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Ever heard of ‘heaven on Earth’? Well, let me tell you! The pathway to heaven runs 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina on the Blue Ridge mountain chain. That’s right; I am talking about the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, the longest linear park in America, and an endless roller coaster ride of fun.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, perched on the gigantic Appalachian mountains, is a place to gratify your wanderlust at any time of the year. The route winds along a sturdy mountain terrain on one side and breathtaking scenery on the other.
So if you are looking for a sweet getaway from the urban rat race, a dash of inspiration for your next gig, or just a vacation to rediscover yourself, you should totally consider a drive along Blue Ridge Parkway. One moment you are feeling the cool wind against your face with your fingers drumming on the steering wheel. The next, you are tying your shoelaces and pulling your hair back for an adventurous hike at Humpback Rocks.
Originally called the Appalachian Scenic Highway, the building blocks of Blue Ridge Parkway were laid in 1933. Franklin Roosevelt was the President then, and private builders had taken up the task under a federal contract. The parkway was still under construction during the Second World War. The entire project took almost fifty-two years to complete!
While the Blue Ridge Parkway is a delight for tourists today, let’s not forget that many communities were harmed in the process. People were stopped from building on their own lands without permission. If they wanted to use that path for transportation, they had to do their business using side roads.
One such community was the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Although the US Government compensated for their financial loss, they were still displaced from their own land.
2. The Drive
Blue Ridge Parkway is basically a national parkway. It links Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. The parkway’s southern end lies between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee Indian Reservation, North Carolina.
It is a two-way expressway linked with several local roads and highways. It has several spots designated for pullovers and halts so that tourists can rest and enjoy the scenic beauty on the way. Any time you feel like stopping to admire, there are always parking areas around the corner. The whole point of the drive is to enjoy the journey rather than the destination. So it’s best not to cross a speed limit of 45 mph.
There is no cross traffic because the route is not directly linked with other highways and roads. So, it’s totally okay to take your time scanning for wildlife and admiring the scenery as you drive.
The Blue Ridge Parkway also has 26 tunnels. All but one are carved from rocks in North Carolina. During winter, ice starts accumulating inside them, and they are closed down.
Attention, Road Closures!
Winter weather puts the Blue Ridge Parkway in a very vulnerable state. Sections of the parkway are often closed due to damage and repair works. There are alternative routes, albeit slower and longer ones. That’s why it is essential to make sure that the place you are headed for is fit and functioning.
3. Flora and Fauna:
The flora along Blue Ridge Parkway mostly consists of small bushes like oaks and tulips fluttering in the breeze. You will also find bigger trees like hickory and buckeye in the middle strips of the landscape. Yet higher, you will catch a glimpse of the prouder, taller conifers like fir and spruce.
The blooms along Blue Ridge Parkway are a flurry of pink, white, purple, and yellow. There are sprinkles of tiny wildflowers everywhere you go. You’ll find the round rhododendrons and the snow- like dogwoods either heavy with berries or sporting blossoms.
If you happen to go on a summer day, you will find daisies and asters too. If you are looking for colorful scenery to paint, the best time to visit is October. That’s when you find the autumn foliage covering the lands quite spectacularly. In fact, if you hit the parkway on that sweet spot between April and October, you can actually see three different seasons, ranging from the cold, gusty winds of the parkway to the greener, cozier valleys below.
You will also find the Oriental Bittersweet, a vine with roundish leaves and tiny yellow-orange fruits. There is also quite a bit of land covered by multiflora rose, a plant with papery, triangular petals. These are actually non-native species. They sometimes threaten the growth of other plants in the region.
In the heart of the winter season, it becomes difficult to spot the trees higher up. They are often showered with rime ice or super cold water coming from the winter clouds. As a result, they look kind of frozen and blurry. I guess even a tiny glimpse of the ecology of the Blue Ridge Parkway is enough to convince you to go scenic driving the next weekend!
4. Hiking Trails in the Blue Ridge Parkway
You can’t say you have enjoyed Blue Ridge Parkway until you have peeked into the dense wilderness along your path. The hiking trails attract lots of visitors of various skill levels. There are over a hundred trails together in Virginia and North Carolina.
Toward North Carolina, you can go for the Mountain Farm Trail or the Boston Knob trail. If you are looking for something a bit more challenging, you may explore the hickory forests along Greenstone Trail. You may also give a shot to White Rock Falls Trail Connection.
Looking for more adventure? You can test yourself at the strenuous Appalachian Trail or the rewarding and beautiful Apple Orchard Falls Trail. If you happen to be near Western North Carolina, do not miss the Linn Cove Viaduct. It is a lovely bridge snaking around Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak of the eastern Blue Ridge Mountains.
Food and Beverage Trail
Are you a fan of craft beer and winemaking? Then this trail is made for you! You can sample distinctly flavored brews, spirits, and ciders made in small batches, all the while staring into a bird’s eye view of the majestic valley below. You can also extend into a WNC Cheese Trail if you are around Ashville, North Carolina.
Music and Artisan Trails
The Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213 completes our trip for the artists and connoisseurs among us. Prepare to be enchanted with a wide array of genres, including folk, bluegrass, ballads, and more!
Enjoy the work of local artists on artisan trails. You will come across a vivid display of different forms of art like murals and quilts. The chief jewel, however, is the Folk Art Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
5. Folk Art Center
At Blue Ridge Parkway Mile Post 382, you will find the Folk Art Center. It is a collection of artifacts, art, and literature of the Southern Appalachian culture. The center has three galleries, a craft-shop, a library, a book store, and an auditorium.
You can attend craft demonstrations and educational events. You can also browse the library and shop for souvenirs. Also, you can hang around for a while in the picnic area.
Around the same milepost, you will also find the Blue Ridge Parkway visitor center. The center is in Asheville, North Carolina. The center displays a 22-foot interactive map of Blue Ridge Parkway.
It shows you all the places to visit, from hiking trails to parking spaces. There are exhibits about the culture, economic traditions, and recreational activities of the region.
You can also watch a 24-minute film about the parkway. It walks you through the entire journey through the eyes of a father and daughter taking a trip together.
6. Craggy Gardens
As the name suggests, Craggy Gardens are known for their jagged, rocky trail. But more eye-catching than these crags are the seasonal blossoms that blanket them. Around June, you will find the ground covered in splashes of pink. These are the rhododendrons.
You will also find blackberry bushes and bright violets. If you come across bright yellow-orange flowers with long petals turning outward, dark red spots, and green springs, you are looking at a turn cap lily. You might also come across other wild growth like May Apples.
The visitor center in the garden is open seasonally. You can check it out if you are interested in the natural history of Craggy Gardens. You can either lie around in a picnic mood or go on a trek to the Craggy Pinnacle Trail.
This trail will take you a 360-degree view of bluish-grey peaks and dense green slopes all around. And it’s totally worth all the walking!
If you’re looking for someplace to rest at night before you embark on another road trip, we’ve got you covered. Blue Ridge Parkway offers a lot of options for a stay. There are simple bed and breakfast places, luxurious resorts, comfy inns, and cozy cabins!
Blue Ridge Parkway offers a lot for exploration, from its twisted history to its fascinating geology and culture. No matter how many times you visit, there’s always more to come back for! This was our piece on Blue Ridge Parkway. Please do check out our website for similar articles!