Location: Cherokee, North Carolina to Waynesboro, Virginia
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The Blue Ridge Parkway is the longest linear park in the United States, extending over 460 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Most of the Parkway is along the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are part of the Appalachian Mountains and provide many spectacular overlooks, hiking opportunities, and historical locations. Access to the Parkway is limited and the speed limit is a leisurely 45 mph. Construction of the Parkway began in 1935 under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the New Deal public works. Most of the work was done by private contractors along with the CCC that worked alongside the contractors to clean up the roadsides and improve adjacent fields. Construction took 52 years with the final section opened in 1987 around Grandfather Mountain. The vision for the Parkway was to make the road fit the landscape, as if, it had grown from nature itself. The road is purposely narrow and fits on the landscape as much as possible. Bridges and tunnels are constructed from local stone to look as natural as possible. All connections to highways are through short connecting roads, so there is no cross-traffic on the Parkway. Parkway highlights include from the north to the south: Humpback Rock, Ravens Roost, Whetstone Ridge, Yankee Horse Ridge, Otter Creek, James River and Kanawha Canal, Onion Mountain, Fallingwater Cascades, Peaks of Otter, Roanoke River Gorge, Roanoke Mountain, Roanoke Valley Overlook, Smart View, Rocky Knob, Mabry Mill, Groundhog Mountain, Aunt Orelena Puckett Cabin, Blue Ridge Music Center, Cumberland Knob, Fox Hunters Paradise, Brinegar Cabin, Doughton Park, Northwest Trading Post, Jumpinoff Rock, The Lump, E.B. Jeffress Park, Daniel Boone’s Trace, Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, Julian Price Memorial Park, Linn Cove Viaduct, Flat Rock, Linville Falls Recreation Area, Museum of North Carolina Minerals, Crabtree Meadows and Crabtree Falls, Laurel Knob, Mount Mitchell State Park, Glassmine Falls, Craggy Gardens, Folk Art Center, Mount Pisgah, Looking Glass Rock, Shining Rock Wilderness, Black Balsam Knob, Devil’s Courthouse, Herrin Knob Overlook, Richland Balsam, Licklog Ridge, Waterrock Knob, and Heintooga Overlook.
1) In September, 2014 we traveled the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville to Cherokee, North Carolina. It began as a beautiful late summer morning and ended with a heavy fog and light rain in the afternoon. The drive is spectacular with many stunning overlooks and over a dozen tunnels.
a) Folk Arts Center: This is the central commercial outlet for the Southern Highland Craft Guild, which is a collection of Appalachian artists that produce a very wide variety of artistic products. We saw beautiful quilts, paintings, furniture, and sculptures made out of every kind of material imaginable. There were some miniature to full size hats carved out of wood, figurines smaller than your finger, and metal sculptures that would fill a room. There was something different and interesting around every corner and an experience exactly the opposite of all the “souvenir” shops you so often run into. There was a very interesting exhibit about the construction of the Parkway including plans for the route and architectural drawings of bridges and tunnels.
b) Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center: An interesting stone building with a small museum highlighting the sights to be seen along the Parkway. We did not spend much time in the Visitor Center so we could spend more time on the Parkway.
c) Mount Pisgah: In addition to the lodge, restaurant, country store, and campgrounds, Mount Pisgah also has a small parking lot that provides access to a short trail up to a stone overlook. The overlook was built by Vanderbilt when Mount Pisgah was part of the Biltmore Estates and this was the location of his hunting lodge. The lodge was removed by the National Park Service, but the stone overlook still provides some amazing views.
d) Looking Glass Rock: There are a number of overlooks approaching Looking Glass Rock from the north, which made it more dramatic. It is a large granite upthrust with sheer cliffs. When they weep water or freeze up in the winter they reflect the sunlight making a spectacular display. The cliffs were wet while we were there, so we saw some of this effect, but I would bet it can be much more spectacular.
e) Devils Courthouse: The Devils Courthouse is a granite cliff face with a cave in the side used by the Devil to hold court, according to Indian legends. There is a trail up to the top of the cliff, however, we decided not to take the hike because the weather was already threatening rain.
f) Richland Balsam: The highest point on the Parkway at 6047 feet was completely enclosed by thick fog. Therefore, I cannot comment on the spectacular view you would otherwise get to enjoy. Even then the fog was kind of fun.
g) Waterrock Knob: The location of a small visitor center was so socked in by fog that we were not able to see all the sites. We did discover in the visitor center a small display about the reintroduction of elk in the Smokies, of which there are now over 150. While we did not see any, sightings are becoming common, especially for hikers at the Knob.