Area Info / The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway
The enduring dream of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a tribute both to the immeasurable beauty of nature and the great perseverance of the American people. Over 52 years in the making, the Parkway attracts over 18 million visitors annually who come for the stunning natural attractions, diverse cultural centers, and the pristine, unhurried drives. Stretching 469 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountain Chain, land on both sides is protected and maintained by the National Forest Service. This makes for the longest and narrowest National Park in the world. Several unique features of the park serve to enhance the visitor's experience. Since the road was intentionally designed without direct access to Interstates or other national thoroughfares, there's never any heavy traffic to break the spell of tranquility that inevitably descends upon Parkway visitors. Navigating to ones favorite attractions couldn't be easier as the Parkway has its own mile marker system from 1 to 469. While the natural beauty of the area has been around from time immemorial, allowing easy access to such beauty was an enormous task.
The Blue Ridge Parkway was conceived during one of America's most dire periods. Formed under the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration as part of the New Deal efforts to climb out of the great depression, construction on the Parkway provided employment to tens of thousands. The project began life as the "Appalachian Scenic Highway," soon after receiving official recognition from Congress and was renamed the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Much of the work on the road was done by private contractors, but it also employed the workers of the Works Progress Administration, the Emergency Relief Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Even during WWII, work on the Parkway continued, staffed by the conscientious objectors of the Civilian Public Service. The immense project was only finished in 1987 with the completion of a viaduct around Grandfather Mountain.
Of course, as the Parkway grew in length, so too did the activities and roadside attractions along its path. Today visitors to the Parkway enjoy almost every imaginable outdoor activity; hiking, fishing, bicycling, camping, climbing, hunting, picnicking, cross country skiing, even hang gliding are just some of the amazing things that bring visitors back to the Parkway year after year. Of course one of the main attractions to the Parkway is the natural wonders it leisurely threads through. It connects far too many parks, historic sites and other points of interest to go into detail here, but several stops warrant mentioning. The Parkway terminates in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains National Park. America's most visited National Park, it straddles the Smoky Mountain Range that borders North Carolina and Tennessee and boasts some of the most incredible vistas in America while offering as many outdoor activities as the Parkway. Mile post 355.4 brings you to Mount Mitchell State Park, home of the highest peak in Eastern America. The Summit of Mount Mitchell can be reached by a short walk from a mountain-side parking lot; the park also offers a restaurant and natural history museum.
Many cultural, artistic, and historic attractions dot the Parkway as well, such as the Southern Highland Folk Art center at mile marker 382. The Center is committed to promoting the beautiful folk arts that are so important to the region. Or if you're looking for the perfect photo op, drop by Marby Mill at Milepost 176. This century old gristmill is one of the most photographed attractions in the entire National Park system. Again, there are just too many amazing cultural attractions to list, you'll just have to experience them yourself!
Travelers on the Blue Ridge Parkway should take note, due to the changes in terrain and altitude along the Parkway, weather conditions are quite variable. At higher altitudes snow, fog, rain, even freezing fog is possible, so it's a good idea to check for travel advisories and partial closures of the Parkway, even if the weather is nice at the start of one's trip.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is the successful realization of a nation's attempt to better society while embracing its love of nature. Whether you come out for the natural grandeur, the mountain culture, or for the relaxing drives, you're sure to be inspired by the Parkway built by generations.