either North Carolina or Virginia is valid for fishing in all park waters. Remember that swimming is not allowed in park waters.

Bicycling: Bicycles are not permitted on trails or walkways but the Parkway itself is one of the most beautiful courses you will ever come across. Keep in mind that North Carolina requires helmets for all bicyclists under 16 years of age. However, in Virginia, the regulations vary by county.

Camping: The Parkway contains 9 campgrounds, most of which contain restrooms, picnic tables, and grills. Most campgrounds are at elevations of more than 2,500 feet, which means that temperatures are usually cooler than in the surrounding area so bring along a sweatshirt! Campgrounds are open early May through October and cost between $16-19 per night. Reservations may be made online or by calling 877-444-6777.

Ranger-led Programs: Rangers and park volunteers lead a variety of interpretive programs from June through October. Campfire talks, guided hikes, historic craft demonstrations, music, and nature study are just a few of the activities you and your family can enjoy. Schedules are posted online, as well as at visitor centers, campgrounds, restaurants, and lodges.

Parks as Classrooms: Blue Ridge Parkway staff offers programs for students in their classrooms during the school year. The hope is that students will connect to the natural world and the regions cultural heritage. During the spring and fall, Rangers offer programs at many locations along the Parkway. Teachers should check online to learn more and schedule field trips.

Junior Ranger Programs: Any child can complete activities in the handbook, learn more about this National Park and earn their own certificate and a Junior Ranger badge.

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