The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway and All-American Road in the United States, noted for its scenic beauty. It runs for 469 miles (755 km), mostly through the famous Blue Ridge, a major mountain chain that is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Land on either side of the road is maintained by the National Park Service. It is the longest, narrowest National Park in the world and is the most visited unit in the United States National Park System. In many places, the park is bordered by land protected by the United States Forest Service.
Begun during the administration of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt
, the project was originally called the "Appalachian Scenic Highway." Most construction was carried out by private contractors under federal contracts under an authorization by Harold L. Ickes
in his role as federal public works administrator. Work began on September 11
near Cumberland Knob in North Carolina
; construction in Virginia began the following February. On June 30
, Congress formally authorized the project as the "Blue Ridge Parkway" and placed it under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Some work was carried out by various New Deal
public works agencies. The Works Progress Administration
did some roadway construction. Crews from the Emergency Relief Administration
carried out landscape work and development of parkway recreation areas. Personnel from four Civilian Conservation Corps
camps worked on roadside cleanup, roadside plantings, grading slopes and improving adjacent fields and forest lands. During World War II
, the CCC crews were replaced by conscientious objectors
in the Civilian Public Service
Construction of the parkway took over fifty-two years to complete, the last stretch (near the Linn Cove Viaduct) being laid around Grandfather Mountain in 1987. 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 sunshine, 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 6047 feet (according to the 2005 Parkway map) 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 (70 km/h) and lower in some sections.
The parkway uses short side roads to connect to other highways, and there are no direct interchanges with interstate highways, 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 west side of the road. 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. The Blue Ridge Music Center (also part of the park) is located in Galax, and Mount Mitchell (the highest point in eastern North America) is only accessible via a state road from the parkway at milepost 355.4.
The parkway has been referenced in popular culture, for example, in the Carbon Leaf song, "Blue Ridge Laughing".
Ecology along the parkway
dominate the parkway in the spring, including rhododendrons
, moving from valleys to mountains as the cold weather retreats. Smaller annuals
such as the daisy
flower through the summer. Brilliant autumn foliage
occurs later in September on the mountaintops, descending to the valleys by later in October. Often in early to middle October and middle to late April, all three seasons
can be seen simply by looking down from the cold and windy
parkway to the green
and warm valleys
below. October is especially dramatic, as the colored leaves
stand out boldly and occur mostly at the same time, unlike the flowers
Major trees include oak, hickory, and tulip tree at lower elevations and buckeye and ash in the middle, turning into conifers such as fir and spruce at the highest elevations on the parkway. Trees near ridges, peaks, and passes (often called gaps or notches) are often distorted and even contorted by the wind, and persistent rime ice deposited by passing clouds in the winter.
(Much of this information comes from the official Blue Ridge Parkway map GPO:2003-496-196/40572 Reprint 2004
Highlights in Virginia
- Mile 0 Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, Virginia, is the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. To the north the parkway connects directly to Skyline Drive, which winds through Shenandoah National Park. U.S. 250 and I-64 take you to Charlottesville to the east and Staunton to the west.
- 5 to 9.3 Humpback Rocks has a self-guiding trail through a collection of old Appalachian farm buildings. A hiking trail from the parking area (at mile 6.1) leads to The Rocks, whose humped appearance gives the area its name. Greenstone self-guiding trail (8.8).
- 10.7 Ravens Roost offers vistas of Torry Mountain and the Shenandoah Valley to the west. The overlook is built above a cliff, so it is frequently used for rock-climbing and hang-gliding. There is also a single picnic table.
- 16 Sherando Lake is a recreation area in George Washington National Forest from the parkway via VA.814. Swimming, picnicking, and camping. Fees charged.
- 29 Whetstone Ridge provided many a mountain man with a fine-grained sharpening stone.
- 34.4 Yankee Horse Ridge supposedly is where a hard-riding Union soldier's horse fell and had to be shot. See a reconstructed spur of an old logging railroad while walking to Wigwam Falls.
- 58 to 63.6 Otter Creek runs down the Blue Ridge to the James River. Otter Lake (63.1), fishing, trail.
