The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most scenic highway in the South, running from Waynesboro (Virginia) to Cherokee (North Carolina). The beloved drive brings in travelers from all over the world to stop at the overlooks on their motorcycles, go for extended hikes or simply learn about the history and culture of the area. It’s especially stunning in the fall when the leaves are changing color.
The parkway is a national heritage area encompassing nearly 11,000 square miles of land and gains over 6,000 feet in elevation. It’s proximity to Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks, as well as the Appalachian Trail, make it popular with hikers. The area has long been inhabited by the Cherokee Native American tribes and has its own Appalachian music and folk art.
The 105 mile road was purpose-built under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and employed members of the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. It took over 52 years to complete and the last section, near Grandfather Mountain, was completed in 1987.
While you could easily drive the entire parkway in a day, it’s best to give yourself at least a long weekend to stop in towns along the way. If you’re interested in hiking and exploring, set aside a week. There are hotels and lodges along the way, but you’ll have to get off the parkway to access them. Dining options are also limited within the park and you should set out with a full tank of gas.
Waynesboro serves as the starting point for the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can connect with Skyline Drive, another scenic road in Shenandoah National Park.
Montebello was once a part of an old Indian trail. Today you can see the cascading Crabtree Falls, the highest of their type east of the Mississippi.
Roanoke is believed to have been named after the Algonquin word for “money.” The town was a popular thoroughfare in colonial times. Today you can visit the Taubman Museum of Art and other downtown attractions.
Galax was incorporated along the railway in the 1800s and has been called the World Capital of Old Time Mountain Music. The Blue Ridge Music Center attracts bluegrass and folk musicians for regular concerts.
Cumberland Knob is located near the border with Virginia and offers a recreation area with hiking, camping and wildlife watching.
Mt Mitchell State Park is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi and serves as the highest point of the parkway.
Boone (North Carolina) is a small college town home to Appalachian State University. Daniel Boone passed through here on his way out west and the town is a jumping off point for many regional hikes like Linville Falls and Blowing Rock.
Asheville is a hub for much of the Blue Ridge Parkway activity, as it’s easy to jump on it for a loop drive while you’re visiting instead of driving it in the entirety. The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor’s Center has great information on the area and its history, as does The Folk Art Center. Also be sure to visit nearby Biltmore Estate and Chimney Rock.
Cherokee is the home to the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The tribe lived here before the Indian Removal Act and have resettled here. The historical drama Unto These Hills and the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino bring in tourists.
Some sections of the road may be closed throughout the year, so be sure to check the National Park Service website before setting out.