The Blue Ridge Parkway, called “America’s Favorite Drive,” is a U.S. National Parkway that winds 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, connecting Shenandoah National Park on its northern end and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on its southern end. It is a long, slow, and beautiful drive, famous for long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. I can't imagine a better drive than experiencing the fall colors and the captivating landscape of the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can visit my photo gallery to enjoy some of my select images. You can view a map in PDF format of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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I like to start at the southern end of the parkway in Cherokee North Carolina because I am already in the Smokies and it makes it very easy to start the journey there. I stop and visit the Oconaluftee Visitor Center as I exit the park and then start making my way northeast on the Blue Ridge Parkway until I get to the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center (Waynesboro Virginia). I then proceed just a little further to the Shenandoah National Park and take Skyline Drive to round out my experience. If I am not pressed for time, I visit the area for a day or two and then I reverse my route heading south and ending up in the Smokies again. It is amazing how many different things you can see just be driving the other direction.
TRAVELING THE PARKWAY
The Blue Ridge Parkway tunnels were constructed through the rock—one in Virginia and twenty-five in North Carolina. Sections of the parkway near the tunnels are often closed in winter. (Due to dripping groundwater from above, freezing temperatures, and the lack of sunlight, ice often accumulates inside these areas even when the surrounding areas are above freezing.)
The highest point on the parkway (south of Waynesville, near Mount Pisgah in North Carolina) is 6053 feet or 1845 m above sea level (AMSL) on Richland Balsam Mountain at Milepost 431, and is often closed from November to April due to inclement weather such as snow, fog, and even freezing fog from low clouds. The parkway is carried across streams, railway ravines and cross roads by 168 bridges and six viaducts.
The parkway runs from the southern terminus of Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive in Virginia at Rockfish Gap to U.S. Route 441 at Oconaluftee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina. There is no fee for using the parkway; however, commercial vehicles are prohibited without approval from the Park Service Headquarters, near Asheville, North Carolina.
The roadway is not maintained in the winter, and sections which pass over especially high elevations and through tunnels are often impassable and therefore closed from late fall through early spring. Weather is extremely variable in the mountains, so conditions and closures often change rapidly. The speed limit is never higher than 45 mph (72 km/h) and slower in some sections.
The parkway uses short side roads to connect to other highways, and there are no direct interchanges with Interstate Highways (though current plans for Interstate 73 take it along current US 220 at its parkway interchange), making it possible to enjoy wildlife and other scenery without stopping for cross-traffic.
Mileposts along the parkway start at zero at the northeast end in Virginia and count to 469 at the southern end in North Carolina. The mileposts can be found on the right-hand side of the road while traveling southbound on the parkway. Major towns and cities along the way include Waynesboro, Roanoke, and Galax in Virginia; and in North Carolina, Boone and Asheville, where it runs across the property of the Biltmore Estate.