- 63.8 The James River and Kanawha Canal is where a footbridge leads across the river to the restored canal locks and exhibits. A self-guiding trail follows the river bluff.
- 71 Onion Mountain's short loop trail leads through rhododendron and mountain laurel.
- 83.4 Fallingwater Cascades can be seen along a loop trail.
- 84 to 87 Peaks of Otter's spectacular views have been popular since the days of Thomas Jefferson. A shuttle bus provides service to Sharp Top. Fee Charged.
- 114.9 Roanoke River Gorge opens before you from the overlook, after a 10-minute walk.
- 115.1 Virginia's Explore Park celebrates the state's role in Westward Expansion. Historic buildings, exhibits, and demonstrations. Fee charged.
- 120.4 Roanoke Mountain is a side trip. The one-way loop road takes you over the mountain for impressive views. Steep grades; towed vehicles prohibited.
- 129.6 Roanoke Valley Overlook gives a view of the largest community along the parkway. Reach the city via U.S. Route 220 (at milepost 121), State Route 24 (at 112), and U.S. Route 460 (at 105).
- 154.5 Smart View is just that; go to the Trail Cabin built in the 1890s and you'll see "a right smart view," especially in early May when the dogwoods bloom.
- 167 to 174 Rocky Knob rises like the cresting of a wave to overlook Rock Castle Gorge.
- 176.1 Mabry Mill was operated by E.B. Mabry from 1910 to 1935. A trail leads you to his gristmill, sawmill, blacksmith shop, and to other exhibits. Old-time skills are demonstrated in the summer and fall.
- 188.8 Groundhog Mountain is a good place to see different kinds of rural fences: snake, Post-and-rail, picket and buck. Picnic grounds and observation tower.
- 189.1 Pilot Mountain (North Carolina)
- 189.9 Aunt Orelena Puckett Cabin Exhibit was the home of an area midwife.
- 213 Blue Ridge Music Center near the town of Galax with concerts, music demonstrations, and a museum dedicated to anything musical, especially old time music.
Highlights in North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the North Carolina-Virginia state line at mile 216.9. The 1749 party that surveyed the boundary included Peter Jefferson, father of Thomas Jefferson.
- Mile 217.5 Cumberland Knob, at , is a delightful spot to walk through fields and woodlands.
- 218.6 Fox Hunters Paradise, a 10-minute walk, is where hunters could listen to their hounds baying in the valley below.
- 238.5 Brinegar Cabin was built by Martin Brinegar about 1880 and lived in until the 1930s when the homestead was purchased from his widow for the parkway. The original cabin stands there today.
- 238.5 to 244.7 Doughton Park was named for Congressman Robert L. Doughton, a staunch supporter and neighbor of the parkway. One of the best places to see deer. Campground.
- 258.6 Northwest Trading Post offers crafts from North Carolina's northwestern counties.
- 260.6 Jumpinoff Rock, at the end of a short woodland trail, offers a beautiful vista.
- 264.4 The Lump provides sweeping views of the forested foothills.
- 272 E. B. Jeffress Park has a self-guided trail to the Cascades. Another trail goes to the old cabin and church.
- 285.1 Daniel Boone's Trace, which Boone blazed to the West, crosses near here.
- 292 to 295 Moses H. Cone Memorial Park has hiking, fishing and horse trails. Flat Top Manor, the house of Moses H. Cone has Parkway Craft Center.
- 295.1 to 298 Julian Price Memorial Park, the former retreat of the insurance executive Julian Price, offers a variety of short trails and a 47 acre lake.
- 304.4 Linn Cove Viaduct, a design and engineering marvel, skirts the side of Grandfather Mountain. Visitor center and trails.
- 308.3 Flat Rock is worth the walk for the superb view of Grandfather Mountain and Linville Valley.
- 316.3 Linville Falls roars through the dramatic rugged Linville Gorge. Trails to overlooks.
- 320.7 Chestoa View trail provides outstanding scenery.
- 331 Museum of North Carolina Minerals interprets the state's mineral wealth.
- 339.5 Crabtree Meadows Walk to Crabtree Falls. Campground.
