Blue Ridge Parkway
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
• The Blue Ridge Parkways is one of nation’s two most visited National Park Service units, with 14+ million visitors in 2019.
• One of the most beautiful drives in the country
• Free admission
• Winds along mountain crests for 469 miles, 256 miles in North Carolina and 213 miles in Virginia; the North Carolina section gets about two-thirds of the parkway's visitors
• Took 52 years to complete
• Elevation ranges from 650 feet to 6,053 feet; higher elevations are in North Carolina
• More than 200 scenic overlooks
• Maximum 45 mph speed limit
• Access the parkway at many road intersections, including 7 in Asheville area
• Great bicycling
• Excellent hiking on 100 trails
• 8 campgrounds on the parkway with nearly 1,000 tent and RV sites
• 2 lodges on the parkway
• Picnic at many developed picnic areas or along most parts of roadway
• Home to 74 species of mammals, 160 kinds of nesting birds, more than 585 species of amphibians and reptiles and 1,300 kinds of wildflowers
Parkway Headquarters: 199 Hemphill Knob Rd., Asheville, 828-271-4779 or 828-298-0398 for recorded information; www.nps.gov/blri, free.
The Blue Ridge Parkway often is considered the most beautiful drive in the East and one of the most beautiful in all of North America. It passes through the city limits of Asheville, and visiting at least part of the parkway is an absolute must when vacationing in Asheville.
The parkway technically is not a national park, but it is a national parkway nearly half a thousand miles in length with many access points along the way, and as such it gets millions of annual visitors – around 14 million in 2018.
Connecting the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, the parkway winds its way 469 miles, mostly along or near the crests of mountain peaks, 213 miles in Virginia and 256 in North Carolina. It’s often called the country’s longest and narrowest park. Although the parkway consists of more than 81,000 acres, at some points the parkway lands are only a few hundred yards wide, with farms and private homes visible near the two-lane park road; in others areas, though, especially as it passes through the Pisgah National Forest, the vistas spread out over vast horizons of mountains, with small towns and communities only specks in the far distance.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountains. From Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 0 at Rockfish Gap, Va., to Milepost 355 near Mt. Mitchell State Park, N.C., the parkway follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, averaging about 3,000 feet in elevation. At Mt. Mitchell, the parkway veers westward through the Black Mountains, then into the Craggies before descending toward Asheville. From there, the road climbs to elevations over 6,000 feet in the Balsam Mountains before entering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee near MP 469.
History of the Parkway
The history of the planning and construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway is fascinating. The idea for a motor parkway through the Southern Appalachians dates from the early part of the 20th century, but there were lengthy and complex debates about the route of the road, especially as to whether it would run from Virginia to North Carolina or to eastern Tennessee. (Western North Carolina of course won.) Then there were debates about whether the parkway should follow the crests of the mountains or the valleys. In the end, most of it was built to follow the mountain crests. Obtaining land for the road was a long and disputatious process.
Construction finally began on September 1935, near Cumberland Knob in North Carolina, and construction in Virginia began in February 1936. On June 30, 1936, the U.S. Congress formally authorized the project as the Blue Ridge Parkway and placed it under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Much of the construction was done by private contractors, but some of it was carried out by government New Deal agencies, including the Work Projects Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. Work progressed rapidly during the 1930s but slowed during World War II. It resumed after the war, and by the late 1950s most of the parkway had been completed. However, the last section, Linn Cove Viaduct at Grandfather Mountain, wasn’t finished until 1987.
If you’re interested in the history of how the parkway came about, you’ll enjoy the best book on the planning and construction of this magnificent national treasure: Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, by Anne Mitchell Whisnant, published in 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press.
“Driving Through Time” is a remarkable, if somewhat clunky to navigate, website (www.docsouth.unc.edu/blueridgeparkway/) that includes more than 5,000 digitized historic photographs, maps, drawings, newspaper articles, oral histories and other documents related to the parkway's construction and development. These items, drawn from the parkway's archival collection in Asheville, the collections at the North Carolina State Archives and the collections at UNC-Chapel Hill, are now available in one place for easy access. The site is based partly on the work of historian Dr. Anne Mitchell Whisnant, author of the Blue Ridge Parkway history (above).
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Images of the Blue Ridge Parkway
All content copyright © Lan Sluder except selected photographs used by permission and brief quotations or other fair use text, which are owned by the copyright holder.
We have made every effort to confirm the accuracy of information on this website, and in the Amazing Asheville book and ebooks, but travel information is subject to frequent change, and no warranty is made, express or implied. Please notify us of any errors or omissions, and we will attempt to correct them as soon as possible. All opinions expressed are those of the author, Lan Sluder, unless otherwise noted.