- 355.4 Mount Mitchell State Park, reached via N.C. 128, has a picnic area, lookout tower, and the highest point east of the Mississippi River.
- 361.2 Glassmine Falls, an ephemeral waterfall visible from an overlook on the side of the parkway.
- 363.4 to 369.6 Craggy Gardens in the Great Craggy Mountains appear covered with purple rhododendron in mid to late June. Craggy Pinnacle Trail and other trails (364.1 and 364.6); road to picnic area and trails (367.6).
- 382 The Folk Art Center is the flagship facility of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. It offers sales and exhibits of traditional and contemporary crafts of the Appalachian region. Interpretive programs, three galleries, a library and a book store.
- 408.6 Mount Pisgah was part of the Biltmore Estate. The estate became home of the first forestry school in America and the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest.
- 417 Looking Glass Rock is visible from many spots on the Parkway starting at Mount Pisgah.
- 418 East Fork Overlook. Located here are the headwaters of the Pigeon River. Yellowstone Falls is a short distance away and gets its name from the yellowish moss covering the rocks. You can find U.S. Forest Service trail access to Shining Rock Wilderness Trail system here.
- 420.2 Shining Rock Wilderness is the largest Wilderness in North Carolina with , of trails and peaks over . The Wilderness is named for Shining Rock.
- 420.2 Black Balsam Knob is a grassy bald with panoramic views just outside of the Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest. The Wilderness also includes Cold Mountain.
- 422.4 Devil's Courthouse is a rugged exposed mountaintop rich in Cherokee traditions. A walk to the bare rock summit yields a spectacular view of Pisgah National Forest.
- 423.5 Herrin Knob Overlook. A hiking trail goes around Tanasee Bald and Herrin Knob. Tanasee Bald (423.7) is said to be the home of the mythical Cherokee giant Tsul 'Kalu.
- 431 Richland Balsam's self-guiding trail takes you through a remnant spruce-fir forest. Highest point on the parkway, .
- 451.2 Waterrock Knob provides a panorama of the Great Smokies, visitor center, trail, confort station, exhibits.
- 458.2 Heintooga Overlook spur road goes to a mile-high overlook from the parkway.
- Mile 469 Southern End of the Blue Ridge Parkway intersects with U.S. 441 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Reservation.
It is not unusual for small sections of the Parkway to be temporarily closed to repair damage caused by the cold winter climate of the mountains. Detours caused by these closures are well-marked, and are arranged to cause as little disruption as possible.
Due to serious damage in 2004 from Hurricane Frances, then again by Hurricane Ivan, many areas along the parkway were closed until the spring of 2005, with two areas that were not fully repaired until the spring of 2006. These sections are now open.
(Much of this information comes from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation's Partners page)
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Park
site and while its operations budget is funded by the United States Congress
, it works with many partner organizations that have unique roles in supporting it:
- AdvantageWest-North Carolina is western North Carolina's regional economic development commission;
- The Blue Ridge Parkway Association is a membership organization that includes Parkway attractions, outdoor recreation, accommodations, restaurants, shops, and a variety of other services for the Parkway traveler;
- The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is the primary and professional fundraising organization for the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, designated in 2003, recognizes the unique character, culture, and natural beauty of Western North Carolina;
- The Conservation Trust for North Carolina focuses many of tis efforts on the protection of the scenic views and natural areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway;
- Eastern National is the principle provider of quality educational products and services to the visitors to America's national parks;
- The Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway primary mission is to mobilize and provide leadership for volunteers who assist with a wide variety of Parkway projects;
- The National Council for Traditional Arts supports the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax, Virginia;
- The Southern Highland Craft Guild has galleries at the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park in Blowing Rock, North Carolina and at the Folk Art Center in Asheville, North Carolina;
- Virginia's Explore Park combines a unique blend of historic areas that feature early western Virginia eras and cultures and hundreds of acres of wooded lands deep in the ridge and valley region of Virginia; and
- Western Virginia Land Trust protects lands in southwest Virginia and promotes conservation and stewardship of the Blue Ridge Parkway in southwest Virginia.